Members of Wilmot Township Council heard a lengthy presentation at this week’s regular meeting on how to improve internal and external communications at the municipality. The 30-plus page document was prepared by Redbrick Communications, a well-known firm from Mississauga, after lengthy engagement with Wilmot. The draft corporate communications strategy will be brought back to a future council meeting, allowing time for councillors and the public to provide feedback into the strategy before it is adopted.
Chief Administrative Officer Sharon Chambers joined the Wilmot team in October 2021 and decided early in her employment that communications needed to be a priority. “It is an important aspect of leadership within the organization to be able to communicate internally to staff to get everyone working towards common goals and get them excited about what they are doing.” She added keeping the public informed is just as important. “Developing a strong communications function is a way of telling stories about the good work the municipality is doing. People don’t necessarily know a lot about what their government is doing. In the absence of that, people make up their own narrative.”
The strategy identifies six strategic communications priorities for Wilmot including strengthening positive story telling, increasing the township’s visibility in the community, enhancing public engagement efforts, and investing in communications. There are also a number of budget items listed including communications training, software such as Canva and Adobe, along with an online engagement tool such as ‘Bang the Table’, the industry standard across Canada.
The township did have a part-time communications position that morphed into a full-time role which then became vacant. “I looked at it from the lens of what was successful for me in other places. I had just come from Kincardine that had really no communications function there at all and we built it out to be under the office of CAO.” Chambers added the current strategy had started in 2022 when council approved funding for a plan but then the complete turnover in council happened in November of last year. Back to the drawing board. “We had engaged the last council on what they felt the priorities were, but we thought we should get feedback from the new council to see what their thoughts are. A lot of them had campaigned on stronger communications with residents and better engagement in decision-making.”
Vision: A communications function that lays the foundation for success toward a more informed and engaged community.
Council approved an additional role in the 2023 budget which is the manager of communications and engagement that will round out the team under the supervision of Chambers. “It puts us in a good position to start implementing this strategy.” Wilmot is hiring for that position along with another role that focuses on website and social media development along with other duties such as news releases.
Chambers said keeping the public educated goes hand in hand with the public telling the township how they feel about relevant issues. “We heard from the community through engagement that they want more feedback into the decision making. They want a voice. I think that’s a growing expectation among the public. There are some really great public engagement tools that can help council make informed decisions.” She added in previous roles those tools were in place allowing staff to compile data on how successful an engagement was. The township will eventually be able to track how many residents downloaded a plan online and provided feedback. “Getting that feedback is really important to know you are on track in the decisions you are making. It’s a great tool for municipalities these days to make better decisions,” she added.
Wilmot’s CAO said the communications file has completely fallen on her desk since there are no staff handling internal and external messaging, something she said will change soon. “With smaller municipalities it has always been a corner of the desk activity. It is for me right now since I don’t have any staff as these two role are both vacant until Donna (Kell) starts on Monday. It's tough because my calendar is full from first thing in the morning until often early into the evening. It’s hard for me to get information out so having support is going to be great. It has a visible impact.” Chambers added Kell is putting a high value on developing relationships with media and the Gazette can expect to hear from her to develop a positive relationship going forward.
Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette