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Effective Organizational Communication in Municipal Government

Introduction

Local governments, smaller administrative units that encompass the workings of the central governments, federal governments, public, and private organizations are the ones that put together the complex responsibilities of managing the local authorities.

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It has been noted that local governments have better understanding of the local need.

Local governments have a “better understanding of local needs”, and that these local leaders have more understanding of local needs than any one else due to their close interaction (Jae 428). At the same time, local office holders have the ability and insight to make appropriate judgments in solving any crisis that may arise locally.

Due to their proximity to the public, it has been said that Local governments have the ability to provide quick and efficient services as needed than the central government because they managers have ability to work in close relationship and provide supervision at the site of service provision (Jae 430).

This has exposed the local managers to close scrutiny from the public and other stakeholders like elected officials of the city. The close relationship is brought about due to such factors as collection of taxes, cleaning and beautifying the city. It has also been noted that the public also have much confidence in the central governments than any other institutions of government that this “confidence translate into commitment because citizens and the local businesses can connect tax payment and development” (Robert & John 30). “As immediate witnesses to voters’ needs and reactions, local governments have the

Potential to build community consensus around controversial issues”, hence local governments have the ability to communicate effectively with the citizens than any other institution.

As Lisa and Rosemary (89) puts it “Local government do not stand alone- they find themselves in new relationships not only with state and federal governments, but often with a widening spectrum of other public and private organizations as well. The results of this re-forming of local governments calls for new collaborations and managerial response that occur in addition to governmental and bureaucratic processes-as-usual, bringing locally generated strategies into play”, management technique referred to by public administration experts as “Jurisdiction based management” (Joaquin 33)

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The local authority officials are faced with numerous challenges that are sometimes difficult to navigate such challenges as; being faced with unfamiliar responsibilities, making changes to suit the new goals, fixing old problems created by a predecessor, managing employees, handling high stakes issues across the board, critical decision making, managing broad aspect of works, pressure coming from the public, partners, central governments and politicians, working with people from all cultural background, and many more challenges.

After a thorough investigative research on economic development strategies of 237 cities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, Agranoff and Michael (49) analyzes how city municipal officials do work jointly with other bodies in solving complex issues in the municipalities especially how they (officials) navigated through the strategic partnerships, contractual relationships, networks and alliances, coalitions, committees, consortia, and other councils in meeting the demands and expectations of the public in service delivery.

They came up with a comprehensive and specific collaborative model that encompasses jurisdiction-based based management as the “chief embodiment of economic network management” (Agranoff & Michael 43). In this model they concluded that:

  1. The local manager is portrayed as driven by a strategic rationale based in the jurisdiction.
  2. The local agenda takes precedence over extra-jurisdictional demands
  3. Actions are carried out jointly by multiple, interdependent organizations, and
  4. Problems are resolved by facilitating and furthering interaction inside and outside city hall (Robert & John 35).

Communication with boards and commissions

The municipals’ managers have uphill tasks in communicating with appointed boards and commissions who may not clearly understand the immediate needs of some proposed developmental programs (Lisa& Rosemary 44). The municipal managers must have long term plans that enables them have long term goals and objectives in the future. (Lisa & Rosemary 48-49).

That is the service “levels and outcomes” are well organized and chosen that will articulately illustrate both long and short term impacts of these programs (Comfort 11) Once the goals and objective are well coordinated, communicated and integrated across the organizational hierarchy, the board members will have no option but to approve these proposals, since as confirmed by (Comfort 16), most of the problems emanating from the municipal management boards are though lack of appropriate communication.

As a municipal manager, information on resources available should be well understood, that is, the availability of skills/manpower, and finances should be well understood and communicated to the board and commissions (Lindell & Ronald 55).

The municipals’ senior managers should be in a position to work together. They should be able to share ideas, discuss issues, learn from each other, and be in a position to develop approaches that are consistent with the policy, goals, and aspirations of the municipal council (Meier & Laurence 66) as this would be beneficial in developing a working relationship in the municipality. Again, the administrators should be willing to use entrepreneurial approach to broaden their perspective in the need of the community (Comfort 6). This calls for proper and strategic alliances with the said community members and their groups, public agencies, private and voluntary sectors (Joaquin 22).

