Sunday, November 13, 2011

Communication - It Needs to be a Two-Way Street

One of the topics brought forward at last week's Executive Committee meeting was a request to approve in principle a new communication strategy. I'm not sure where the impetus for this came from - the need for a new strategy has not been discussed or requested by council. Two of the proposed elements particularly caught my eye - the professed need for a new city logo, and the suggestion that we purchase a flat screen TV, to be mounted outside the city clerk's office, where various updates could be shown.

I find that somewhat ironic - I've often described this council's approach to budgeting as being similar to someone who buys a flat screen TV before fixing the holes in the roof, and now city administration is proposing that we do exactly that.

Now. don't get me wrong - I think that more communication from city council is a good thing. That's one of the reasons that I started this blog - to let city residents, particularly those in Ward Three, know my thoughts on various decisions and dilemmas facing the city. But a lot of what I communicate about is based on questions and comments that I've heard from residents, what is important to them.

That's the essence of communication - it's the act of conveying meaningful information. It requires both a sender and a recipient, and there should be some effort made by the sender to provide information that the recipient wants. I find that what is considered communication by some members of council is more like advertising, which is a form of communication, true, but a form that is used to persuade an audience - in other words, we tend to tell you what we want you to hear, but we may avoid telling you what you're actually interested in. It's like the flyers that come with the newspaper - those that we look at are those for stores we actually shop in, the rest go directly to recycling.

I haven't heard anyone ask for a new city logo. I haven't heard anyone say that they're interested in going up to the second floor of City Hall to look at a new flat screen TV (bought with their tax dollars) to see the latest council meeting schedule.

What I have heard repeatedly are questions like where are the Rawlinson Centre financial reports, or what are the actual operating costs for the soccer centre, or what are the options and costs for repairing the bridge, or what can be done about all the needles on the streets.

Instead of answering these questions, we seem to think that if we only tell people how wonderful Prince Albert is, they won't care about the ongoing problems that are a part of living in any city. If we tell people often enough that Prince Albert is beautiful, maybe they'll ignore unpaved streets, lead water service connections, or boarded up buildings.

Most people aren't stupid. They know that Prince Albert, while a good place to live, is not Utopia. The people that I talk to would rather have the whole picture, including the problems, and then they would really like to hear what our plans are for solving the problems. They know that money is tight, and the vast majority of them would prefer that we spend their tax dollars solving the real problems, rather on new signs, or banners, or weekly infomercials on the local radio station, where the same artificial sunshine is pumped out over and over.

I say let's start improving our communication by answering the questions that are being asked.

"Any problem, big or small...always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn't listening." - Emma Thompson

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