There is always a lot said about the value of good communications and a well though out communications plan…still it is one of the most under utilized tools of the election process (not to mention as a practice of First Nation governance). The general standard seems to be generate a couple notices as required by the elections regulations post them at the administrative offices, post on the Nation’s website that no-one visits, and if you are lucky place in a newsletter delivered to houses on reserve (and if you are really lucky have the notices mailed to members residing off-reserve).
I shared in Chapter 1 the value of establishing a communications protocol or plan well in advance the election date – at least 1 year. This is a great opportunity to drawn in and begin engaging your members/electors not only about the election processes but also build a culture that understands and embraces your election processes, the benefits it brings as a component of self government and self determination, and remove the uncertainty and build trust. Take the time early on to communicate and celebrate transparency, embracing self-determination and governance ownership, and with a focus on using the imminent election as an opportunity to continue building a strong, healthy and successful First Nation.
Sitting Chief and Councils (or whatever your elected office title) should also see this as an opportunity to share their successes, triumphs and challenges. It’s important that your people see that you have worked hard and remained dedication to the Nation and done your best to bring prosperity. It is equally important that your people see that you have made mistakes and stumbled, and made the tough decisions and continue to stand by them, and while not perfect always struggled to make the best decision possible with the information available.
Your election communication strategy should, and effective communications strategies always, utilize the variety of available communication media to your First Nation: print (newsletters and notices), community meetings, forums and gatherings, and the web (your Nations website and social media – more on this in the next 2 chapters). Not all media are created equal of course but whats important is not to put all your eggs in one basket and expect your communications to reach all members and have a positive and meaningful impact.
In addition, having a plan for your communications strategy will help establish and manage costs, provide an assessment tool to determine which elements are working, which need to be adjusted and which can be eliminated. Be sure to build in a feedback channel and use this an opportunity to develop and focus your messaging…be fluid and able to build a great communications effort around your elections process. Consider these pointers in building a communication strategy:
- Share the background of your previous elections processes and results, and why you are launching this communications strategy. This is where you begin to tell the story and celebrate and own this self-government process.
- Establish the communications objectives – tell it like it is – you want to build election awareness and understanding and engage members/electors more effectively.
- Define who your audience is and where you’ll find them – this is where your current and up-to-date memberships list or data base becomes important. This is also where you determine where best to connect with your members through their preferred media.
- Decide your tactical communication strategies. Set a calendar early of all communication media, establish your feedback channels to inform you of your reach and impact, and then over the fullness of the communication strategy focus the calendar of events on the media that work the best.
- Determine who the most powerful ‘sneezers’ are and encourage them to talk, share and engage in this communications strategy – in fact, invite them to be part of the whole process. The goal here is to reach as many members/electors as possible through word-of-mouth…the best invitation is always one from a trusted friend or family member.
- Explain how the communications strategy and activities will be assessed, monitored and used to benefit the Nation and the election process. Also share how feedback and input will be consolidated, formatted and shared back through this communication process. Be sure to set a tone that ensures participation is safe, and when needed confidential and protected.
- No communication strategy, or for that matter any plan, is every perfect at outset. Consider the communications strategy a fluid and evolving plan – leave room to adjust and refocus as necessary. Let the people guide the discussion toward the stated objectives and purpose.
Seth Godin, the celebrated author and expert of modern communications and marketing, coined the term “sneezer” to refer to those folks who are most likely to share an idea with other people. They are also people that others listen to and acknowledge as an authority or trusted source – someone worth listening to and following their lead.
You might also want to consider, once you’ve found some success using a communications strategy for your upcoming election process, transferring this tool to other activities and processes of your First Nation. Ultimately, keeping the members of your First Nation actively engaged in the business, governance and happenings will only contribute to a strong, purposeful and successful Nation.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” — James Humes