Coun. Dave Lane, co-chairman of the committee that oversees the city’s Office of Strategy and Engagement, said the driving force for the department and the committee is the city’s rapid change and growth.
“What we need is a co-ordinated awareness within the city,” said Lane.
“The communications department is focused on both the internal and external communications.”
The external shows up in dealings with the public, said Lane, but internal is just as important.
“You might have a department that’s working on a major project that eventually gets touched by two or three other departments, and having an internal communications framework helps them know what’s up so that when it touches them they can take the ball and run with it,” he said. “Or certainly when the public has a question, the person they’re talking to understands the situation from an internal perspective. So it’s not just about being more open, which it is. It’s also about being aware of what’s happening amongst 1,200 employees.”
One of the department’s policies for external communications, though, is that councillors and the mayor are supposed to be spokespeople for the city, rather than city staff directly involved. Lane said the reason is to have a unified message.
“We want to make sure that when (staff) speak on behalf of the city that they’ve got the correct information, or they’re speaking to what the facts are,” he said. “There’s something to be said about having a co-ordinated response. You’ve got to be open and transparent, and that’s part of the strategy. You’ve also got to make sure that you don’t send out confusing and conflicting messages, and I think that’s where the effort comes from.”
While staff report to council, explained Lane, councillors, accountable to the electorate, are freer to speak for themselves.
“I would recommend that we still do our due diligence and find the information we need, but I think sometimes staff are held to a different process to make sure that the right information is coming out,” he said.
The city is in the process of developing a framework “to effectively engage with the public,” said Lane.
“Very soon, you’re going to see us inviting the public, individuals and representatives, to work with us to figure out how we can best engage with the public to communicate the services we’re offering, but also ask how we can do a better job, and identify a strategy for building a city that really responds well to the people it’s serving.”
As The Telegram reported yesterday, the city’s communications department — which didn’t exist in a formal capacity until 2010 — is now budgeted for nearly half a million dollars in 2014, the bulk of the funds for salaries for five people. Lane — newly elected this past fall — said he doesn’t know the specifics of the duties of individual employees.
“As different departments and different staff co-ordinate projects, we’ll make sure they’re aligned with an overall strategy, because when you do that, that makes sure we have the capacity to make a longer-term plan and vision for the city.”