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Internal staff

Staff management has been said to be the most complicated aspect of management in any organization. As Ellen Schall illustrate in her narration of personal experience as Director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, “In any service agency, whether in public or private sector, staff are likely to treat the clients or customers as they believe themselves to be treated. That staff that are treated harshly will, in all likelihood, turn around and impose that harshness on the people over whom they have some power”.

It is therefore empirical that for any successful city manager, they should be ready to relate to their employees and staff who have direct link with the public in their daily activities than the manager. The manager and his/her team therefore, in any good management practice, should have good relationship based on mutual understanding. The management should also be willing and ready to evaluate the current workforce and the future needs of such workforce (Robert & John 19).

That is, a long term plan should be put as regards staffing, the skills, and competencies that are necessary in order to achieve the specific goals. In this line, staff development is also an important aspect; the municipal authority should be willing to set a portion of annual budget for staff development purposes that can fill the knowledge gaps (Jae 55). The municipal should also be willing to adopt unambiguous human resource policies where fairly competitive remuneration practices are traditionally practiced across the organizational structure (Robert & John 29-31).

The municipal should also have clear incentive systems that would recognize and reward any staff with good performance. This means the municipal management should have clear performance indicator that would be used to measure the staff performance and reward accordingly. This can also be done through regular acquisition and use of “employee feedback” hence giving the staff opportunity to constitute the goals and plans for performance and learning (Jae 71)

Ellen advises that whether the manager gets the full support of the political leaders or not, they have “to keep in mind the critical importance of finding ways to attend to staff, which is particularly true in the public sector, where other less incentives are less available”.

Public health and safety are integral part of any organization. In a municipal setting where the risks such as accidents are numerous, an effective communication should be in place to the employees so that they are able to know what to do when such an eventuality occurs (Lindell & Ronald 81-83). The municipal management should put in place safety measures that would help mitigate any environmental, health and safety risks that may arise within the organization or within their area of jurisdiction. If well communicated, the staff would be able to take precaution and understand their “roles and responsibilities in case of an emergency” (Lindell & Ronald 85)

In hiring and firing their staff, a clear policy should be in place on the procedures to be followed. They should communicate clearly their plans both to the eternal and internal potential employees. They should know where their “key attraction and retention issues are” such that they can attract more qualified and competent employees. Their motto should be to be a better employer or put simply as an “employer of choice” (Comfort 99).

Good communication management practices can never be complete without proper management of information technology. This is a very critical aspect of communication channel (Comfort 132). It therefore follows that a good management practice will embrace technological advancements that would allow their employees/ staff, public and other interested parties have access to all the information that are necessary for the interested party. This will call for installation and integration of both hardware and software in an appropriate and timely manner (Comfort 140)

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City leaders, Mayor/Counsel

Municipal managers have the challenging tasks of balancing vested interests from political leaders and the public. As Ellen draws her conclusion on politicians, she says that political leaders are known to seek publicity and recognition for their personal benefit. She says “Department of Juvenile Justice was often ignored as an agency. In New York City terms, it was small. It dealt with issues that, in the absence of scandal, did not command attention…..Mayor Koch was known for a focus on himself”. This clearly illustrates how politicians are viewed, from a perspective of a management practitioner. Despite all that, she says, one should have “the ability to handle authority fairly, with maturity, and to tell the truth up (to the boss), down (to subordinates), and sideways (to peers)” (Ashworth 18).

As Ashworth (2) puts it in his advice letter to his nephew, Kim, “A large portion of your time will as a public servant will be spent with elected politicians, trying to convince them of policy initiatives or changes you have found to be needed. And part of your experience will include being kicked around or being on the receiving end of abuse from elected officials…” All these illustration show how difficult politicians are difficult to deal with.

He goes a head to advise that one has to tolerate all the ungrateful legislators who may be so unkind to him in his service, they (legislators) can “close ranks quickly if you do not stay in your allotted subordinate role with legislators” (Ashworth 7). That as a civil servant, one should be able to stay calm and in control of himself or herself, and resist any temptation of being impatient and arrogant in dealing with the politicians (Ashworth 9).

