Benlowndes

a perspective on PR in social housing and regeneration

Tag Archives: transparency

Collaboration: more than a buzzword

Calls for ‘collaboration’ across the housing sector are hitting high levels. I have attended conferences recently at which panelists have insisted that collaboration is key to our future. At one event covering areas ranging from the performance of office buildings to the future of cities, speakers used the phrase six times in an hour.

Articles and blog posts stressing its importance are abundant. Google ‘collaboration and housing’ to see for yourself. And local and national government call for a collaborative approach from employees and partners. This can sometimes feel like a call for inspiration.

Meaning of collaboration

In an era of networks, for an industry that has thrived on partnership working, this makes sense. The challenges facing the sector are too big for any organisation to face alone. Those that work together stand a better chance of success.

It is difficult for anyone who works in the sector to argue against this sentiment. But defining good practice in this area – let along making it work – is more challenging. Statements like ‘collaboration is key’ are often used without any sign of how this could happen.

Collaboration between organisations frequently misses the input of the communities or people affected by what they are trying to achieve. And conflict seems built into the system, with some groups feeling their views are ignored. When this happens, positions become entrenched and delivery can grind to a halt.

If we are to benefit from a collaborative approach, there needs to be wide understanding of what good collaboration looks like. And organisations must prepare to change mindsets and structures to embrace it.

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Freedom of Information, or ‘freedom to fish’?

I’d like to share with you two views on our Freedom of Information legislation, which is the subject of some serious discussions about its future use.

The Guardian has today published a leader in defence of the Freedom of Information Act, saying that any proposed move to restrict its application would be ‘a retrograde step’.

This is in response to Parliamentary considerations on possible reform of the Act and mentions a report from the Ministry of Justice into the volume of requests dealt with by Government departments. It’s interesting that the leader states that the report suggests dealing with FoI requests is ‘increasingly onerous’, when no such language is used in the document.

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How (not) to win customers (and get blacklisted)

Don't bother mate: I'm closed for business

I blogged recently about a publisher I’d blacklisted for its dubious ad-selling, amongst other things. It was the first time I’d done this since moving to Bristol a couple of years ago.

Just like the proverbial buses which nobody sees until another one has just arrived, a different company has given me reason to repeat the act this week.

The offending firm has approached me unsuccessfully in the past with offers to publish ‘free editorial’ in return for allowing them to contact partners and pressure them to support this with advertising.

It’s a mystery to me why anyone in the sector supports this activity, which is often produced to such a poor quality that it is barely credible. Housing has a great story to tell, and better publications understand this and will help us to do so without charging for it.

After making this point a few times, I thought they had got the message.

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Blacklisted: you (may not) know who you are

For the first time since moving to Bristol last year, I’ve blacklisted a sector publication for sloppiness. It’s a little-known mag, whose staff sometimes send me annoying emails offering to reproduce a press release ‘for free’ (wow!) if I let them contact partners and pressure them to support this with ad revenue.

This is a dodgy tactic that plays on partners’ goodwill. But it’s supported by some because they are not directly charged for the ad space. I’ve always been staggered by how attractive this approach appears to be to some in the construction industry or public sector. But, believe me, it works.

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‘Money for nothing’ not worth the hassle

I received an email from out of the blue the other day containing an offer to ‘sponsor’ a post on my blog, which at first glance seemed appealing; money for nothing, almost.

The email from Sarah, Outreach Manager at Article Writing Services, was vague enough to warrant a reply:

“We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to sponsor a blog post that you have recently written. We know that blogs can be expensive to run and our client would like to support you in that endeavour. In return, our client is asking for one link that they specify placed [sic] into the body copy of the blog post (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.”

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Eric Pickles’ spring conference speech in full

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles used the Conservative spring conference yesterday to speak about some of his priorities for local government.

In his speech, he drew an interesting parallel with a Private Members Bill brought forward by Margaret Thatcher more than 50 years ago, which opened up council meetings to the press, and his challenge to authorities to be more open and accountable.

Senior executive pay, town hall secrecy and the publication of council newspapers (or ‘town hall Pravdas’ as his speech writers call them) all featured in the conference address and a number of Labour councils came under fire too. 

A full version of his speech can be found here.

Busy Christmas break for communities department

Self build - homes of the future?

Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) today revealed what their teams had been up to during the Christmas break.

Secretary of State Eric Pickleswritten statement to Parliament outlined his department’s recent undertakings, which included a new initiative to help local communities revitalise disused pubs and social clubs, taking action to make local government more transparent and launching plans to support people to build their own homes.

Meanwhile, Communities Minister Andrew Stunell also set out plans today to bring a proportion of the country’s 300,000 empty homes back into use.

As someone who works in housing, including recently with the ‘self build’ industry, and is looking to possibly build a house, I will be watching these developments with interest.

Freedom of information move opens more public bodies to scrutiny

Today’s announcement that Freedom of Information (FoI) rules will be changed are worth checking out by any public sector communicator – as more of them are to be affected by it.

The move signals the Government’s intention to make it easier for the public to use the Freedom of Information Act to seek details from a wider range of bodies about how public money is spent and decisions taken.

This announcement has formed part of Nick Clegg’s speech on liberty today, which also made proposals to enhance freedom of speech principles by reforming libel laws (an issue which the media has been quick to focus on in its reports).   

Despite the challenges this move poses, I welcome increased transparency and openness across the public sector. It may generate increased work levels for the organisations to be covered by the revised act for the first time; but with openness comes accountability, which is something that I would argue is a good thing. 

It also creates a role for comms teams in supporting organisations who are asked to satisfy FoI requests.

The full press statement covering the Ministry of Justice announcement can be found here.

New Homes Bonus tool a canny calculation

A bonus for the neighbours

The consultation on the Government’s flagship New Homes Bonus is one of a growing number of documents that colleagues are currently familiarising themselves with.

The argument for it is compelling: something is needed to create a powerful, straightforward incentive which rewards local authorities who deliver new housing. This would be done by providing funding, to be ring-fenced for the local community which accepts new housing, over a six-year period. It is an enticement to local communities to welcome development, rather than oppose it.

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Why ‘transparency drive’ is no easy trip

I’ve only just got around to looking at this in detail, but Number 10’s Transparency website has done an amazing job of making the workings of Government accessible to the public.

People can find out about departmental business plans, senior civil servants’ pay, what Ministers are doing and a raft of performance statistics.

If they had wanted, interested parties could have found out most of this information before.

But it would have taken a lot more effort and understanding of how to get around Government to achieve it.

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