Donovan Group Insights

Community Feedback is Always Worth the Consideration

When you want input on something, you ask for the community’s feedback. However, there will be times when stakeholders make their voices heard, even when you didn’t ask them to. In fact, community feedback comes to you from all angles, all the time.

Community feedback is a highly valuable tool—not just for making critical decisions, but for bridging gaps, gaining new perspectives and building stronger relationships.

Community feedback will find its way to you

There are times when you actively search for feedback. You create stakeholder surveys and organize focus groups to gather insight about potential new programs or initiatives. Other times, feedback comes to you unsolicited. You don’t always have control over when, where and how often you receive feedback. Stakeholders will speak up when they feel the need to, and as a representative of the school district, it’s your job to listen.

When you look closely, you’ll see that community feedback presents itself in a variety of ways. You might log in to your computer one morning to see an email from a concerned parent sitting in your inbox. On social media, community members can leave comments voicing their opinions about the district’s latest referendum or proposed budget. At PTO and board meetings, stakeholders are free to stand up and make themselves heard. Feedback is everywhere—whether or not you tune in to that feedback is up to you.

Why should you listen?

Community feedback is highly valuable to your district, whether you’re actively searching for it or not. Feedback doesn’t just help you choose the right course of action for your district. The mere act of listening shows stakeholders that they play a crucial role in the district’s success. You don’t always have to use the feedback given to you. What’s more important is developing positive relationships within the community.

Here’s why you should always take community feedback into consideration:

Tune into stakeholders’ thoughts and feelings.

District leaders often feel disconnected from the people in their communities. They send messages out into the ether, unsure of who’s actually hearing them. It’s hard to tell how many people read your emails, letters, notifications and social media posts, and nearly impossible to know everyone’s reactions to those messages. There’s too much talking at stakeholders and not enough talking with stakeholders.

District leaders should jump at the opportunity to listen to stakeholders, even if someone expresses their displeasure with the district. At the very least, it shows that they care enough to say something! Listening builds real human connections and helps you see stakeholders not just as stakeholders, but as people whose lives are impacted by the district’s decisions. Those authentic connections will serve you well down the road.

Look at situations from the community’s perspective.

Community feedback allows you to assess situations from multiple perspectives. When your district is planning a new budget, referendum, program or initiative, it’s always important to put yourself in the community’s shoes—more specifically, the shoes of each unique stakeholder group. What you think is right for the district could be vastly different from what other people think is right for the district.

No one understands the wants, needs and dreams of stakeholders better than the stakeholders themselves. If you want to appease the greatest number of stakeholders, you have to tune into what they’re saying. Listening to their thoughts, opinions and concerns will put you in a better position to not only do what’s best for your district, but the people within your district.

Bridge communication gaps and have productive conversations.

Feedback opens the door to two-way communication. Stakeholders can make their voices heard, and in return, you get a chance to address the questions and concerns weighing on their minds. You can reach out to stakeholders, and stakeholders can reach out to you. But ultimately, what’s going to help you bridge that communication gap is listening.

Feedback is also the doorway to productive conversations. Rather than making a decision without stakeholder input, you and the community can work together to arrive at a decision that will make the vast majority of people happy. If some people are not happy with your decision, you can at least explain how you arrived at that decision and show how much you respect each individual’s opinion.

Align the interests of district leaders and the community.

You have a vision for the district. The question is, does it align with the community’s vision? You won’t be able to please everyone because each stakeholder group has a slightly different idea of what they want for the district. However, understanding stakeholders’ wants and needs will allow you to pitch ideas in a way that aligns not just with your interests, but with theirs as well.

In order to win the community’s support, you have to make it clear that your proposed idea is in line with what they want. And to do that, you have to learn what exactly it is they want. Listening to community feedback will allow you to find common ground with stakeholders and discover how your interests align with theirs. Speak to their interests, and they’ll be more accepting of big changes.

Build strong, positive relationships with stakeholders.

For many stakeholders, all they want is their district to lend a listening ear. There’s no rule that says you have to use every piece of feedback that gets thrown your way. Community feedback isn’t always constructive, productive or helpful. Thankfully, listening to them speak is often enough to put you in good standing with stakeholders.

It’s not about implementing feedback from every single individual in your community. Rather, it’s about building those all-important stakeholder relationships. By listening to stakeholders, you’re allowing them to play a part in the decision-making process. The community can feel confident that they arrived at a decision together.

Take community feedback with a grain of salt

You should always listen when the community speaks. However, you don’t always have to use what they give you. Stakeholders will always disagree with each other, which results in contradictory feedback and no clear path forward. At the end of the day, you and your fellow district leaders are making the final decision. Feedback might sway that decision, or it might not. It’s impossible to make everyone happy—you just have to trust that you’re doing what’s right for the community.

Whatever decision you make, be confident and stick with it. If you’re confident in your decision, stakeholders will be confident in you. Even if some stakeholders don’t agree with your course of action, you can at least provide facts, studies and rationale to support it. Stakeholders need a district leader who’s trustworthy and who will put their minds at ease. Again, what’s most important is that you’re listening to their feedback.

Listen before making a decision

Community feedback will come to you, even when you’re not looking for it. You can always put that feedback to good use, whether you’re using it to make a critical decision or to simply build stronger relationships with stakeholders. The most important thing is to show stakeholders that you’re listening. After all, they just want to be heard!

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