A communications audit carried out on the Christchurch City Council highlights shortcomings in its relationships with communities and individuals and suggests ways to improve this. The report was presented to the council in late July and made public.
The audit carried out by Felicity Price and associates included a research project that showed public dissatisfaction with the decisions made and the ways these were or were not communicated to the public. The audit also dealt with internal council communications as there was dissatisfaction amongst councillors in recent years with the provision of information.
The report talked about “silos” and about the “fortress” that developed in the council (a possibly defensive reaction to negative responses from the community).
No identifiable comments were made in the report but one comment that seems particularly apt in St Albans, as the Residents’ Association has in the past been critical of the council, is this:
“The Council has to realise community groups will criticise them sometimes when representing their constituents, but the Council shouldn’t take umbrage. We fear now if we criticise them we will lose funding. The Council should be above that”
It wasn’t all negative as the report pointed out that the council does well with its communications about events that it organises and the Share an Idea forums had gone down well with the public.
To cut a long report short among recommendations, particularly those aimed at engaging stakeholders, were:
the development of a community engagement strategy to guide management and council response to key stakeholders.
Changing the Council culture to one of proactive engagement and constructive, two-way dialogue.
Actively seeking local feedback from communities
more openness and transparency
training staff in customer service and in building community relationships.
Reinstating the Mayoral Forum (or similar) so that elected members can re-engage informally with stakeholder groups
Developing direct communication between the Mayor, the Chief Executive and community – e.g.: “town-hall” style forums and radio talkback sessions and broadcasting meetings live online.
Engaging with developers and property owners who may be involved in the rebuild of the city.
This is a heavily truncated version of the report with some rewording of the recommendations. To read the full document visit the council website.
The research project, which formed part of the report’s appendix is also available to download.
Comment – This report has done well to outline the shortcomings in the way the council and staff have interacted with communities and individuals in the past (before and after the earthquakes) and made suggestions on how things might be improved. This report is required reading for anyone involved in community development, for elected officials and council staff.
Time will tell whether it is a circuit breaker that brings these issues to the surface and enables new ways for the council and the various communities to rebuild trust and to work together in partnership to make the city’s suburbs, particularly inner ones like St Albans, wonderful places in which to live.
Disclaimer -this comment represents the views of the writer not SARA (the St Albans Residents Association)