BURLINGTON - Making sure there are clear lines of dialogue within Burlington’s community is a long overdue notion that is finally starting to take shape.

Thanks to a venture by the town to work with The Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass Boston, a hands-on assessment of how the town can improve its internal and external communication methods is underway, and the first phase of the assessment has been completed.

The Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management is dedicated to improving the effectiveness of public management in government.

The project’s scope prioritizes how the town communicates with its constituents, how town departments communicate with each other, and how town board/committees and staff communicate with each other.

Presented in two phases by representatives from the Collins Center, phase 1 focuses on internal communications and operational access. The project will utilize interviews and documents to review and determine any bottlenecks and provide opportunities to improve internal communication. Ultimately, this will end up with helpful recommendations for improvements in this aspect.

Phase 2 is tied to external communications, where the project will review existing practices and policies, both town-wide and department-specific. The point of this phase is to analyze how residents communicate with the town and way it can be improved.

Residents will be heavily involved in the external communications area, with the Collins Center expected to move forward with focus groups in an effort to find out exact needs of the people of Burlington.

Assessment Findings

The assessment parameters’ demographics are town audience populations and how each population gets information. The town practice revolves around who is each department trying to reach, what communication tools are used, and how effective are those tools.

The initial findings note communication are silted within each departments; departments have websites, social media, and newsletters in place, but vary widely on the use of each tool; and there are no centralized communication policies or practices employed.

Recommendations are to create a communications position or departments; empower the communication professional to oversee town-wide policies and strategies; and ensure departments work with the communication team and use approved policies and strategies.

Furthermore, the study is recommending developing communications strategy, protocols, and coherent branding identity. They want to use the Collins Center Communication Plan (currently under development) as the launching point for the internal communication team; employ deep community knowledge to tailor a coherent town strategy; and provide each department with the tools to effectively reach residents. Updating the town website, crafting it so text-heavy content is reduced; more pictures, videos and info-graphics are incorporated, as well as the implementation of a privacy policy.

Ensuring content is accessible is a key recommendation. In order to do that, the findings suggest incorporating communication strategies to reach non-English speakers, visually impaired, and other underserved groups; review content with new communication team; create plain language policies; and consider focus group and other two-way tools for large-scale efforts.

Lastly, streamlining social media and other accounts incorporating metrics into communications is a recommended way to avoid too many departmental accounts on social media, which is a platform the findings say can be ineffective if not maintained and optimized using key performance indicator data. A proficient way to gauge these standardized data metrics for each platform is to measure goal and objective success.

Next Steps

From here, phase 2 of the communications plan is to interview department heads in February/March, conduct community research in March/May, draft a plan in May/June, and finalize a formal plan in June.

Select Board Chair Nicholas Priest, who has spearheaded this initiative for the past three years, is ecstatic to see it begin to come to fruition.

“I am most excited to find out what we could be doing better when it comes to external communications between the town and citizens,” remarked Priest, noting the evolution of how information is disseminated these days. “There has to be a better way for the community to stay appraised of what is happening. Creating a more cohesive, unified communications infrastructure will be fantastic. I am very much looking forward to the various output from the various town departments.”

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