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Honest, regular and clear communication is essential for achieving your goals. It’s also important for staying legitimate and accountable to your community and members. In this topic, we explore effective internal and external communication. We help you seek feedback, conduct effective consultations and develop a communications strategy.
While reading this topic, think about the following questions and how they relate to your organisation, community or nation:
- Why is communication important?
- Think about a group you’re involved in. Are there areas of improvement to work on in your communication?
- Do you currently have processes in place to get feedback and conduct consultations?
Importance of effective communication
Communication can be verbal, written or non-verbal (such as body language). As humans, communication underpins everything we do.2“Effective communication,” Ai Group, updated April 2021, [link] Communication happens both internally and externally to your group.
Sound decisions depend on getting enough information to assess risks and make informed choices. Management has a key role in collecting information and communicating it to the relevant people.
Effective communication can have a big positive impact on your organisation, community or nation. It plays an important role in ensuring that your group achieves its goals.
Leaders are more credible and stronger when they gain trust through communication. This helps to ensure that work is completed in line with your vision. It keeps you accountable to your members and other stakeholders.
Effective communication can have far-reaching benefits. These include:
- improved efficiency and productivity
- improved engagement, wellbeing and satisfaction
- improved public perception and external relations
- collaboration and trust
- preventing and/or resolving problems
- clarity, direction and innovation.
Internal communication with staff and board
Internal communication maximises engagement and collaboration within your organisation, community or nation. The performance and engagement of your staff and board depends on your communication.
Internal communication includes:
- how the CEO and board interact and communicate
- how information channels down to staff
- how staff interact and communicate with one another
- how you organise information and content.
Your internal communication needs the same attention and planning as your external communication. Review it regularly to make sure it still meets your needs. Evolve it as your governance evolves. Considerations for internal communication include:
- Create well-researched, clearly laid out, plain English reports (verbal, visual and written). CEO or managers can present these to the board, giving accurate information, options and suggestions.
- Identify your communications tools. Think about how you’ll use them to enhance internal communication. Tools may include intranets and forums, instant messaging tools (such as MS Teams or Slack), video chat tools and collaboration tools (such as Office365 or Google suite).
- Identify what information you need to communicate, with whom, and how regularly. Information for the board is different and presented differently to information for staff. For example, your board needs to understand your overall financial position, while staff may only need to see their budget.
- Keep your team informed of key decisions or updates that impact them or their roles. You can use the instant messaging, video or collaboration tools listed above. You can also do this through email updates, team meetings or newsletters.
- Have policies and procedures with clear guidelines and expectations about how to communicate with one another. Encourage standards of respectful communication and engagement.
- Communication is a conversation, not one-way. Encourage and take part in productive and meaningful conversations. You can do this by leaving space for questions in meetings or presentations, and involving staff in decision-making and planning. You can also encourage staff to reach out if they have feedback, and create a safe space for them to do so.
Communication with members
Putting your goals in place effectively depends on support and engagement from your organisation, community or nation members.
Strong communication with those affected improves engagement and the chance of support. People are more likely to trust and have confidence in your proposals if they’re consulted.
Communication with your members should be ongoing, even when you expect they might disagree with some ideas.
For organisations, your members need:
- a clear view of how the organisation is going
- to understand what the plans are for its future
- to know that the board is working in the best interest of the organisation and meeting its cultural, legal and ethical obligations.
The board has a responsibility to report to its members. Transparency, accountability and legitimacy are all improved by communicating well. This means the board and management should:
- allow time for people to ask questions at community meetings and annual general meetings (AGMs)
- create communication strategies for regular contact with members and others
- consider where group members are located when organising meetings
- publish reports in accessible formats
- display decisions on community notice boards or social media (if appropriate)
- make board minutes available to members
- take time to actively listen and understand concerns
- ensure communication is culturally safe
- consult on important issues before making decisions and setting strategic direction.
“We have also instituted a process of regular written communiques from the board outlining developments at Congress and the decisions of its governing body following each meeting. These communiques are a means through which the board openly and transparently communicates information about developments, projects, partnerships and research, and its overall position regarding affairs relevant to the context of Aboriginal health care in Australia. They are publicly available on the Congress website.”
– Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Category A Shortlisted Applicant
Central Australian Aboriginal Congress
Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members are spread over a large geographic area. In this case, groups are designing innovative ways to communicate with them. This includes using virtual meeting platforms (for example, Zoom), newsletters, email updates, websites, social media and videos.
It’s important to consider your audience and adapt your communication to suit them. Think about how you can identify your key messages and translate technical or complex information into locally meaningful content. This could mean information presented visually or in language.
To increase levels of understanding, some groups are:
- conducting bilingual meetings (in English and local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages)
- using visual icons and infographics in documents
- translating information into local languages.
The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Muriel Bamblett describes VACCA’s strategies to communicate with the community.
Conducting effective consultations
Consultation is important to understand member and community opinions about a particular issue.
Not everyone has the same interests, cultural rights or enthusiasm. It’s important to include everyone in your organisation, community or nation. Every voice is important and if neglected can later undermine consensus and solutions.
It’s important to have effective methods to seek wide-ranging views. Focus on getting information and ideas from those most affected by the decision – that is, your members.
CPA Australia (Excellence in Governance for Local Government) identified the key points for effective consultation:3CPA Australia, Excellence in Governance for Local Government (CPA Australia, 2005).
Define the purpose
Explain the reason for the consultation and explain how the information gained will be used. Make sure to get people’s agreement.
Be guided by principles and a commitment to make the right decision for the community. Principles might include:
- desire to maximise positive impact of a decision
- maintaining culture
- ensuring a decision is sustainable
- complying with legal requirements.
