Today we continue our discussion on working with the media, focusing on what you can do after the “meeting” part of an engagement process has ended to help ensure that progress is made and that the work done during the process is not ignored. Here are some steps to consider.
- Release a report that summarizes the work done and connects it with other actions, events, or ongoing processes in your community. For example, if the City Council must vote on a recommendation, state how that recommendation will be put before them and when it will be considered. As another example, if recommendations affect something like an existing plan, explain the process for amending that plan. Planning for and explaining how recommendations will be integrated into critical processes like budgeting helps to place progress on the recently completed engagement within the context of other ongoing government actions.
- All of this can be worked into a transition plan that lays out the details of the implementation process. Establishing priorities with consideration given to limited resources and stating expected time lines can be very useful in helping the media form reasonable expectations.
- Make sure information is readily accessible to the media so that it can be referred to as reporters are working on related issues. For example, you could have a web portal where key documents can be reviewed and downloaded. You can also provide summary updates online as your time line unfolds using a simple form like the visioning Accountability Tracker used in Columbia, MO.
- You need to be proactive in ensuring that the media appropriately places decisions made or actions taken in the long term context of your engagement process and plan. You can of course prepare press releases that place those actions within the context of the engagement process. If possible, you should also brief new reporters on the history of your engagement process and plans and periodically check in with others on emerging issues and how they relate back to recommendations made or to guiding principles that were established through your process. This makes it more likely that media reports will place actions taken in an appropriate context that helps to educate the public.
- Continue to inform and involve those who took part in your engagement process. The participants from an engagement process will generally have at least a passing interest in seeing how their ideas move toward implementation and can become valuable assets for tough problems. You can, for instance, create a listserv and encourage participants to sign up and stay in touch. If kept informed, these citizens will often correct misinformation on media related blogs or write letters to the editor that promote ongoing productive dialogue. If you have a media partner, it may be possible to link requests for input and comment with media reports and share both the blogging platform and the data received.
- As with other phases of engagement, it is worth thinking about how the media works, laying out “themes” that help you respond when issues arise. Since media reports are often written to suggest controversy where none exists, project “failure” of government to be efficient or responsive, or illustrate government “rejection” of citizen “demands”, you might, starting with your final report, lay out mitigating themes. One such theme would be that “government can’t do it all (or do it alone)”. Emphasize that the implementation of recommendations is an ongoing and evolving process and that decisions on how and when to move forward on a recommendation will factor in realities such as budgets and limits on staff available. Invite help from the community in establishing priorities between competing demands and procuring additional resources needed. Referring back to these themes as issues arise will help both the media and the public better understand the interrelationships and trade-offs between issues and the rationale behind decisions made.