Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself— With A Comms Audit
“Sometimes you’re just too close to something to see it clearly.”
Or maybe you see a problem clearly but understand the value of an independent assessment to provide clear direction and buy-in from leadership.
Whatever the case, deciding on an external communications audit leads to proactively identifying problems before they occur. Think of it like getting an inspection on your car before you begin a cross-country road trip by yourself. Best to know what adjustments to make to your car before heading down a highway with limited cell service at night.
We all know a crisis is always near, ready to appear at any moment. A communications audit will assess your crisis plan, staff roles in communicating during a crisis, and gaps in training and response chains. It’s important school communicators stay ready and equipped with the necessary tools and systems to respond effectively and immediately.
However, it’s not just preventive measures that call for a communications audit. Here are some other great reasons to assess your communication efforts:
Is your communication department properly staffed?
We bet we can guess most of your answers to this question. Understaffing is an issue across all departments in a school district, and requests for more help are not new to a superintendent. So, if you’re thinking of asking to expand your communications department, showing the need for more staff is a great start to the process.
Whether it’s comparing your district’s communication capacity to similarly sized districts in your region or identifying the role of communications in your district’s strategic plan, an audit will shine a light on how well-staffed a department is to deliver on the expectations leaders have for communication goals and the value of your communication to families.
It’s important to remember that an audit is an objective inquiry into a communications department. The findings may not show a department is understaffed, so conducting an audit as a sole driver for hiring staff is not good practice, nor use of audit capacity.
Are you communicating and engaging equitably with all of your families and stakeholders?
You’ve run the analytics on your email open rates, social media engagement on your latest video, and the latest online family surveys show positive results. All appears to be good with family engagement.
But what about the families that don’t have consistent access to email or social media? Or families who do not speak English or a language you currently translate through translation services? It’s often quite easy for these families to continue falling through the communication system cracks.
It’s not just the information these families miss that causes damage, but rather the lack of opportunities these families may have to be a part of their child’s educational journey.
In a recent audit conducted by CEL, migrant families shared their hopes and dreams for their students – many of which included going to college and finding a career they love. However, that sentiment was shadowed by the fact parents did not know about college applications, graduation requirements, and how to improve grades and test scores. It’s sometimes called the unwritten curriculum of a school — how to navigate available opportunities that college-educated parents just know.
A communication audit can reveal equity holes in a communications strategy – specifically surrounding non-English speaking families. Remember, successful engagement is two-way and provides more than just general information pushed to families.
Are your principals and site staff receiving proper information and training on communication tools?
One common finding during a communications audit is that school sites are all using different communication protocols to engage with their families. This causes problems when parents have multiple students and different schools, and they receive information about their students differently from each school.
This is also true when a student transitions from elementary to middle to high school, forcing parents to learn new systems and methods of communicating with teachers and staff. If all schools are using different systems, how are they being properly trained and are they following best practices?
A communications audit will gather all the systems in the district, identify what is working with those systems (and what is not) and recommend tools that will best support all staff and families. It’s important to have staff and family feedback when making this decision because buy-in is crucial to a successful implementation.
Are your communication efforts leading to a desired change in behavior?
Communication has many goals and objectives in a school district – build trust, increase enrollment, and share the stories of our students. There are also communication objectives that aim to change the behavior of stakeholders to establish a culture.
These communication objectives could be to have a much higher parent-teacher conference turnout, increase parent volunteers at school activities, or boost a higher voter turnout in your community. These are all desired changes in stakeholder behavior, beliefs, and actions.
Focus groups conducted during a communications audit can shed light on these sentiments and lay the foundation for improved goals and strategies to ensure your communication efforts have the desired effect.
Does your district have the trust of the community?
‘Community Trust’ feels almost elusive for many of us in school communications at this point. It’s become a trendy buzzword for board members and superintendents, but do many leaders identify what trust is, how it’s measured, and how it can be improved?
Stakeholder trust in a district may be the most important factor in the work educators do. Without trust, the positive work being done inside and outside of the classroom fails to be as impactful. A lack of trust leads to misinformation and an uphill battle to supporting students with the resources they need most for learning. A lack of trust makes a superintendent’s job harder.
Sometimes we brainstorm for ways to build trust, develop evaluation methods, and identify opportunities to implement strategies we think will work. But we can also just ask.
Stakeholders – especially those who do not trust an organization – are usually not shy about sharing what they don’t trust. These stakeholders can also share what they do trust, why they trust that information, and how a district can begin to earn their trust back.
We may not always agree with the answers we receive, but they’re answers nonetheless. And a communications audit will speak to enough stakeholders to identify themes and narratives surrounding trust and how the district can begin to build – or maintain – trust with its community.
If your district or department is considering a communications audit for any reason, there are a lot of great places to start gathering information. NSPRA provides communication audits and evaluates communications against its established NSPRA benchmarks for recommendations. Whichever route you choose, an independent, in-depth review of the district’s communications gives the leadership team the tools needed to effectively assess current and future communication needs of its stakeholders.
Published on: November 2, 2022