Ottawa City Staff Has A Failure To Communicate: BENN




A former old hand at city hall the other day was offering sage advice. Communications need to be short and concise.

State what the problem is. Provide a solution. Explain what the likely consequences of not acting will be.

City hall memos fail to even remotely meet that standard.

The reader is often left wondering what the problem is? Sometimes the memos get there, but even then, the description of the problem is buried so deep that the document must be re-read a couple of times to figure it out.

Sometimes a solution is presented without actually pointing out what problem is being addressed. If councillors don’t know what the problem is, how will they know whether the proposed solution will solve it?

Only a few memos over the decade have outlined the consequences of a failure to act.  One or two of the Lansdowne 2.0 reports highlighted that if the north stands aren’t replaced that the maintenance costs would continue (duh), and likely rise. But did they ever state that if the proscribed maintenance was performed, that the stands would eventually (with at least a passing reference to number of years) be condemned?

So, here it is councillors. City communications present multiple problems. They are so poorly crafted that council lacks sufficient information to make an informed decision.

Memos and reports that fail to define clearly what the problem is, of what is failing, or what needs to be improved are just a waste of electrons, paper and toner.

A proposed solution that lacks sufficient detail to allow a councillor to understand if it will solve the aforementioned poorly described problem is a problem. That it is usually buried inside the endless paragraphs of copy-paste, find-replace boiler plate just makes it more irritating to the reader to finally conclude that they spent a long time reading something of limited utility.

Another problem is the lack of a description of the consequences of failing to act. In fairness to staff, since council invariably approves staff reports, why should they bother explaining that there are no material consequences of failing to act?

Back to the real problem. The root problem is that council continues to accept poor quality communications. Is that because, for many councillors, they have never seen any other kind of communication? It is painfully apparent that too many councillors don’t know what they don’t know. That either they don’t recognize this weakness, or they don’t care that they don’t know what they don’t know.

The solution councillors is to demand that staff dramatically improve the quality of its memos and reports. The solution councillors is to improve not just staff’s game, but your own game.

The consequences of not receiving materially improved communications from staff is to see the quality of governance of this city to continue to wallow at the levels described so bluntly in the LRT Commission report.  And for those who haven’t bothered to read that report, suffice it to say that it was not a flattering review.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.


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