And that as a public servant, politicians will always have a preconceived mind that you have taken a position on certain issues. So as a precaution, you should never state publicly your opinion because it will justify their imagined political affiliation. The politicians, according to Ashworth, are always striving to make the voters indebted to them, to seek survival, so they would always want to give favors to the people they know will vote for them. The effective way of communicating the idea of any new policy is though the politician’s accomplices, since they have the upper hand in convincing the politician on any issues.

In communicating or presenting the budget to the board, the process should be clear and entails the highest level of transparency (Agranoff & Michael 67). This would provide the board with little opportunity to make unnecessary demands on the budget. The public will also have the opportunity to contribute to the budgeting process (Agranoff & Michael 69).

When communicating the budget proposal to the board and the public, the municipal management must have analyzed and articulated the result they want to achieve within the present financial year and beyond. Such proposals should clearly link the desired result with the allocated resource, giving a clear-cut benefit and risks associated with the budget, i.e. both the long term and short term benefits should be well stated (Agranoff & Michael 102).

The municipality should also be ready to allow their performance be evaluated by the external auditors and apply acceptable performance indicators in assessing their overall performance. This will give the public and other stakeholders’ confidence in the performance. They can also use these indicators to assess regularly the “efficiency and effectiveness of its operations to find opportunities to save costs and better manage expenditures” (Lisa & Rosemary 16).

The public

The public satisfaction, even though complex, is seen as the benchmark for measuring the municipal government’s success (Robert & John 4). It therefore requires that the public are well acquainted with information about the issues of the municipality that would enable them provide the necessary input in the decision making process. (Robert & John 5). Good management practice therefore requires the management team to get good and appropriate information about the satisfaction level of the citizens (Meier & Laurence 24).

Using appropriate communication technique, the municipal should be able to get sufficient information in terms of prioritization, performance measurement criteria, decision making on the service improvement and delivery criteria (Meier& Laurence 26). By listening to the public, the municipality would be able to respond, in timely manner, to “the requests or complaints from ratepayers” (Milward, Keith & Provan 201).

According to David Osborne, Senior partner, Public Strategy Group, “In today’s age of permanent fiscal crisis, public agencies are under constant pressure to reduce costs and reduce quality. Competitive contracting is often the fast way to do that- if it is managed well”. As a way of demonstrating good communication to the public, the municipal managers should be in a position to employ critical thinking in the management of the contracts.

They should be ready to show commitments to the coordination and monitoring of the contracted works that would communicate to the public that the proposed services are carried out as planned. This would require them to work as a team with the public and private sector in general (Agranoff & Michael 72).

It has also been noted that some good governance practices come from the way municipal government approach public opinion enquiry. A case in point is in Central America, where a non profit making organization, International Republican Institute (IRI) is partnering with local municipalities’ managers and mayors to help them strengthen their capacities to responsibly and effectively govern. They use polls and focus group discussions to identify the gaps in the service delivery, thus the municipalities are able to get unbiased information on where the public feel they should be more transparent and accountable.

According to IRI, the data found have helped the partner municipalities to help their plans in a more responsive manner, meeting the local political demands, economic needs and solve social challenges.

For example, according to IRI’s findings in Honduras, municipal service delivery democracy highly influences public perceptions of Hondurans. IRI therefore began the process partnering with the local municipals in 2008 to enhance accountability and transparency, through the use of free flow of information between the citizens and the municipal governments, a program being conducted through the new “decentralization initiative”

It is a common knowledge that many major cities in United States have diverse people from different cultural backgrounds, practicing different cultures with diverse languages. For example, Municipal government of Toronto, a city that has people from diverse cultural background had the challenge of communicating their program of making household container for organic waste for the city residents who are from “highly diverse background”.

They designed containers after conducting a survey on the diversity of the population, getting statistics of how diverse the population was. They used this statistics to design appropriate number of containers with different names such as green bin, green bucket, and green tub to cater for this diversity. This is a good case for effective communication within a municipal council.

