Melbourne’s Eye and Ear Hospital has served the community for over 140 years.
Decrepit infrastructure meant the Hospital would not cope with the rising demand of an ageing population.
Of the redevelopment options, the hospital felt that the existing site provided the only suitable environment for continued research leadership. However, it stood little chance of gaining State Government commitment to redevelop within two years.
This was due in part to the State Government’s stated policy position of co-locating specialist Hospitals like the Eye and Ear with existing general hospital (Appendix A. Item 1).
Socom developed a comprehensive advocacy program highlighting the Hospital’s case in the build-up to the 2006 Election.
The advocacy program was based on preliminary research which identified awareness levels of key decision makers and likely supporters.
The engagement and activation of key external supporters including research partners and community organisations was central to the success of the campaign.
In addition to third party advocacy, Socom’s campaign also involved successful direct decision maker engagement and media relation to raise awareness of the role of the Hospital.
Before the election, the Government committed $2 million to begin planning for a new Hospital on its current site.
Competition for State Government funding for hospital redevelopment is fierce – there simply isn’t enough money to go around.
However, the Hospital had several critical failures in infrastructure, which included water and sewerage leaks, continual elevators breakdowns and tree roots growing through surgery walls.
The low public and political profile of the Eye and Ear Hospital meant they were not on the Government’s radar for redevelopment.
The Hospital’s profile was also harmed by negative perceptions within the bureaucracy.
The Government’s health policy encouraged the co-location of specialist hospitals with general hospitals. A Government commitment to redevelop would only come if the Hospital agreed to co-locate.
While the Department of Human Service (DHS) approved the preparation of a redevelopment business case, this was not a commitment to redevelop.
The State Election in November 2006 provided an ideal environment for the Hospital to vigorously present its case. The engagement and harnessing of enthusiastic external supporters would be critical in achieving a successful outcome.
Socom undertook desk-top, field and focus group research to assist in setting the campaign’s approach. We needed to understand:
- State Government priorities for redevelopment and where the Hospital ranked;
- Impact of State Government policy on the Hospital’s plans for redevelopment;
- Awareness levels of the Hospital and its research achievements among MPs;
- Condition of the Hospital infrastructure;
- Future demand for the Hospital’s services; and
- Awareness among community groups and peak bodies and their willingness to support the advocacy effort.
- The Hospital was not in the priority list for redevelopment.
- Government policy encouraged co-location of specialist hospitals with general hospitals.
- There was low awareness among MPs and Ministers of the role, achievements and condition of the Hospital.
- Several serious issues with the Hospital’s infrastructure could impact on patient care.
- Research partners had already identified significant increases in service demand..
- Community groups and peak bodies were prepared to advocate for the Hospital.
The target publics for this campaign were split into two main categories, decision makers and influencers. The campaign was developed so that the hospital could provide relevant information to identified influencers, thus enabling them to undertake dialogue with identified decision makers.
- State Health Minister and advisers
- Government MPs
- DHS bureaucrats
- The Opposition
- Research partners
- Community groups and peak bodies
- Hospital Board, employees and committees
The development and implementation of the communications strategy involved three clear phases.
The preparation phase had identified that without critical community and third party support and ownership for the Hospital’s preferred redevelopment option, it will be difficult to move the issue out of the bureaucracy and into the political domain.
To be successful, the hospital would not only need to undertaken direct decision maker engagement, but would also need to harness the support of key partners, as third party advocates. This became the key strategic approach.
Phase One: Preparation
Defining the Eye and Ear Hospital’s position
The Hospital Board had identified a common vision for the Hospital’s redevelopment, but it needed to be clear on a preferred organisational position on the redevelopment. Socom took this vision and developed the following key messages that underpinned all communications activities.
- The Eye and Ear Hospital is a world leader in the delivery of eye, ear, nose and throat services and research and training.
- The Hospital will not cope with forecast patient demand as facilities are in poor condition and outdated buildings are inappropriate for today’s treatment practices.
- Each year vision impairment and blindness cost Australia $9.85b and $190m investment in eye care interventions would result in lifetime savings of over $650m.
