Communication and information flow

 

Introduction

 

Why is communication important?

There is more activity on the island than ever before and if we want to make the best of any opportunities that benefit the island, then we must work together as a community – and that requires good communication. If we do decide to establish a Development Trust for Lismore, then it will aim to include all members of the community equally and to involve everyone in making decisions. This will mean co-operation and collaboration it will be important that we all communicate effectively and share information as openly as possible.

 

Why do we need a policy on communication and information flow?

Communication is something that everyone needs to do every day, but most of us don’t do as well as we could. It is easy to assume that we have been effective at sharing information and giving others an opportunity to become involved in what we are doing, without thinking too closely about our audiences and the needs of the people that we are trying to include.

 

We need a clear and understandable policy and plan on communication, so that everyone knows what to expect – how, where and when information will be shared and how they can give feedback, air their views and help to make decisions that affect the community.  In order to ensure that the decision making process is open, transparent, inclusive and understandable the information that is shared must be user friendly and fit for purpose. It must reach all members of the community - so we need to think about using a range of different communication channels.

 

Background

 

At the last census in 2001, Lismore had a population of 146, of which, 49.3% were male, 15.1% were under 15 and 39.7% were of retirement age or over.  110 people were aged between 16 and 74. 77.8% of the men and 63.3% of women aged between 16 and 65 were in employment. The majority of residents (71.2%) were born in Scotland; 61.6% listed their religion as Church of Scotland, with 28.8% belonging to no particular religion. There were 72 households, 34.7% of these comprised only one person and 44.4% of households only had people of pensionable age.

 

The majority of islanders (85.6%) remain on the island during the day, whereas 14.4% leave the island during the day to go to work or school. According to the census, 141 residents had lived at the same address a year before; we had one person moving onto the island and 16 out-migrants (most of these were probably school leavers).

 

The population has fluctuated since then, as school leavers have gone on to work and college and as properties have changed hands and more people have moved onto the island, but the relative proportions of each group have probably remained much the same. The number of people who are in paid work is slowly increasing but the proportion of Gaelic speakers is decreasing (in line with the national/regional trend).

 

In 2001,  the majority of working people were self employed (36.36%); 26.36% were retired; 9.09% were employed full time, 5.45% part-time and 3.64% were unemployed. 6.36% of residents looked after the home/family and 10% were classed as permanently sick or disabled.  There were no full time students.

 

Agriculture remains the main economic activity on the island (41.07%); 44.64% of the workforce also classed themselves as working in skilled trades. Most people (42.86%) worked at home; 37.5% travelled to work by car and 17.86% used other means of transport (this is probably mainly the ferries).

 

Out of the 56 people aged 16-74 that were listed as being in employment in 2001, 49% worked more than 37.5 hours a week. The breakdown of employment categories is given below – some people would work within more than one category:

                       

Profession

Percentage of workforce

Agriculture/forestry

41.07%

Fishing

3.57%

Mining & Quarrying

1.79%

Manufacturing

5.36%

Construction

1.79%

Wholesale, retail trade & repairs

10.71%

Hotels & restaurants

1.79%

Transport, storage & communication

5.36%

Financial intermediaries

1.79%

Real estate/renting

3.57%

Public administration, defence, social security

5.36%

Education

8.93%

Health & Social Work

5.36%

Other

3.57%

Managers/senior officials

7.14%

Professionals

10.71%

Associated professional/technical

10.71%

Administration/secretarial

5.36%

Skilled trades

44.64%

Sales/customer service

3.57%

Process, plants & machinery operators

7.14%

Elementary

10.71%

 

 

The different sectors within the community will access information through different channels and they will make use of information in different ways. They may also want varying levels of involvement and engagement in the decision making process.

 

Common ground/statement of intent

 

As outlined previously, we need to agree some guiding principles that we all work to, in order to ensure that there is best practice in communication and sharing information.

An effective communication process will:

 

o        Be fit for purpose

o        Reach all members of the community

o        Use appropriate technology

o        Cascade information

o        Use ambassadors/listeners/facilitators – per sectoral group, geographical location

 

In addition to agreeing the processes and procedures for what will underpin good communication within the community and with external partners and stakeholders, and outlining the mechanisms for managing information flow, we also need to think about the communication culture in which we all operate within the community. This isn’t just thinking about what information to share and when and the mechanisms for ensuring that we discuss issues – it is about our attitudes and approaches to the way that we do our business.

Many organisations define a common purpose or a statement of intent, which outlines the basic principles that will guide the way that we interact with each other. This would include the principles of respect, equality, fairness and open-ness, transparency and accountability, consensus building and compromise and our shared values and goals. Further ideas on a possible common purpose/statement of intent are outlined in an appendix.  

 

Purpose of communication

 

Good communication should underpin all the activities of the Development Trust. Ongoing feedback will help to make sure that the Trust’s work is focused and targeted on delivering the community’s key aims and objectives. Regular dialogue will help to inform the review of any strategies and plans prepared by the Trust and to make sure that the community’s priorities are still relevant. Well thought-out and planned communication processes will help to support:

    

o        Reporting on progress – both to funding bodies/partners and to the community

o        Informing others about our activities

o        Raising awareness/educating on key issues

o        Gathering views and feedback

o        Building consensus and making decisions in a proactive way

o        Forward planning – agreeing strategic aims, objectives and priorities

o        Collective decision making - making direct decisions on situations that arise on an ongoing basis. We need to inform people when a decision needs to be taken, explain the background and provide sufficient information for an informed decision to made, also circulating information to everyone on the decision once it has been taken.

 

Hopefully, most of the above communication needs will be met using the same channels but some of the methods and approaches may differ. These are outlined later on.

