Blog: What the Bolivian Navy and Prince Philip’s funeral can teach us about planning

Can you ever do too much planning? Is there such a thing? Anyone who thinks you can should take it up with the Bolivian Government and Louisa Dean, Head of Communications at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. Despite there being 6,189 miles between the two I’ve recently taken inspiration from both about the need to plan ahead.

In 2008, Bolivia in South America had a 5000 strong Navy operation who conducted drills daily and frequently paraded. This might not sound too surprising until you look at a globe or Google maps and you will find that Bolivia is landlocked and has no access to the sea. So why have a Navy if you’ve got no access to the sea? Well in 1879 Bolivia lost access to the waters during the ‘War of the Pacific’ and to this day, Bolivians have not given up hope of regaining its lost coastline. Bolivia’s active Navy operation is their government’s commitment to planning ahead and planning for whatever the future might hold.

Numerous occupations have planning at the heart of everything they do and local government communicators are no exception. As part of the Future Leaders programme we were fortunate enough to take part in a session with Louisa Dean. Louisa spoke to us about the challenges of communicating a high-profile funeral during a global pandemic. Working on not just one, but two Royal Weddings over recent years, Louisa was somewhat used to having the eyes of the world on her local authority but this time the funeral of Prince Philip presented complex challenges for Louisa’s team.

As my fellow Future Leaders and I listened to Louisa speak I think we will have all taken elements of learning away, but for me it was the importance of a plan. Have a plan and test the plan. Don’t let your plan collect dust (or the digital equivalent of collecting dust) but conduct a rehearsal and amend the plan if needed. And don’t just have one plan, have two. Belts and braces. One for normal circumstances and one for global pandemic circumstances. Listening to Louisa it was evident that her team put in a huge amount of work into communicating Prince Philip’s funeral to residents, partners and the Cabinet Office while having the small distraction of the world’s media camped on their doorstep.

It might not be ground-breaking insight but a good plan that’s up to date, flexible and includes all the right people will ease the pressure on delivering your outcomes. As Louisa summed up perfectly, “you always need a plan, otherwise it will just be one big mess, or you get through by the skin of your teeth”. When it comes to delivering high-profile funerals, getting through by the skin of your teeth is not an option.

In 2011, Bolivia reached an agreement with Peru which allowed them access to a tiny sliver of the Pacific. The people of Bolivia will keep dreaming of a coastline of their own and the Navy continues to serve as a symbol that the country has not given up on regaining its lost access to the sea. An aspiration which I’m sure Prince Philip, a proud Navy man, would have wholly supported.

Ben Holman (@benholman31) is a Communications Business Partner with Kirklees Council and part of the 2021 Future Leaders cohort.


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