- Redevelopment of the Hospital on its current site will:
- Enable a continuation of world-class teaching and research;
- Improve access to services for all Victorians; and
- Meet the needs of an ageing population.
Phase Two: Hospital lead implementation
Catalyst creation media program
This element of the communication strategy recommended steps to create wider public awareness of the demands that will be placed on the Eye and Ear. The media program sought to achieve two key aims:
- To increase public awareness of future demand for services provided by the Eye and Ear Hospital; and
- To increase key decision makers’ awareness and acceptance of the solution presented to them by the Eye and Ear Hospital to address future demand issues.
The final phase of this program ran concurrently with the media program. Initially, the government (and then the opposition) were given time to consider the Hospital and community’s position on redevelopment and to become fully aware of the pressing need. Pressure was then increased via a series of direct and supporting third party briefings.
Phase Three: Supporter led implementation
Harnessing community and third party support
Community and third party partner stakeholders will be crucial in placing the redevelopment onto the political agenda. This was achieved by engaging them to:
- Create awareness of services provided by the Hospital and highlight demand;
- Establish their vision for the hospital;
- Create ownership of the Hospital’s preferred model for redevelopment; and
- Convert this awareness into directed support.
The action plan detailed implementation timing and responsibility and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
The campaign was executed between June 2004 and October 2006. It consisted of three phases:
Phase One: Preparation
Goal and objective setting
Socom facilitated a workshop with the Board and Senior Management that assisted in setting campaign goals and objectives (Appendix A. Item 2).
Socom and the Hospital identified, grouped and prioritised stakeholders.
Key message development
Socom developed and tested key messages to support advocacy activities. These were tailored for different stakeholders (Appendix A: Item 3).
Materials and action plan preparation
Communication materials including, letters, presentations, briefing notes, positions papers and media releases were prepared. An action plan detailed campaign activities, timing and implementation responsibility (Appendix A: Item 4).
Phase Two: Hospital led implementation
Socom and the Hospital developed and implemented a media relations program to raise community awareness of the Hospital’s services, role and achievements. When the election drew closer the media were used to highlight the need for redevelopment (Appendix A: Items 5,6 & 7).
Hospital site tours
Government and Opposition MPs visit the Hospital to learn more about its role, achievement and key projects and to see the challenging conditions faced by staff and patients. These were staggered to occur more frequently as the election drew closer (Appendix A: Items 8 & 9).
Socom arranged for the Board Chair and CEO to brief the Health Minister regularly during the course of the campaign. The Minister was updated on the business case and her Government’s commitment to redevelop was sought.
Phase Three: Supporter led implementation
Research partner briefings
Melbourne University, the Centre for Eye Research and the Bionic Ear Institute were briefed on the need for redevelopment and the business case. Socom also explored research partners’ willingness to advocate for the Hospital’s position through their political networks.
Research partner advocacy and analysis
Socom coordinated the formation of a research delegation to lobby the Treasurer / Minister for Innovation to support the formation of an eye and ear research precinct within the current site. Socom monitored and recorded the outcomes of all political advocacy undertaken by research partners (Appendix A: Item 10).
Community group and peak body briefings
Socom coordinated the briefing of the Hospital’s network of community groups and peak bodies representing the interests of the vision and hearing impaired (Appendix A: Item 11).
Community group and peak body advocacy and analysis
Socom and the Hospital prepared newsletters articles, pro-forma MP letters and redevelopment position statement for inclusion within each groups’ own election policies. Socom then assessed MP and Ministerial responses (Appendix A: Item 12).
The State Labor party announced it would support the redevelopment of the Eye and Ear Hospital on its current site.
“The Premier said that……. Labor will allocate $2 million to begin planning for a new Eye and Ear Hospital on its current site”. Labor media release, 2 November, 2006 (Appendix A: Item 13).
This represented a significant change in Government policy.
- Over a 13 MPs toured the Hospital.
- Six Ministerial briefings occurred.
- 22 research, community groups and peak bodies were activated into an effective lobbying force.
- Media coverage peaked at 23 articles.