Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Learning about corporate communications strategy

 Over on my substack I have been writing news stories about living on UBC's campus. All of these stories intersect with UBC in some way or other. It's pretty hard to avoid UBC when one lives on the UBC campus and writes about living here. A few of these stories cry out for an official UBC comment. Most of them simply involve a knowledgable person who may or may not be connected with UBC.

It took three months for UBC's media relations office to take note of A Campus Resident (which impressed me). This followed on the heels of a series of stories about the local eagle nest and its pending obstruction by a metal cap. Once they took note they became, for the most part, prompt and helpful. 

They've offered statements like the following on woodland fire safety, for example:

With current and ongoing dry conditions we would ask that students, faculty and staff be extra careful in wooded areas on campus.

Recent small brush fires are a reminder of how important it is to safely and correctly dispose of smoking materials and refuse.

We continue to work with Environment Canada and Metro Vancouver Parks to notify of fire conditions through signage on roads to campus.

Of course, anyone who sees a fire should call 911 immediately.

On the campus there are about 40 soft landscape employees who monitor for risk, prune trees, remove dead limbs and clear out leaves, dead plants etc. As there is a level 5 drought, watering is restricted.

Anyone who is concerned about possible ignition sources too close to their space at UBC can put in a service request through Building Operation or call the Service Centre at 604-822-2173 to report fire hazards.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest you contact Metro Vancouver for information on fire mitigation efforts in Pacific Spirit.

These statements nicely drop into stories with  minimal editing. They add information (but little colour or nuance). Rarely, under the media relations umbrella, do I get a publicly reportable conversations. Oh, I do have conversations, mostly me exhorting them to be more flexible and allow actual people to talk with me. On their part they patiently explain to me how this process is supposed to work.  It feels like their biggest concern is about managing the narrative.

The less benign (their words) a story becomes, the more involved they get. I would think all my stories are benign. However, those in the pinnacles of power have a different view of what is benign then do I.  A recent thread of stories on UBC's historical relations with First Nations produced an unexpected outcome. This topic doesn't feel, to UBC, as benign as a story on woodland fire safety or 'rewilding.'

I had asked UBC to offer a statement on the importance of the university's relationship with Musqueam. I had anticipated they would write back with something like "We value our relationship with Musqueam. Over the decades we have had many positive partnerships. We look forward to more in the future."  I thought maybe they'd say something about how UBC was creating opportunities for Musqueam engagement in Campus Vision 2050. That didn't happen.

My usual point of contact passed me on to a colleague who then told me "given the importance of our relationship with Musqueam, we recognize it’s important that the university discusses any public statement relating to our relationship with them, so we’re currently waiting for their input." 

As an Indigenous anthropologist who has worked for decades in community (primarily with my own, but others as well) this response raised some interesting questions for me. If a relationship is important, how hard is it to say so publicly? I've been at university meetings where the current and past presidents and the chair of the board of governors acknowledge Musqueam as the title holder to the lands UBC sits on. I've heard these same people talk publicly about the importance of respectful relations with First Nations. When I've heard industry proponents deflect like UBC has in my professional work it typically indicates something isn't going as well as the public framing might suggest. Who knows what's up, in this case I certainly don't.

I do know that UBC hasn't been shy about foregrounding their engagement with Musqueam in public press releases and interviews elsewhere. The role Musqueam played in the Gateway Building design was highlighted in a promo piece from Applied Sciences, also noted in regards to the 20 year celebration of the Indigenous medical program at UBC. Again, in reference to how "wood is also a very important material for the Musqueam people." And again, reference to UBC's relationship with Musqueam in the naming of five new student residence halls on the Point Grey campus.

In the meantime I've written two stories on the subject (one on history, the other on Campus Vision 2050 engagement) and will have a third (on a related topic) out before I am likely to get any kind of official statement from UBC.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Parsing out the meaning of a government statement.

On my online news page I recently wrote about pedestrian safety walking around UBC's campus and perimeter roads. Most of the roads around UBC are managed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI). So I reached out to a district manager who forwarded  my request to their communications department without acknowledging receipt of the email. This is apparently standard operating procedure for MoTI (and other provincial government offices).

I had hoped to have a personable conversation to build out the story, to add a human element to the story in which a real person spoke to explain how their office worked, perhaps even learn about the full extent of their task as clearly UBC is only a small part of their job (which is headquartered in Surrey). 

In my original story I named the district manager and suggest they had 'ghosted me.'  However, after the story was published one of the communication staff called me up to explain the district manager had not 'ghosted me' me but  had followed the provincial policy and had sent my request to the Communications and Community Engagement office to process. I shared with the comms staffer that “I appreciated their perspective that the district manager had not ignored me and that I understood their concern that their intention to reply had not been fully understood by me.” I also offered that it might be a nice idea to have acknowledged receipt of my email at the time it was received and to have advised it would be dealt with according to provincial policy for government workers.

So long and short of it, no personable chat with someone who actually makes decisions or has opperational authority. Instead I received the following statement which really doesn't say very much at all.

[1] Improving safety for people who choose cycling and other types of active transportation is a commitment of the government. 

