Communication
May 7, 2012

The power of community

The communications community of the Government of Canada plays a central role in connecting Canadians with their national government. This is a time of rapid evolution in communications with attendant challenges relating to recruitment and development as well as communications technology and innovation.

The community has been facing these challenges by taking renewal very seriously. Recruitment, retention, training, leadership development and innovation in communications are and continue to be its priorities.

Renewal initiatives are coordinated and often implemented by the Communications Community Office (CCO). The office is guided by a Steering Committee of directors general and assistant deputy ministers of communications, led by an assistant deputy minister and deputy minister champion. Funding comes entirely from the voluntary, annual contributions of over 40 participating departments and agencies.

Three years ago, community leaders in consultation with communicators at all levels developed a strategic plan that included concrete deliverables for renewal. And the CCO, thanks to the ideas and the work of hundreds of volunteers from communications branches and offices across Canada, has used ingenuity and innovation to deliver on the plan.

The entire community has been and continues to be engaged in recruitment efforts. Four collective staffing exercises will have been conducted by the end of 2010. The success rate of recruiting from outside government particularly at mid-level has been tremendous. To date, over 40 percent of successful candidates have been from outside government.

Student outreach has also been successful. The CCO has developed a program that is unique to its community. Four times a year, it holds Student Networking Cafés, events targeted specifically at university students enrolled in communications or communications-related programs. These events, held on campuses in the National Capital Region and across Canada, bring together students and experienced government communicators representing over a dozen communications functions in the government. The “expert” from within government provide students with a quick overview of the nature of the communications work and what their careers could look like.

The Student Networking Cafés can hold up to 100 students. In the past year, it has reached and exceeded capacity within days of being advertized. A student can speak with over 12 or 13 “experts” in government communications during one Café. They have the opportunity to learn and ask questions. One compared it to “speed dating” for their career.

Following a Café, those who are eligible to be bridged in to government provide their resumés to the CCO which in turn provides lists of eligible students to contributing departments. Since the inception of the student bridging initiative three years ago and a first list of 15 students, over 200 students have registered as participants. Of these, 95 have been hired into junior communications positions. The CCO now offers an evergreen inventory of 50 students and recent graduates ready to be bridged into positions.

The community has also developed a unique program for leadership development. The Coach-Assisted Mid-Level Mentoring Program is now just wrapping up as a community-wide pilot program. This initiative brought together mid- to senior-level communicators (from IS-04 to IS-06), with senior communications executives up to and including ADM level. It provided a structure unlike any other mentoring program. All “mentees” were given 360-degree assessments which were used to establish developmental programs with their mentors. Mentors, on the other hand, were provided with executive coaching sessions to help them in their role.

The program is currently being evaluated; however, anecdotal information so far provides three things of note. First, participants on both sides benefited from it and highly recommend that this program be rolled out to the community as a whole. Second, the majority of participants have indicated that, in spite of the fact that the pilot is over, they intend to continue their relationship past the one-year period. And third, some mentees have indicated that they are ready for, and willing to take on, the role of mentor for junior communicators. The program is in fact organically building itself.

Development can take many forms and the CCO, in collaboration with the community, has developed a tool to facilitate discussions and decisions on training and development. The Professional Development Roadmap, soon to be an interactive database, takes communicators and their supervisors through the competencies, including leadership competencies, for every level and job type, and maps them to available training in the NCR and in each of the regions.

At the very least, this facilitates discussions between communicators; at best, communicators can set a goal and work toward it by ensuring they meet each and every required competency as they move through their careers.

Underpinning the work of the community is a commitment to research and evaluation. Research into the community identifies areas that require attention, and all programs are monitored and evaluated to determine their continued effectiveness and need.

Dramatic changes are occurring in communications and keeping pace with modern communication techniques is important. Communicators need to learn and employ the latest techniques in public sector communications. To this end, a working group of over 100 individuals under the leadership of a director general of communications has made significant progress in documenting the current use of social media as well as developing the business case and policy considerations for further adoption of leading edge approaches. The work and discussions have and continue to be shared among the community, and indeed throughout government, on GCPedia.

This community has embraced the concept of renewal and has done so through innovation and coming together to move initiatives forward. As it finishes one three-year plan, it is in the process of developing the next plan to take it three years forward to the next level.

Elizabeth Seymour is the executive director of the federal Communications Community Office. She has over 25 years of experience in government communications with a number of departments.

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