Research Update (July 2024)

June has been a busy month for the History of Internal Communication project, marked by significant engagements and valuable interactions with both internal communication practitioners and academics.

Engaging with Professional and Academic Audiences

The team’s participation in the Institute of Internal Communication festival at Tewinbury Farm near Welwyn Garden City was the highlight of the month. Returning to this scenic rural venue for the second time, the opportunity to hear practitioners talk about their perspectives, ideas, and future visions for internal communication is invaluable for the project’s research.

Song Division’s Sam McNeill and Tom Billington at the Team Harmony session

The response to our newly released History of Internal Communication booklets was positive. It was pleasing to see the project gaining traction within the professional community, receiving several references from speakers during panels and numerous engaging discussions with attendees. Such interactions highlight the value of the research in supporting the professionalisation of internal communication. This visibility at practitioner events has added to the project’s following. Together with the simplyIC event in May, the event has brought over 100 new LinkedIn followers and has set the stage for continued growth.

Next month, we are excited to host an online lunchtime workshop in collaboration with the IoIC on July 8th at 12:00-13:00, aimed at applying academic insights into rhetorical history to practical internal communication strategies. This session will focus on using historical narratives to enhance organisational storytelling, build trust, and manage change effectively. It will be a highly interactive session, with activities around crafting anniversary communications and change management strategies, as well as discussions around navigating negative aspects of an organisation’s past.

In addition to practitioners, the team has been disseminating its findings with the academic world. This month, the team presented their findings at the Association of Business Historians conference at York St John University. Their paper proposed a new model of the use of organisational historical narratives in internal communications. This forum provided an excellent opportunity for feedback, with an interesting discussion on the relative role of managers and archivists in shaping organisational history. These ideas will refine the model for the final version of the paper which is to be supported to Organization Studies in the autumn.

Online Engagement

The project has continued to make an impact among practitioners with its online content. The History of Internal Communication podcast had its most topical interview so far. Just weeks after Meta announced the closure of Workplace, its work communication platform that it had launched in 2016, it featured Simon White, a former employee of Facebook and now an HR leader at Blink. His insights into the evolution of digital communication platforms and reflections on his work with Workplace were enlightening. He explored the implications of moving from the first wave of digital communication platforms to an era emphasising simplicity and accessibility. The podcast’s following has really taken off in recent months and had over 70 listens just in the space of the last month.

The Source of the Month blog post was the second instalment in a two-part series. Exploring the BBC’s behind-the scenes strategising in internal communication, the two blog posts were from the launch of the BBC’s first staff magazine in 1928 through to technological innovations of the mid-twentieth century such as the staff telephone bulletin, and on to the digital age. The series offered a fascinating glimpse into the strategic evolution of internal communication and the ongoing debates over editorial independence that have continued into the digital era.

Archival Research

Alongside this engagement, the archival research has been continuing. The most recent case study was British Airways, with its archive located at Heathrow. With surviving company magazines going back to the early 1930s, it was a fascinating exploration of internal communication in an industry that has undergone vast changes over the last century. It was particularly interesting to see that, although British Airways previously went entirely digital with its communication like other organisations, it has reintroduced a printed staff magazine this year.

We have also continued our research at the National Archives at Kew where we have examined archives from British Rail (BR), particularly from the 1960s and 1970s, a period for which there are a wealth of documents. The research has shown that the term ‘Internal Communication’ was actively being used by practitioners at BR in the mid-1960s. Due to industrial action, more militant trade unionism and difficulties with staff representation councils, BR established an internal relations department which worked alongside its industrial relations department. This was effectively an internal communication department, and is the first IC department we have historically discovered. The internal relations departments set up the Staff Communications Committee which ran from 1966 to 1972. It has left behind detailed records of memos, reports and meetings.

As we move into the second half of the year, the project continues to build momentum. The upcoming workshop will be a fantastic opportunity for the historical research to inform current practice. It demonstrates how the History of Internal Communication project is more than just a study of the past. Its findings have scope to actively shape professional practice.

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