Consult with the whole community. That means all interest groups. Take into account language, culture, age, gender, diversity of interests and rights.
Choose the best method
Get local people to be part of the design and coordination of the consultation process.
Use language and concepts that everyone can understand, and make sure you provide enough information. Any information should be easily available so that people can make an informed choice or provide thoughtful comment.
Allow plenty of time
Allow enough time to consult thoroughly.
Allow enough resources
Make sure you have enough resources (money, expertise, people) to properly consult. There’s often a heavy unpaid burden of consultation on communities and leaders. Plan ahead and compensate where appropriate.
Consult members and the community regularly, not just when you have to. Consult people about priorities and strategic direction as well as any controversial issues.
Respond to all issues raised, and make sure the process is transparent so that everyone knows what’s being discussed and with whom.
Remember to also give feedback about the final decision.
Evaluate the process
Evaluate the consultation process after the decision has been made. Assess whether it achieved the goals.
Seeking feedback from your stakeholders is a useful way to check how your governance is going. Find out what matters to them. Use this to identify the strengths, talents and knowledge your group or project is able to contribute.
Analysis of the Indigenous Governance Awards recipients shows that successful organisations seek and incorporate feedback from a range of internal and external stakeholders. They do this to remain relevant and responsive.
Regular internal and external feedback processes can have many benefits. These include:
- informing improvements in your group’s internal working environment
- guiding strategic relationships with partner organisations
- aligning the group’s work with your strategic goals and actions.
You can gather feedback in many ways:
- Annual open meetings on Country
- Community consultation and participation
- Surveys of members
- Social media, newsletters and website engagement
- Informal conversations
- Director’s meetings and AGMs
- Strategic planning with staff
- Staff retention rates
- Exit interviews with staff
- Reviews of incident and risk reports
- Debriefing sessions with staff
- Complaints, grievances and appeals register
- Formal meetings and submissions
- Social media, newsletters and website engagement
- Informal conversations
- Partner feedback and satisfaction surveys, including involvement of partners in the evaluation of joint activities
- Communication strategies that require feedback on performance from key stakeholders
- Program evaluation forms
- Annual strategic planning sessions with partner organisations
- Meetings with other organisations to share best practice
- Evaluations conducted by external consultants
“By constantly engaging with others, allowing external scrutiny of our ideas and plans, and being open to accepting the advice of experts, we believe our governance has improved significantly.”
-Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, Category A Shortlisted Applicant 4 “Australian Indigenous Governance Institute and Reconciliation Australia, Strong Governance Supporting Success: Stories and Analysis from the 2016 Indigenous Governance Awards, (Canberra: Australian Indigenous Governance Institute, 2018, Prepared by A. Wighton)
External communication covers communication that anyone outside the group interacts with. It’s about how you convey information to the general public.
External communication overlaps with marketing but there’s a difference. Marketing is about a target audience whereas your external communication is for everyone. ‘Everyone’ may include:
- customers or users
- regulatory bodies
- investors or funding bodies
- partner organisations
- associations or peak bodies
- the general public.
External communication can take various forms. Examples are:
- information on your website or social media
- press or media releases
- reports created and shared (for example, Annual Reports)
- marketing and promotional activities
- newsletters and other publications
- job advertisements and recruitment.
External communication can have direct impacts on public perception and support.
Effective external communication:
- is clear about the message you want to get across – you want the communication to add value.
- meets your legal obligations – is the communication a requirement under legislation?
- adapts the communication and messaging to meet your audience needs.
- is inclusive – consider making your communication personal and authentic to connect with the audience.
- provides clear links and avenues for audiences to find more information where appropriate.
- is culturally appropriate.
Develop your communications strategy
Your communications strategy should recognise, support and celebrate your group, its projects and services to the community.
Developing a communication strategy is essential to:
- support the delivery of your objectives
- be accountable to stakeholders
- build the reputation of and engagement with the group’s brand.
Your communications strategy should focus on both internal and external communication. Use the steps below to develop your communications strategy:
1. Assess your current communications
Conduct a SWOT Analysis to identify your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s important to seek input from a wide range of stakeholders for this assessment.
2. Determine your goal
What do you want to achieve through your communications strategy? You may have an overall goal or a separate goal for internal and external communications.
3. Define your objectives
What are the specific and measurable actions that you will take to achieve your goal or goals?
4. Define your audience
Make sure your communication matches the audience and their needs in the situation they’re in. Make a list of stakeholders and groups that you’ll be communicating with. Consider the key characteristics and needs of those groups.
5. Identify your key messages
What key messages do you want to get across to each audience?
Consider things like:
- what information they already have or want
- what you want them to know
- how much influence the audience has.
6. Identify communication tools
There are many tools and channels to use to communicate with your audience. Which will you use to get your message across?
Complete a list of communication channels available to you. Map which audiences you can communicate with using each channel and their preferences.
7. Seek feedback
Seek feedback from key stakeholders before finalising your strategy.
8. Create an action plan
Once you have your strategy, outline how you’re going to achieve it.
Include things like:
- key activities
- budgeting considerations
- who is responsible.
Be clear about the goals of each action and the metrics to measure success. You may like to create some key performance indicators (KPIs) so that everyone is clear what they’re working towards.
9. Monitor and evaluate
Take time to review your communication strategy, plan regularly and evaluate its success. Are there any changes that need to be made?
This is a good opportunity to once again seek feedback from stakeholders. You may be able to use tools such as analytics of your website views to help you evaluate.
Now it’s time to put your action plan into practice – and review it on a regular basis.
We’ve translated our extensive research on Indigenous governance into helpful resources and tools to help you strengthen your governance practices.
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