The master communications plan and supporting communications venues outline the means by which Communications and leadership will disseminate information about goals, objectives or strategies designed to achieve agency outcomes.
Communications is responsible for ensuring that communications goals accurately reflect objectives set within the agency’s overarching strategic plan. For instance, if the strategic plan articulates the goal of addressing disproportionality and treatment disparities, this goal will be fully reflected in the communications plan, with details regarding audience identification, message development, selection of communications channels, selections of approaches and venues, potential partnerships that would enhance efforts and outcomes measures. With input from leadership, Communications often prioritizes the communications goals and activities within a given year or articulated time period so as to focus resources appropriately. Goals also need to reflect achievable communications practices. The following are important considerations to include:
Ensure that Internal Communications Support the Agency's Strategic Plan
The success of an agency's strategic plan is dependent upon embedding its values, goals and activities into the culture of the entire agency and staff. Communications has an essential role in facilitating staff to internalize the plan and make it their own. This should be an important part of any master communications plan. Communications activities that disseminate and reinforce the strategic plan should be plentiful, continuous and multi-faceted. Activities can include traditional communications such as staff memos, staff meetings and visible office signage (posters, banners, etc.) as well more technology-driven formats such as the agency Intranet. External communications to the media and other stakeholders can also reinforce these values internally because staff members are exposed to these messages as well.
Choose Goals that Are Derived from Empirical Evidence and Can Be Associated with Measurable Outcomes
Public child welfare budgets are historically stretched thin, leaving little for purposes other than service provision. It is critical, therefore, to use the funds allotted for agency communications wisely. By basing the choice of communications goals on empirical data and tracking the outcomes of communications efforts in measurable ways, Communications will be better able to claim success and justify continuing the efforts. An example of such a plan would be promoting the Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) process as an alternative to traditional agency placement protocols. FGDM has been proven to result in better outcomes across the board, reduced out-of-home placements and increased (extended) family ownership of the process. A communications goal of educating staff and other key stakeholders as well as the families engaged in this placement alternative, will forward FGDM success and increase usage. Moreover, by producing publications and supporting events that publicize the process, the entire community is made aware.
The goal of eliminating disparities and reducing disproportionality requires that Communications be clear on how disparities and disproportionality are measured and observed within the agency. This effort requires good data.
Choose Goals that Are Specific
Because Communications is often expected to be concerned with improving the agency's image in the community, focus on particular, discrete audiences who can readily be identified and with whom direct communications is practical. For instance, if the agency believes key stakeholders are out of alignment with the agency and a survey of these stakeholders indeed determines that they hold consistent misperceptions about the agency, this evidence provides the sound basis for a goal of improving stakeholder perception. Establish a list of stakeholders who are interested in the agency's work including: advocates, judicial branch leaders, contracted service providers, foster parent groups, schools of social work and legislators. Gather email addresses for individuals and create a listserve or distribution list to support regular communications from the agency. A follow-up survey can be used to measure the success of the outreach.
Choose Goals that Support the Agency Administration's Relationships with its Governing Authority and Other Stakeholders
Agency administrators report to others who may be elected officials (Governor or County Executive) or who may sit on a board of directors. Find goals that support relationships with those authorities. Such a strategy promotes agency continuity and stability which, in turn, supports the agency in attaining its other goals. A goal of the communications plan may be to help the administration meet the expectations of those authorities regarding being kept informed of controversial developments or agency achievements.
Reduce BlindSiding and Look for Opportunities for Key Stakeholders to Shine
Authorities (especially if the authorities are elected officials) may reasonably expect that they not be surprised by learning of negative events through the media. This is one reason why the agency should have a crisis communications plan. The agency also should routinely inform the governing authority of all significant media inquiries as well as efforts at proactive media contacts to highlight accomplishments. In many instances, there may be opportunities for the governing authority to join the agency in the dissemination of good news.