Venders/contractors

These are the group of people or small organizations that supplement the services of a municipality. The municipality may decide to offer the tender for a particular service or supply to another firm. The mission and aim of the municipality could be to offer good service that is cost effective and quality (Robert & John 77). And that the success of the municipality wholly rely on the teamwork, respect and mutual trust, commitment to the highest standard of quality, responsibility, accountability, and dedication (Joaquin 5).

However, the process may generate some controversies due to vested interests from some other board members, who may feel obliged to benefit some of their close allies or friends. As a public servant in the municipality, one is expected to uphold the highest standard of ethics in dealing with such issues (Joaquin 4).

It should be well articulated in the policy statement of the municipality. For instance the policy statement of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency is “to maintain the highest standards of ethics from its board members, Executive Managers, and Agency employee with their decision making. Accordingly, it is the policy of agency that Board Members, Executive Managers, and Agency employees shall maintain the highest standard of personal honesty and fairness in carrying out their duties”.

In case of any complaint in any procedure that a member of the board may feel was breached, a well drafted complaint procedure should be put in place. For example all the problems related to interference from a board member in the process of tendering should be reported to appropriate channel and that the law must be followed in dealing with such issues. Most of the public offices, controlled by politicians, through their power of influence, are likely to face much verbal complaint than written one. To tackle this problem, people should be encouraged to present their complaint in written form for ease of reference and record keeping (Meier & Laurence 56)

As practiced by Ontario Municipal government in their emergency department (Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program, ODRAP), they have put a clear roles and responsibilities they will take in case of disaster in their area of jurisdiction. In case of a disaster, ODRA respond by assisting individuals, small businesses, other small organizations, farmers “get back to their feet”. However, they have made it clear to the public that this form of help should not be an alternative to insurance coverage and that in such events; every individual should be prepared to carry the “responsibility for their losses”.

Other city staff/ other departments

In a city there are several of other departments and staffs that the city council would be working with in collaboration to achieve the aspiration of serving the city residents diligently. It therefore follows that such interactions will require appropriate collaboration mechanism for successful and effective service delivery to be accomplished. Some researchers have argued that “age of a relationship is a characteristic that distinguishes collaboration from other less intense relationships”.

They say that collaboration is a sign of long term interaction of participants in a relationship where “trust and clear expectation become important guiding principles” (Agranoff & Michael 104). It is also said that assessment of network performance shows stability as an important component of “an effective network of social service providers” (Milward & Provan 59)

Although common knowledge may have it that collaboration in public management is not new (Comfort 96), its evolution in the municipal management is important since policy making has become a complex issue that require contribution of all sectors of the government to participate fully. In their study of network effectiveness, Provan and Milward (91) found out that some of the poor and ineffective networks had experienced disruptions since they had not had time to develop the necessary trust and established expectations that would guide their activities together as a team, making the service delivery process unworkable and joint goals unachievable.

They also found out that responses as a team to any form of disaster was uncoordinated and poorly communicated across the city, with no particular team in full control and responsibility. And that the disaster recovery process was mainly ad hoc where any member just stepped up to assist in the disaster mitigation (Lindell & Ronald 61)

From these findings it is possible conclude that a proper and effective communication between the municipal managers and other city staff is highly encouraged. This will enhance timely networking and effective service delivery. As Provan and Milward (103) suggests, giving evidence of the incidences in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that “one should not spontaneous take emerging arguments too far” and that what might simply look like an urgent collaboration strategies to tackle the disaster may have began several years with long- standing form of relationship that no one can understand how it worked.

It is worth noting that any form of good collaboration is preceded with some long standing effective communication with the collaborators in the social service delivery and that some collaboration emerges due to an individual’s managerial skill (Lisa & Rosemary, O. 2008). However, city managers should be willing to initiate good communication channels and establish a bonding relationship with other city staffs. This should be done through the establishment of proper channel of communication and clear separation of mandates in the service delivery process. According to Agranoff & Michael (121), good management practice requires that municipal managers to meet with other city staffs to “share tips, advice, and good practice”.

In general, effective communication is very essential in the management of the municipalities and other public offices. On that line information technology has become integral part of a good management practice. Mostly called e-government in the reform sector, it has opened up many possibilities in the improvement of “internal managerial efficiency and the quality of public service delivery to citizens (Jae 3). Its use has also reduced the red tape to communication in the municipalities (Jae 6).

