The city of Nanaimo has come up with a new communications plan, unveiled at this week's council meeting.
Technically, that's a good thing.
There's no question that communication has been one of the weak points of the current administration. Any time an organization can ensure that the message to be delivered is clear and concise, it eliminates a lot of opportunities for confusion and unnecessary debate.
In the city's case, however, communication isn't really the problem. It's the process behind what becomes the message, as in how the city arrives at the point of delivering the news to its shareholders, the taxpaying citizens of Nanaimo.
As those in attendance at the council meeting pointed out, the manner in which the city, most notably a handful of councillors, communicates with taxpayers leaves much to be desired. It is the lack of respect, and in particular, listening to the concerns of those who come to address council as a whole, that has citizens up in arms.
Certain council members are communicating clearly through body language, and people get that message loud and clear. Citizens want to be heard. They don't feel they are. Perhaps it's time to send certain councillors to SuperHost programs to re-set their 'manners' button.
Communication is not a sales job. In other words, the goal of the city should not be to do a better job of explaining why they're doing something. They need to back the process up and start by
gathering the information from all those affected, then make a decision and proceed. Don't do your own research about a problem only the city knows about, make a decision, and go out and "sell it" to the citizens, seen most visibly in the Colliery dam debacle.
Start at the other end, as in: "Here's a problem, we need your (the public) ideas, here are some solutions, and this is what we're going to do." It's that simple.
It may take time, but it is well worth the exercise. That would have, without question, changed the conversation on the dams. Watch the city's behaviour, with staff, warning people of legal liabilities about the course they've charted that the majority of council has drifted down. The city and council are not listening:
They're selling and telling why this decision is "right" and discarding other options without explaining why.
It goes without saying that highly paid professionals should be able to communicate effectively. Furthermore, the Daily News hasn't typically had any difficulties getting in touch with, or response from, councillors or staff when needed.
Here are some communication tips that would be much more inexpensive and easier to implement:
1. Don't have so many secret, in camera meetings. That way, the public will have less questions to ask, as they'll really know what is going on.
2. Be inclusive during information gathering sessions. Make people realize that when a problem arises, their suggestions can become part of the solution. That they're not an annoyance or hindrance to what the city has predetermined to do.
3. Don't run city hall like you believe it's your own corporation, and you don't have to listen or be accountable to its shareholders.
Again, we point to the Colliery dams. The city would be remiss if it believed all they did was fail to communicate their message effectively. People got the message alright. They just didn't appreciate the process that left them in the dark until decision time, and the resulting questions like "what?" and "why?" have turned the city inside out.
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