Before creating a communication plan, we often recommend that schools and districts conduct a communication audit. In many ways, an audit sets the stage for more meaningful communication planning.
Through a communication audit, you can gain a better understanding of stakeholders’ perceptions of your school or district, get a sense of what stakeholders think about your current communication efforts and determine which types of information are of particular interest to your stakeholders. It also allows you to find out how your stakeholders prefer to be informed.
While school district communication audits can take many forms, there are a couple key components common to most of them:
1) Inventory of current practices
As an initial step, an audit features a review of all of a school district’s current communication practices, including the methods used to reach stakeholders. For example, does the district currently use social media, direct mail or e-newsletters?
Through this process, you can determine, in broad strokes, what is working well and any potential areas of improvement.
2) Community and staff surveys
A great method of gathering valuable feedback from stakeholders is to conduct a survey focused on the district’s current communication efforts. This typically centers on a survey of community members and staff. A survey allows you to capture baseline data related to how people come to think about the district, where they get their information and the challenges they experience in obtaining news and information about the district.
In general, it is best practice to leave surveys open for 20-30 days. Specific efforts should be taken during this time to ensure a solid response rate. This may include sending a postcard to all residential addresses in the district, emailing parents and staff, posting the survey to social media and distributing a news release.
In addition to a communication inventory and survey, communication audits may include focus groups. This is often a good option if there are issues or data points uncovered in the survey that need to be more closely examined.
Once you have completed a communication audit, you will have the data and information you need to engage in comprehensive communication planning. It marks the first step in your efforts to better communicate and engage with your stakeholders, which over time leads to greater overall trust between a district and its community.