By Joey Gaskins Jr
…and what does that mean for public and private-sector planning in 2021?
For many, the start of the year is a time to reflect and plan. We might look back at the year we have left — or, in the case of 2020, survived — to assess our successes and the areas where we can improve. We can use that assessment to plan and set goals for the year ahead.
At Open Current, the research and insights, government and public relations firm I co-founded, we like to talk about setting “strategic priorities”. For our strategic communications, government relations and even our internal relations and change management work, understanding priority setting through the framework of “strategy” is vital because our experience has proven that an ad hoc approach will only lead to lackluster implementation and wasted resources.
Strategic priorities are necessarily grounded in data, supported by evidence and aligned with an overarching objective. Setting the right strategic priorities means understanding the environment we are in, while tailoring those same priorities to minimize risk and target opportunities for the best return on your effort and investment.
To start the year off, our clients at Open Current were gifted what we call “temperature checks” — national polling that gave them insights on brand/issue awareness, public opinion and public priorities. We knew that this would add significant value to their 2021 planning efforts.
For both the public and private sector, having some insights about the context in which you are governing or operating your business should be a fundamental step in setting your strategic priorities for the year ahead.
For example, how might knowing what Bahamians care about most right now shift the priorities of both public and private sector actors?
What do Bahamians care about?
Using a weighted, random sample telephone survey, between December 30 and January 8, Open Current asked Bahamians what issues they cared about the most. The results should not come as a surprise.
Of course, topping the list was a concern about COVID-19 regulations and health initiatives (38 percent). In order of importance, subsequent issues included economic development and growth (28 percent), employment and job opportunities (16 percent), crime and justice (14 percent) and education and training (13 percent).
We can scratch just a bit beneath the surface to learn even more. For example, women (41 percent) and those over the age of 55 (44 percent) were most likely to care about COVID-19-related issues. However, young people (30 percent) and those making between $30,000 and $60,000 (49 percent) and over $60,000 (44 percent) were most concerned about economic development and growth.
This is just a snapshot of the research we conducted, but you can see how these insights might help your government department or business to formulate your strategic priorities for the year ahead.
Leveraging research for public-sector priorities
Based on this research, public-sector actors face a very specific challenge. Bahamians expect them to act in the present to abate the public health crisis we currently face while simultaneously setting a course for the nation’s economic future.
Political aspirants focused on the next election, whenever it is, might want to turn their attention to issues related to economic development and growth; young people are the largest voting bloc, and those making over $30,000 are more likely to be business owners, influencers in their social circles and potential campaign contributors.
Those responsible for designing and implementing national policies, like civil service leaders, have five obvious focal points, all of which are inextricably connected. Policy planning, whether department-specific or government-wide, could be anchored by comprehensively addressing all five of them. Leveraging cross-agency or private-sector partnerships to fill knowledge or implementation gaps can expand your reach and illustrate proactive leadership, helping to rebuild the ongoing erosion of trust in government.
Leveraging research for private-sector priorities
While the issues highlighted by our research may seem purely political or government-related, understanding Bahamians’ priorities is also critical for the private sector.
If your business’ target audience is women or those over the age of 55, you might want to make it a priority to have strong external communications about the steps you’re taking to protect your staff and clientele from COVID-19. You might also want to design new protocols or invest in changes in your business operation that reduce the need for your customers to engage in activities that might put them at risk.
Corporate social responsibility budgets are no doubt strained after last year’s economic slowdown. If your ideal customer is younger or wealthier, instead of lamenting about your inability to continue needs-based donations because of budget cuts, look at ways to advance economic development in small but impactful ways, like offering mentorship or training opportunities to young business leaders or those in the communities you serve.
Business leaders can create public value by focusing more on thought leadership in their areas of expertise or hosting virtual events that drive positive public discourse —contributions to the national dialogue that can promote economic development and advancement.
The environment in which our organizations are operating has changed drastically, and for many, financial resources are scarce. Investing in research and insights at the start to ensure that your strategic planning for 2021 is evidence-based will ultimately secure a better return on your efforts and investments.
Once you’ve worked out your strategic priorities, planning for the year ahead becomes a bit more straightforward — you know what you need to accomplish, and you know you’re not making a guess.
After having agreed on your strategic priorities, reaching your target audience becomes the next challenge. At Open Current, our clients often come for the research and insights but stay for our strategic communications expertise and implementation.
Once again, research is crucial here. By using marketing and media consumption data to plan communications, you can reach your audience through their preferred channels, at the right times and with the right content.
Last year was characterized by the unknown — we were not prepared for what we faced, and once we were in the thick of it, there was no precedent to which we could refer. Our progress in the year ahead will rely on clearing the fog of the unknown and mapping the terrain of the new normal so that we can set a clear path to success.
Joey Gaskins Jr is the senior partner at Open Current, a Bahamian-owned insights and research, government and public relations firm that offers services in foreign direct investment relations, crisis communications and management, as well as internal communications and change management. You can reach Gaskins at email@example.com.