Unlocking Communication Barriers

Mwangi Githahu reveals how a media and stakeholder engagement programme is equipping municipal leaders with communication skills to foster better relations with stakeholders.

Stakeholder engagement is arguably the most important ingredient for successful project delivery.

People will only respond if  they are engaged, so, municipal leaders have to rely on engagement to achieve their objectives.

SALGA’s media and stakeholder engagement programme (MSEP) aims to help municipal leaders understand, implement and adapt strategies to achieve desired media and stakeholder results. SALGA is implementing the MSEP under the auspices of the SALGA Centre for Leadership and Governance (SCLG).

Target audience and delivery 

The programme is primarily targeted at the speakers of council, chief whips of council, executive mayors/mayors, deputy executive mayors/deputy mayors and city/municipal managers in all municipalities. Additionally, ward councillors and spokespersons also form part of the programme as the secondary target audience.

“The skills programme methodology is delivered through a blended learning approach consisting of two-day classroom sessions and a one-day simulated learning session whereby learners experience practical, hands-on training using makeshift media studios to disseminate information to the public and enhance their command in social media usage. These simulated ‘live’ panel discussions are recorded as part of the delegates’ portfolio of evidence. Upon successful completion of the programme, delegates will receive certificates of competence, which will enable them to obtain 20 credits towards achieving full qualifications in media studies should they wish to pursue this further in an individual capacity.”

The course is an NQF level four (4) aligned credit-bearing skills programme covering the following thematic learning areas: Media and Community Relations, Stakeholder Engagement Management and Social Media principles.

By the end of the three-day course, the political and administrative leaders of municipalities are expected to be equipped with engagement coordination skills that should help unlock long-standing communication barriers between municipalities, the media and communities.

The development of such skills by political and administrative leaders is essential to develop the communities they serve. On completion of the programme, municipal leaders should be able to identify appropriate media to suit their target audience; develop and manage mechanisms for interacting with the media; prepare and conduct media interviews; handle difficult media interviews across all platforms; and apply the principles of social media to engage and promote local government agenda.

Other skills they are expected to learn include being able to identify digital tools to enhance content marketing; understand and apply theories and principles of community relations; demonstrate an understanding of community, its dynamics and implications thereof; compile and implement stakeholder relationship management plans; and evaluate the effectiveness of key stakeholders involved in a project.

It is hoped that the training will break down communication barriers between municipalities, the media and communities. A project, particularly in the early stages, may be unclear to its stakeholders, for example, in terms of purpose, scope, risks and approach. Early, then regular consultation is essential to ensure that requirements are agreed upon and a delivery solution is negotiated that is acceptable to the majority of stakeholders.

Building trust

The initiative came about as a result of the growing demand for greater transparency and accountability of municipalities towards the communities they serve.

A more conscientious and measured approach to stakeholder engagement is essential and investment in careful planning before engagement can bring significant benefits.

Developing relationships results in increased trust. And where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Investing effort in identifying and building stakeholder relationships can increase confidence across the project environment, minimise uncertainty, and speed up problem-solving and decision-making.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 361828148

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