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How local governments can change behaviour

A recent Guardian article highlights how local authorities are ideally placed to improve citizens’ lives through proactive public engagement. This article focuses specifically on smoking cessation and how local authorities have diverse resources that enable them to both protect children from the harms of tobacco and encourage smokers to quit.

The article focuses on five approaches local authorities might use to support smoking cessation, from backing anti-smoking legislation to providing support services. However, local authorities can apply these useful tips to any programme, be it public safety, public health or virtually any public service. Of the approaches listed by the article authors, a quick win with long-term impact is the implementation of (anti-smoking) campaigns and marketing strategies. By promoting the benefits of smoking cessation and raising awareness of council services, local authorities can encourage smokers to quit and protect children from starting the habit. As communications teams cross-promote local with national campaigns (i.e., “Stoptober” and the “New Year Quit”), the public is engaged at multiple touch points.

Local authorities and central government organisations understand that when it comes to public health, proactive and targeted communication campaigns can improve public health and safety by raising awareness, preventing illness, and informing the public. To ensure their campaigns are successful, government organisations are establishing performance measures to evaluate their communications efforts.

But how can local government evaluate programmes and demonstrate results?

In Stearns County, Minnesota, the Sheriff’s Office was looking for new ways to engage and raise public awareness related to crime prevention. One of the essential resources the Sheriff’s Office expanded upon was making it easier for the public to submit tips. Stearns County partnered with GovDelivery to simplify the tip submission process and to better market the service. Whether using a computer or a mobile device, people who had signed up to receive updates from the Sheriff’s Office would receive an email from the Sheriff that would highlight submitting a tip through different channels (phone, email, or a Web form). Just thirteen minutes after sending their inaugural message, the Sheriff’s office received a tip via email from a subscriber. A simple message format with a clear, engaging call to action has allowed the Sheriff’s Office to increase crime prevention, empower the public, and decrease crime rates. Learn more about Stearns County’s efforts here.

With regards to health, cutting-edge government organisations at a national and local level are using email, text, and social media to promote public health and better living. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also using GovDelivery to conduct direct outreach and marketing to support its smoking cessation program, BeTobaccoFree.gov. The Department is currently reaching 26,000 people with messages around additional resources and programs to help interested parties stop smoking.

These examples demonstrate the power government has when it comes to promoting public health and safety. Local authorities should be harnessing their communications resources to enhance public safety, public health, improve services, and engage (and empower) the public. Establishing measurable results not only bolsters public trust and saves funds, but can dramatically improve public health and safety programme outcomes.