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4: Priority audiences

Identify your key audiences and how you will communicate with them.


There is a case to be made that all staff in adult social care are by far your most important audience and the one with the most immediately at stake. They are delivering an important public service under tough scrutiny and have most to lose or gain by a poor or positive rating.

Plan how you will inform, involve, reassure and listen to your colleagues before, during and after the assessors’ visit. Use existing channels if they work but create new ones if you need them.

See every communications interaction with staff as more than an opportunity to brief or share “key messages” but as a chance to talk to staff about the importance of quality and their role in doing the best job for the people they support.

Part of this respect for the role of your colleagues means that they should hear everything from you first. Your communications delivery plan should be clear about how various announcements are made, and when.

Partners in Care and Health offer direct support to councils to prepare their staff for Care Quality Commission (CQC) assessment and it will be useful for your director of adult social services (DASS) to be aware of this and take up this offer if they so wish. It will be important that you are aware of this and align your work with this. For more info on this, please contact [email protected].


Members will be very sensitive to this assessment. Social care is the council’s largest budget, and many members will have plenty of related questions and complaints landing into their inboxes from families, local partners or providers.

Corporate leadership and governance will be something that the assessors will be interested in, and they will certainly want to meet the Leader and the Lead Member for the service.

You will have your local approach to communicating with and involving members in programmes of this kind, but members will need to know what is going on and have a channel for asking questions.

Your briefing and core messages can be used for this audience with appropriate tweaks. The leader and cabinet lead will need more significant support and counsel and will want to know you are on top of the reputational risks and developing the council’s narrative.

Members should first hear about what is happening from the council first and not the media.


The role of partners and other stakeholders is significant in meeting your duties as a council and there will be individual partners from the wider network which the CQC will want to interview.

The wider network will include partners, providers, users, carers, and advocacy groups, local Healthwatch, and the safeguarding board chair.

Build a simple spreadsheet to help you manage the communications for every stakeholder you work with. Some may only need a basic briefing; others who are up for interviews will need more support and a full brief (and perhaps a personal call from the Lead Member or DASS).

You should accept that not all stakeholders will be positive about their current relationship with you, even if you are potentially a good or outstanding council.

You can’t avoid that, but you can be sure that all stakeholders have the chance to have an honest conversation with you and are clear about the council’s achievements as well as its challenges.

Media and social media

You should know your local media and how best to let them know about the assessment and your response to the final report and rating.

Adult social care is not always of interest until it becomes a story, and of course your local media are more likely to want to cover a poor rating than a “council continues to deliver a good service” story.

Which is why you should make the most of your owned or shared channels: the council’s website, social media (LinkedIn is growing in relevance), WhatsApp groups, local online influencers, community websites etc.

With the traditional media in decline and often without the capacity to cover council affairs, this is where you can take some control of your message and create a conversation around the contribution that adult social care makes to local life.

But you need to make this interesting, relevant and worthy of engagement, so just posting a statement on your Facebook page with a link to the adult social care page on your website, is just not going to cut it.

By keeping close to members and partners you will also have access to their communications channels and networks too.

Even if you are convinced the council is going to be rated “outstanding”, prepare your messaging for all eventualities – and remember that improvement even for very good councils is a marathon not a sprint.


It is perhaps too impractical or unnecessary to measure public opinion before during and after your assessment, but you can use approaches like word clouds and social listening to reach some sense of public sentiment after your report is published.

Open rates for e-newsletters, hits on your website pages, clicks from social media advertising, organic impressions on social media and so on are all proxies for public interest.

It should be easier for you to gauge opinion internally among social care and other employees, but again tactical measures such as attendance at briefings, open rates on emails and newsletters and intranet page hits will help you know if your messages have at least been received.

Delivery – some extra tips

  • During the assessment period, including the onsite visit, think about what you will communicate to staff and members regularly about progress each day/week, if anything. There are as many dangers in over communicating as there is in doing nothing at all.
  • Think how you bring your story alive in creative and compelling ways, to give your content what journalists used to call “human interest”. People with lived experience of care, for example, may be very keen to share that powerful experience on video or in a shareable case study.
  • In the assessments so far, the CQC’s communications team has not linked in with the local communications function and there is nothing specific on communications in the CQC’s lines of inquiry. It is recommended you contact them ahead of the publication of the report to establish how and when it will be made public.
  • Consider creating a branding for all internal communications on the CQC assessment. In a busy day in social care this will make important communications stand out for staff and encourage them to read and act.