Good communication, customer service, and reputation management can not be achieved in isolation. Every link in the chain has to work. Here’s why.
There has been a lot of snow today. Councils throughout the country have worked tirelessly through the night and the day to keep cities, towns, and villages moving, so that we can all get on with our daily lives. They’ve done a fantastic job.
Communications, Highways, and other teams have also worked constantly to communicate what is happening, using Twitter, Facebook, websites, and other channels to keep residents up-to-date with the latest developments. What they’ve done has been mostly great.
So this should be a good news story for councils, and their residents. Except in many cases it isn’t, because of one issue – school closures.
Much of the kudos earned will have instantly disappeared when the announcements began flooding in of school closures, delayed openings, and early finishes. Parents can then not get to work, employers are frustrated, and so who carries the can? You guess right. Councils.
And yet it is not councils who decide to close schools, it is the schools themselves. I accept that it is a tricky decision to make but today, as on previous occasions as both a resident and a local government communicator, I have seen for myself a number of schools that are closed in areas where the traffic is flowing freely on roads that are clear of snow.
After a great deal of hard work to allow schools to remain open, many of them still decide to close.
So why is this? I’m aware that the decision is often based on how easily teachers can get to the school, and that they may live in less accessible areas, but can they really not get in? The answer may be yes, but if that’s the case the school needs to explain that.
Some pupils might not be able to make it in for the same reason, but I suspect the majority can. So why do so many schools still close when the rest of the population (well, most of them, but that’s a story for another day) make so much effort to get to work?
My local council has put out some excellent information today about road and weather conditions, including links to schools closure notifications.
And this is where the schools can help themselves and their local authority colleagues a lot more. The email alerts posted by schools need, in most cases, to say a lot more than they do. Just saying a school will be closed because of the bad weather isn’t enough, especially when it is obvious to the naked eye that the route to and from many schools is clear or at least passable.
So I would ask schools to do two things: first, to close only if you really have to; and second, to communicate properly the reasons behind your decision to close if that is what you decide you must do.
Local government and the public sector in general have a difficult enough job to persuade the public that they both do a good job and provide value for money.
Parents, employers, and other tax paying residents rightly expect all of their public services to work together during times of bad weather to keep services operational. This will only work if every link in the chain functions properly. And if every link does this, then everyone will be happier.