 

Audiences

The Development Trust’s key audiences are likely to be:

o        Community – active (mobile) adults, inactive adults, youth (13-16/18), children (primary)

o        External stakeholders

o        Key partners

o        Media/wider public

 

The Trust’s primary audience will be its members, i.e. the community and other people with an interest in it. The member categories will be defined by the Working Group and agreed by the community, but these could be: resident members, associate members, employees and youth members. A definition of residents would be required and the sub group looking at governance and legal aspects will address this. However, residents might normally be defined as people who normally live full-time on the island or are away in full-time education. The community could be asked to decide, in public meetings, on any “grey” areas, such as people who normally live elsewhere but who spend significant amounts of time here or have a particular attachment or interest in the island. Associate members would receive information as for the resident members, they could attend all meetings but would not have voting rights.

.

If members were asked to register, then we could maintain a membership database and use this to seek views on the most appropriate feedback mechanisms to meet their needs.

 

The community contains a range of sectors, all of which the Trust needs to communicate with in different ways, including:

 

o        Primary age children

o        Youth (High School)

o        Young adults (16-24)

o        Senior citizens

o        Farmers/crofters/fishermen

o        People working off the island

o        People running small businesses (non farming)

o        Holiday cottages/B&B

o        Others with membership status

 

The Trust will also have a relationships with the existing groups on the island and will want to build regular dialogue with them, these include:

 

o        Heritage Society

o        Hall committee

o        Community Council

o        Community Transport

o        Art Group/ camera club

o        Scottish Country Dancing

o        Bowls

o        Over 40’s Club

o        Book Group

o        Computer club

o        Other identified groups

 

Communication channels/information sharing mechanisms

 

The initial step in managing governance, decision making and communication issues would be to prepare a database of community members – everyone wishing to become a member would complete a registration form and their details would be stored in a database. Members could be asked to sign in at meetings, so that members regularly not attending meetings could be contacted for their views/encouraging their involvement. Resident members over the age of 16 would be eligible to vote on issues, although everyone else would be invited to offer their views.

 

Members will be able to access information when they attend public meetings, should they wish to. They will also be able to access information either through reading meeting minutes circulated by E mail, placed on notice-boards or on the website; via circulated newsletters or by informal discussions with other community members. Those unable to access information via these channels can negotiate an alternative arrangement, i.e. by listener / facilitators, postal copies of minutes etc.  Also, they need to be able to give feedback on their views and to vote on key issues. The establishment of listeners/facilitators may assist with this – these positions would probably be established on a voluntary basis, at least to begin with, but might eventually be paid if finances allowed.

 

The role of the listener/facilitators would be to discuss the various issues and projects with identified groups and to gather feedback from them and present this to the public meetings. Although these will begin as voluntary positions, a job description could be agreed and the listener/facilitators would receive some training to help them to meet the needs of their identified groups.  These might eventually be paid should finances allow.  There could be a mechanism for people to outline their views in writing by completing and submitting a feedback form, with the help of the listener/facilitators where required.

 

Similarly, Students who are away all week or for longer might have difficulty accessing information that is circulated by traditional methods. In this case, they might use the website and minutes, newsletters and updates could reach them by Email. But provisions could also be made for certain information to be sent via text, with requests for feedback. Similar provisions could be made for voting, if necessary, and this will be covered in more detail on the related paper on decision making. 

A diagram of the possible communication channels for each grouping within the community is appended to this document.

 

Workshops and focus group events can be held to carry out consultations on new project proposals and to build consensus on issues. Board members and listener/facilitators or volunteers could conduct interviews with individual community members or particular groups within the community. They could also key into social occasions, such as the over 40’s lunch and the Out-Reach project.

Feedback forms and questionnaires could also be used to gather comments and views.

 

Roles and responsibilities

 

Effective communication is dependent on everyone getting involved and being as open and approachable as possible but there will be a number of key responsibilities:

 

1.        Board secretariat – responsible for:

2.        Board:

3.        Listeners-facilitators:

 

Since communication can be a complex topic and needs to be managed carefully on an ongoing and regular basis, a Communication Sub Group should be established to oversee all aspects of communication and information sharing.

 

Resources requirements

 

o        PC and E mail account – with a dedicated address

o        Website – possibly work with the computer club on the community website and establishing a Development Trust webpage

o        Paper/toner/photocopying for newsletters, minutes etc

o        Dedicated mobile phone – for texting information to, and receiving information from, people off the island who require this

o        Staff/volunteer time

o        Listener/facilitators

o        Admin – postage, stationery etc

 

Financial sources: Initially, this is likely to be from grants but eventually, communication activities would be supported by income generation.

 

Summary and Recommendations

 

We recommend that the Working Group asks the community to adopt the proposals put forward in this paper, and particularly to agree to the following:

 

1.        Establishing a database of E mail addresses for people who wish to receive information by this means

2.        Posting minutes on the website and noticeboards

3.        Sending hard copies of minutes to anyone requesting them by this method

4.        Establishing listener/facilitator positions to liaise with and provide feedback to groups within the community

5.        Circulating newsletters at least twice a year to all households by E mail or post, and placing them on the website

6.        Establishing a dedicated E mail address to circulate and receive information

7.        Set up a dedicated mobile phone account to circulate information by text

8.        Establish an online forum, which will be password protected and open to registered members only

9.        Regular use of workshops, focus group events and brainstorming meetings to share ideas and help build consensus  

 


Appendix 1: proposed communication channels

 

 


Abbreviations

 

A&B = Argyll & Bute Council

HIE A&I = Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Argyll & the Islands

SNH = Scottish Natural Heritage

MSP – Member of the Scottish Parliament

MP = Member of Parliament

MEP = Member of European Parliament

DTA = Development Trusts Association

SCVO = Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

ABSEN = Argyll & Bute Social Enterprise Network