Despite the best efforts of devolution, Westminster remains the powerhouse of politics and the media. Those further away from London can often struggle to get their voices heard. But there is a reason and that is explained by the Allen Curve.
The Allen Curve was discovered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Thomas J. Allen in the late 1970s. In simplistic terms, the Allen Curve is a graph that shows
What I take this to mean is that the closer you are, the better and more effective the communications are. I’d like to thank John Williams, Head of ACCA UK, for making me aware of the Allen Curve. I am late to learning about the curve but it does seem to offer some valuable lessons for public affairs.
Allen’s findings have impacted on everything from office design through to organisational arrangements, particularly the idea that proximity boosts collaboration. MIT itself uses the thinking to help boost cross disciplinary research and you can see the idea playing out in the development of ‘growth hubs’ that aim to boost local economies by making the most of existing relationships, specialisms and the strengths of its communities.
Further research has also shown that the highest performing employees are the ones who interact more and the, slightly more obvious, findings that people are more likely to communicate with those who sits closest by.
Allen also suggested that there are key information gatekeepers within organisations. They are not often widely recognised but play a valuable role in receiving and conveying information.
Now, of course, the amount of communications, including social media, may well have increased since Allen’s original findings. There is certainly a lot more ‘noise’ around but is anyone really listening? Especially in public affairs terms, are the right people listening? Are your communications really having an impact? What are some of the lessons for public affairs from the Allen Curve?
What the Allen Curve tells us is that it is harder to communicate the further away you are. Many organisations have always implicitly felt that to be the case but Allen’s findings provide some evidence to back this up. It is not that communications will always be easier for those in London but it does provide opportunities for engagement, networking and information sharing that those outside will not enjoy.
Those further away need to consider additional steps in their public affairs and some already do.
We need to remember that the same general lessons about distance apply across the devolved institutions, increasing cities through mayors, and, of course, in Brussels especially post-Brexit. Westminster is fundamentally no different from any other seat of power.
A lot of the work I do is advising clients, not based in London, on engagement and policy development. They know they face a challenge in getting government to listen to them. The Allen Curve helps to explain why.