jgafsi and why it’s all about being there

Chained to the desk? Try getting out. Yes, yes, easier than it sounds but there are rewards to be had.

by Will Mapplebeck

We’re all busy right? Well we should be. Fewer people, more work. We all know what that’s like.

More work means more desk time and then that diary alert comes up, the one you’d forgotten all about.

It’s that site visit, the meeting with residents, the trip round a building, the thing that was arranged months ago when your diary was emptier than an average political promise.

It’s off-site, it’ll take about two hours out of your working day, including travel. You’ve got dozens of emails to see to and a report to finish. Oh and you’ll need a pool car, or a public transport pass.

More hassle.

Just cancel it, right?

Wrong.

I’m sometimes struck by what I call the ‘knowledge gap’ that some communications people have. It’s that gap between what’s happening on the ground to what they’re talking writing or tweeting about.

I’ve seen people launch whole communications plans without actually seeing or experiencing what they’re going to be promoting or defending.

They’ve been to the meetings – which often take place on ‘their’ territory - but they’ve never actually been to the service, met the staff on the ground or the punters who use it.

We’re all heartily sick of acronyms, but here’s another one for, JGAFSI - Just Go and Freaking See It.

And instead of seeing it as a distraction – treat getting ‘out there’ as an investment that will pay off a thousand times over.

An example, At Newcastle I look after the communications for social care, this includes Children’s Social Care.

Like other big authorities, we’ve got issues with rising numbers of looked after children and limited space in our children’s homes.

I’ve seen this issue discussed in hundreds of emails and memos, but to get a better understanding of it, a press officer and I took an hour out of our diaries to visit one of our children’s homes.

It was fascinating and it taught me more about children in care and the people who work with them than a hundred policy papers ever could

We met one of the residents, talked to a manager about the sheer amount of paperwork that has to be filled in, learnt about Ofsted inspections and how difficult it can be to get simple repairs carried out.

It gave me a real idea of the pressures the service faces, how distant we seem at the centre and strong links that existed between the home and the community.

I wouldn’t have got any of that in such vivid detail unless I’d actually taken the time to see the service in action, to listen to those stories from the ‘horse’s mouth’.

And it’s not just useful for the positive stuff. There’s nothing like what the local press call a ‘heated public meeting’ to teach you about how people really feel about that planning application or council initiative.

Actually attending will help you understand, and if necessary, counter their arguments later on. It’ll put faces to names. It will build your emotional intelligence. It will bring out the shades of grey amongst the black and white and give you an idea of the complexities that drive people’s arguments.

Make the time to JGAFSI, it means leaving the safety and comfort of your desk but I promise you’ll reap the benefits. 

Will Mapplebeck is senior communications manager at Newcastle City Council.

Missing us? Want to stay up-to-date? Make us smile. You can sign up for our regular email newsletter right here.

Picture credit.