Thursday, January 8, 2015

“Columbia Speaks. CA Listens.” OK, So Now What?

In case you haven’t yet, you should check out the four documents that comprise the written reporting from the “Columbia Speaks. CA Listens” initiative.  The links for each can be found below.  One and four are the most important and are in bold; two and three are fine if you really want to get into the details.

1) Summary Report (14 pages).  A must-read.  Start here:

2) Table Discussion Notes (31 pages).  “Showing the work.”  It is worth a gander:

3) Post-Event Comments (6 pages).  If you read the Table Discussion Notes, you might as well look through this document too…

4) Comment Card Q and A (17 pages).  The other “must-read” as it also contains helpful news you can use (in the form of question answers from “appropriate CA subject experts”):

A. Initial Thoughts and a Hearty Thank You:

First, I am pleased that the Columbia Association took the time to put together this event and intelligence-gathering process.  Moreover, I am elated that (apparently), some specific operational and communications changes have been, or will be, enacted based on the feedback received from the residents who participated.

Kudos to all of those involved who took the time to provide, gather, analyze, and/or implement the intelligence contained in the four documents.

B. Beyond That:

1) I am a bit concerned based on the descriptor of the “discussion moderators.”  Without knowing anything else about their specific backgrounds beyond that they were “moderators from Howard Community College’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center,” I would have preferred if at least some of the small-group (read: breakout) sessions were led by professionally-trained meeting facilitators or, preferably, focus group moderators.  Being of the latter group, of course I am biased.  That said, I look upon this as being a research initiative, and if the purpose of “Columbia Speaks. CA Listens” is to uncover insights to inform and enhance business and communications strategies, well, I would want some qualitative research experts around to help structure and guide the discussions.  Sometimes conflict within such conversations is productive, it helps shed light on concerns and possible solutions.  To that end, I consider “mediation” to be a different mentality and skill-set.  This is not a criticism of their work, it is just something to bear in mind.

2) The summary report could have been organized a bit more efficiently so the reader could locate, at a glance, the executive summary of key findings for each of the main sections and, importantly, the implications/recommendations/tangible changes that the CA will highlight as they seek to reform the relevant processes and procedures.  It is OK in the current form, but a table of contents, the use of different colors, some re-ordering of the sections, perhaps even translating the narrative document into a PowerPoint deck, would make the document more reader-friendly. 

Now, these two abovementioned concerns might sound like procedural griping, and they are to a certain extent, but they are important nonetheless.  Both have the potential to impact the substantive success of the initiative and I hope that the CA keeps these considerations in mind for any follow-up listening programs.

C. Beyond “Beyond That”:

I. Programs and Service Offerings – Proposed Changes:  Of the ideas presented, improved signage sounds like a reasonable, and relatively simple, fix.

2. Governance – Proposed Changes: It essentially boiled down to “how best to increase participation” and “how best to empower our residents, given the specific responsibilities of the CA.”  Nothing earth-shattering here, with one notable exception.  The proposed “advisory task force” could be very helpful, or rather deleterious, to Columbia…based on the composition, world-view, and recommendations developed by such a task force, should one be created.  This is a notion worth watching.

3. CA Communications and Engagement – Proposed Changes:  Some practical website revisions were outlined, as were some ideas on improving other existing information delivery vehicles. I think some additional website usability testing might be in order.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

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