Evaluating Digital Communication: An International Incident

Jun 4, 2014

Are you measuring Twitter followers and press release downloads without any clue as to what people are doing with your agency’s products and information? Or do you not even know what to measure, never mind whether that measurement would be meaningful?

Fear not, fair government communicator—there is hope! On May 15, top government communication measurement experts from the U.S., U.K., and Canada presented on Evaluating the Effectiveness of Government Digital Communications via DigitalGov University. A video recording of the event is available:


This international measurement extravaganza, sponsored by the Federal Communicators Network in the U.S., the Government Communications Service in the U.K., and the Communications Community Office in Canada, featured on-point experts and great conversation. Here’s a taste:

Meet People Where They Are

One way to ensure your communications efforts are effective is to determine what kinds of devices your audiences are receiving them on, said Miguel Gomez, Director of AIDS.gov. More than half of the traffic to AIDS.gov comes via mobile devices, so Miguel and his team have not only employed responsive design so content displays well on users’ phones and tablets, but they have created content inherently useful on mobile, such as locations of HIV testing facilities in whatever area a person happens to be looking.

Miguel also stressed the importance of not being distracted by shiny things: When a communications need arises, determine your audiences, objectives, and strategy first. Only after you’ve established those do you talk about tools and tech. You can view Miguel’s slides.

Get in the Right Frame of Mind

Paul Njoku, Evaluation Lead for the U.K. Government Communication Service and Head of Communication Strategy and Business Planning for the U.K. Tax Authority, laid out common boundaries to good evaluation: lack of smart or realistic objectives, insufficient time and money, and difficulty in getting the right tools and data, among other issues.

He then blew most of those excuses away with some examples of how the U.K. government is standardizing measurement to show how communication is supporting business objectives. In addition to key deliverables driving this initiative, he shared a concept designed to help communicators frame out their evaluation efforts called the Big IDIA:

● Identify the scope of your project

● Develop your evaluation plan

● Implement by gathering data to measure performance

● Analyze & report performance against the plan

Paul was joined in London by his colleague, Elayne Phillips, Head of Horizon Scanning and Planning at the U.K. Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She laid out the industry best-practices, including the well-established Barcelona Principles, that should underlay any digital measurement effort. She stressed the importance of not measuring outputs—how many did we produce?—but focusing instead on outcomes—what action did our intended audience take?

Elayne also noted that when you’re presenting measurement to your leadership and others, you don’t need to drown them in data; instead use the data to paint them picture of meaning. You can also view Paul and Elayne‘s slides.

Deliver the Goods

When you know who you want to reach and how to do it, you’re ready to bring them the kinds of services and information that meet their needs. Karine Goneau-Lessard, Acting Director Marketing Division, Health Canada, and Lori Fraser, Acting Chief of Marketing for Healthy Canadians social media, Health Canada, showed us how their organization does that very thing through thoughtful measurement and use of tools.

Lori broke down distinctions between key useful and useless performance indicators related to goals (for example, measure engagement to determine increased conversation, not the size of your fan base), as well as the difference metrics—the measures themselves—and analytics—making meaning of the measures.

She also emphasized both the need for consistent use of social tools when reaching out to citizens, as well as the need to look beyond social to other forms of audience feedback, reminding attendees that social tools are a means, not an end.

If one thing (besides great accents) rang loud and clear through these presentations, it was this: Government really can deliver world class service through world class evaluation. You can also view Karine’s slides.