Council 'culturally reluctant' to be open
The Christchurch City Council is "culturally reluctant'' to communicate openly with its residents, a much-anticipated report says.
This approach gave many in the community the impression the council was isolated and ''a fortress'', the document reveals.
The $80,000 review of the council's communication woes was fuelled by criticism by community groups, the media and others who said the council was not communicating as openly as it should be.
The report, released this morning, makes several recommendations but it said at the core of these was a need for the council - elected members and management - to "adopt a culture of open communication and engagement with residents and stakeholders so the council can build understanding and mutual support'' for its objectives, plans and decisions.
The report's summary said 156 council staff were linked with communication roles. The report can be seen online in several parts:
While a survey of residents said the council did well promoting its events and services, it was an "entirely different story'' when it came to how the community viewed the council's decision-making processes.
"The need to communicate council decisions in a way that residents can receive and understand them is at the core of the communication issues facing the council,'' the report said.
"The absence of frequent, structured and systematic engagement with the community has led many to view the council as isolated and a fortress.''
The report, written by Christchurch public relations consultants Felicity Price and Wilma Falconer, said that adding to the problems was a reported lack of trust and respect between council management and some councillors, and council management and some of the news media.
Key recommendations include:
- An overarching communications strategy to tell residents about the council's vision for the city and how it will be implemented.
- A communications plan to explain its thinking, programme of decision-making, and the rationale behind decisions and how they were made.
- An earthquake recovery communication plan, including other agencies, using techniques employed by other cities that have experienced disasters.
- Community boards should be more involved in how communities received information.
- A "no surprises'' process so councillors and community board heads were briefed before information was made public.
- Combining the council's marketing and communications plans into a single plan.
- Significantly improve response times for media inquiries by streamlining approval processes.
Staff to discuss report next week
Council staff will give their formal response to he hard-hitting communications audit next week.
The council's community, recreation and culture committee will consider recommendations from staff when it meets next Tuesday. Those findings will then go to the full council.
Council chief executive Tony Marryatt said the findings of the audit report were a reminder that the council could do a better job of keeping residents informed.
"It's important to engage with the community and we accept all of the findings of the review. In many cases, we had already identified the issues raised and taken steps to address them,'' he said.
"This exercise was actually something our communications team was planning to initiate in the middle of 2010, but then the earthquakes intervened.''
Committee chairman Cr Yani Johanson said involving the community in council decision-making and keeping residents informed was important, and the council needed to make sure it got this right.
"I look forward to the committee having the opportunity to consider the staff responses to the audit report next week,'' he said.
"It is my belief that good communication and transparent engagement is critical both in normal times and even more so in a post-disaster environment.
"The report raises a number of well-known but significant issues which I believe are essential for the council to address in order to improve the good governance of our city.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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