Headlines: February 10th, 2009

Councils are being advised to be strategic in the way they communicate with the people they serve in an effort to avoid the perception that some groups in the community are losing out to others. The recommendation comes from a study of the way local authority communications promote community cohesion.

The report, “Communicating Cohesion”, is based on research commissioned by the Improvement and Development Agency and the Local Government Association and carried out by the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham and Democratic Audit, based at the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. It concludes that a strategic approach to communication would involve staff and elected councillors working in close cooperation with their communities.

The report follows an in-depth study of experiences in six local areas. The study considered the relevance of myth busting to managing local tensions and councils’ experience of local and national media. Hilary Kitchin, a policy analyst at the Local Government Information Unit, who led the research, said current events showed communication was particularly crucial as the economic downturn was likely to spark tensions in areas facing social deprivation.

“Strong political leadership is a key to success, but our investigation also uncovered the importance of ward councillors in anticipating and resolving tensions,” she said.