The coalition government's flagship Big Society agenda aims to decentralize decision making within the public sector and give power back to the people. Local authorities and the Public are to work together to provide services more tailored to their needs, than national governance could offer.
The recent Government White Paper, Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS, lays out how the Big Society relates to the NHS. Co-production of services will be the joint responsibility of newly formed GP consortia, social enterprises and the local population.
The White Paper explains the intention of raising public involvement in shaping their local health services to unprecedented levels. The various points of contact between the Public and their local suppliers needed in achieving this will revolve around effective communication and engagement. This is intrinsic to the Big Society initiative and it cannot possibly work without it.
The knowledge and expertise within the Marketing sector has to be utilized in providing and supporting this.
Transparency of information is inherent in the Big Society concept. Ineffective delivery of information is essentially the same as keeping it behind closed doors. Not only does it need to be delivered well, but also presented in such a manner as to be easily digestible by the Public at large. Making data available is one thing, but to truly involve the Public and to have that transparency mean something, it needs to engage the public, being presented in an appealing manner.
Local HealthWatch organisations will have the role of ensuring listening to the Public is central. Will this be a matter of simply checking that the local authority is going through the motions, sending out the odd survey, or will it go deeper, assessing and guiding the efficiency and effectiveness of Public engagement?
This engagement will not only be feedback, but also taking an active part in commissioning. This, as part of the overall 'Big Society' policy of deepening the Public's role in providing their own services, makes it all the more essential that that communication channels are as effective as possible. Marketing agencies from the Private sector will need to be central in making this a reality, as it is they who hold the required knowledge and tools in communication and engagement.
The new NHS Commissioning Board will provide leadership and guidance for GP consortia in commissioning, championing greater public involvement, and supporting the development of GP Consortia. If they're to do that, one would hope that will include support in commissioning marketing agencies with the required expertise, as the services they provide in public engagement are absolutely essential to the core aims of the Big Society.
Though the government claim their agenda is not the privatisation of the NHS, their proposals do seem to represent a restructuring from what is essentially a national corporation into a loose association of, for all intents and purposes, small businesses. Small business, with limited budgets, often have marketing as a low priority, perhaps conducting it themselves, rather than employing a marketing department or employing agencies. This cannot be the case for the GP consortia and social enterprises if the reforms are going to succeed, as public engagement is the corner stone of the policy and marketing agencies are THE experts in that field.
This Big Society is about listening to and involving the Public. Marketing provides the tools to make that happen.