Following the initiative of the federal government, many local governments adopted Information Technology to enhance communication in order to improve their local governance initiatives (Jae 9). This has seen them making several improvements on their websites and or creating new ones in order to enhance better internal communication procedure and external managerial services improvements (Jae 8).

However, many researchers argue that some of the constraints faced by these municipalities are due to their insufficient fund, privacy issues and technical know- how (Jae 5). However study also suggest that municipal government that have positively embraced the information technology have got good response from the partners and the public in general, and that their service delivery process has improved tremendously (Jae 7)

According to (Meier & Laurence 19), good management should evolve around the set objective, where “decisions are made, goals are identified, priorities and posteriorities are set, and organization structure designed for specific purposes of institutions”. Two, participative management is important to enhance good understanding throughout the organization (Meier& Laurence 89).

This can be done through “bringing out the basic views, basic dissents, the different approaches to the same task and the same problem within the organization” (Meier & Laurence 98). Another is that an objective feedback can be give by managers to the junior staff in the process towards achieving the municipal’s objectives and goals (Milward & Provan 43). Overally, literature has it that management by objective in municipalities has proved an effective way of disseminating the services and has enhancing communication within these councils (Milward & Provan 55).

Conclusion

In Local government, just like any other public service, require proper and adequate communication so as to alleviate lack of information dissemination. That plans and objective must be communicated appropriately to the board, public should be brought into full view of any plan to uplift their standards of living, the conflict o interests should be dealt with before any contract is given to any organization or body Meier & Laurence 41)

Again, as (Ashworth 14) puts it, as a public servant, one should be prepared to face all “sorts of unexpected situations, from the hostile to bizarre, from intimidating to outrageous”. He illustrates, using his own experience that public service career aspirant should be ready to withstand all the negativities and judgmental nature of those you encounter like politicians. That a successful career in public service demands “discipline, and informed thought, intellectual and personal growth and broad reading.

Works cited

Agranoff, R. & Michael M. 2003. Collaborative Public Management. Washington, DC. Georgetown University Press.

Ashworth, K. 2001. Caught Between the Dog and the Fireplug, or, How to Survive Public Service, Washington D.C, Georgetown University Press.

Jae, M. 2002. The Evolution of E-Government among Municipalities: Rhetoric or Reality? Public Administration Review, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 424-433, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Society for Public Administration. Web.

Robert, R. & John, E. 1992. A Foundation of Good Management Practice in Government- Management by Objectives, Public Administration Review, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 27-39. Web.

Central America Good Governance- Advancing Democracy in Guatemala and Honduras. Web.

Joaquin, R. 2005. Collaborative Public Management- New Strategies for Local Governments, the Journal of Federalism 35(4):637-639;

Lisa, B & Rosemary, O. 2006. Parallel Play, Not Collaboration: Missing Questions, Missing Connections. Public Administration Review.66 (supplement to issue 6): 161-167.

B Lisa, B & Rosemary, O. 2008. Big Ideas in Collaborative Public Management. New York. ME Sharpe.

Comfort, L. 1993. Self-organization in Complex Systems, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 4(3): 393-410.

Lindell, M. & Ronald W. 2000. Household Adjustment to Earthquake Hazard: A Review of Research, Environment and Behavior. 32(4): 461-501.

Meier, J., & Laurence, J. 2001. Managerial strategy & behavior in Networks: A model with evidence from U.S. Public education. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 11:271–94.

Meier, J. & Laurence, J. 2005. Managerial Networking: Issues of Measurement and Research Design. Administration & Society. 37 (5): 523-541.

Meier, J. & Laurence J. 2006. Modeling Public Management: Empirical Analysis of the Management-Performance Nexus. Paper delivered at the Empirical Study of Organizations and Public Management, Texas A&M University

Milward, H. & Keith, G. Provan. 2000. Governing the Hollow State, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. 10(2): 359-380.

Robinson, E., Britt, B & Kelley, S. 2006. The Development of Collaborative Response to Hurricane Katrina in the Dallas Area. Public Works Management & Policy.10 (4): 315-327.

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