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July 21, 2010
Communicating in Ashland -- and Elsewhere
Our attention was caught by a story from The MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, MA, on how officials in nearby Ashland want to boost communication between the town's boards "and ensure that all groups are on the same page." In the supercharged atmosphere, even, of local politics, this isn't easy, but the township officials have the right idea.

They're talking, for example, about having Ashland's selectmen (council) and the Planning Board meet together twice, or maybe even four times, a year. And the evident practice of departments bucking issues to the top instead of collaborating on solutions is being questioned.

"If we are going to communicate, let's communicate," Selectman Arthur Shapiro says. "I don't want to read it in the papers and on the blogs."

Right on. PR practitioners could advise the Ashland selectmen that what they are talking about is viewing communication as a system, as a discipline that requires development in itself, that doesn't just happen, especially in community politics. There are the originators and senders of messages, "noise" factors (how about elections?) that have to be recognized and countered, and the all-important element of feedback that has to be practiced faithfully to ensure that a message is received as intended.

Lots of other principles and nuances can and should be included in an effective communication system, but it's the beginning of wisdom, and of heightened effectiveness, to recognize that we're talking about communication as a discipline in the first place. 

"When I see developers come in and say, 'We are going to do this,' I want Ashland to set the standards," says Selectmen Chairman Jon Fetherston. "We can choose what the standard is going to be, and we can do that together."

That's communication as a collaboration discipline. It's not always recognized this expressly. Right on, and good luck, Ashland!

Photo by JFT Photography


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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