[2] The roads around the perimeter of UBC's Vancouver campus are mainly provincial public highways (except for private roads under direct ownership and management of UBC). While all provincial public highways are administered by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the roads surrounding the perimeter of UBC’s Vancouver campus are managed by UBC, University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA), University Endowment Lands (UEL), or MOTI (depending on location). 

[3]The ministry works closely with UBC and the UNA to manage provincial infrastructure for the safety of all users. Local residents are encouraged to speak with UBC/UNA for further information on jurisdiction or any issues or concerns that can be brought forward to the ministry if required.

The above statement can be broken into three parts (as I have done above for clarity).

Part one: high level statement of values. 'The government supports safety.'

Part two: a primer on the organizational structure at UBC. This is basic and doesn't add new information.

Part three: this is the key message, go talk to UBC or UNA, not MoTI. Put politely, it's a brush off (see, especially the portion I have underlined): that is, 'If you want to speak to MoTI, go through the channels.'

Hopefully one day I will get a chance to sit down and have a human conversation with the folks in MoTI. Putting a human face on the work that their office does seems something of importance to me. I can indeed appreciate how it is simpler to sit in an office in Surrey and run any discussion about UBC road through UBC and the UBC staff who speak with MoTi on a regular basis.

One of the problems we face as as society is a deep distrust in government and their intentions. This some story is a kind of demonstration of how a government wants to limit and contain a story and they do so by framing it in a bland and antiseptic statement of the obvious (plus a subtextual 'get lost'). Maybe if folks in power were less concerned with keeping tight control over things we would all be better off?

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Endorsements for school board

As residents of the UNA area at UBC we have the opportunity to vote for school board trustee candidates.  On A Campus Resident (where I focus on the story and less on my opinion) I have described the platforms and perspectives of the contending civic parties in this election.  This post reflects my personal perspective on who among those choices would create a strong, student friendly, diversity respecting, pro-public education board of trustees.

You can find stories on the left & center candidates here and on the right here.

My top five candidates, in my order of preference, are:

  1. Zeidler (Vote Socialist)
  2. Brown (One City)
  3. Mah (COPE)
  4. Cardwell (Vision)
  5. Wong (Vision)
Karina Zeidler (Vote Socialist) is a medical doctor who has been outspoken on behalf of health and safety, particularly around issues of COVID-19. But she is more than that. Dr Zeidler represents a tradition of care and activism in community that has been lacking on our school board for many years now. Many of educational policies promoted by Vote Socialist are ones that of our colleagues in the Faculty of Education at UBC promote through their own teaching and research. We would do well to have this hardworking, caring, and activist MD on our school board.

Rory Brown (One City) is on faculty at BCIT in teacher education. He previously worked as a high school teacher in the Vancouver School Board. He was also the president of the Vancouver Secondary Teacher's Association for several years. Early in the campaign I had an opportunity to speak with him about the school crowding issue and left that long interview impressed with his care for learners and for his understanding of what is needed for public schools in Vancouver.

Suzie Mah (COPE) is a veteran teacher with over thirty years experience. In my interviews with COPE on why UNA voters should vote COPE, on the school safety issue, and on the school crowding issue, she demonstrated comprehension of the complexity of our school problems but didn't use that complexity to hide her perspectives on what needs to be done to make a great system even better.  

Steve Cardwell (Vision) became superintendent of schools in Vancouver shortly after my time on the executive of theVancouver's District Parents Advisory Council came to an end  (he stared in 2010). He has since then served in a number of educational leadership roles. I've followed him for many years (off and on) on social media. Every school  board needs a person with the kind of experience and perspective that Steve has.

Alan Wong (Vision) is currently the longest serving trustee on the board. I knew him when he was first elected to the board (I was then a member of COPE and he was a COPE candidate). I likely would have endorsed Alan irrespective of civic party he ran with. He has done a good job as trustee and will continue to do so if elected.

In my complete list you will see my choices include 4/5 One City Candidates, 2/5 Vision candidates and all the COPE and Vote Socialist Candidates.

One special mention in position 10, if I had a tenth vote, TEAM's Matiul Alam, PhD. Dr Alam made his way out to UBC to sit down and talk with me about why he is running, his policies, and what he hopes to achieve if elected. I will be publishing a full story on our meeting in A Campus Resident shortly. He is TEAM's only school board candidate. 

I would urge voters to think carefully about some of the candidates whom I have not mentioned running with ABC and NPA.  As I describe in my story on school safety (on A Campus Resident, Monday Oct. 2, 2022) candidates often use the same key words to mean very differnt things. This is particularly apparent around the importance of tolerance and emotional safety in schools. 

Here is my complete choice, listed in order and format as they will appear on the ballot.

304 MAH, Suzie 馬陳小珠 (COPE)

307 ZEIDLER, Karina (VOTE Socialist)

310 TRIGUEROS, Rocco (COPE) Burnaby

317 SIGURDSON, Krista (OneCity)

318 EPSTEIN, Kyla (OneCity)

320 REDDY, Jennifer (OneCity)

323 BROWN, Rory (OneCity)

326 CARDWELL, Steve (Vision Vancouver)

329 WONG, Allan 黃偉倫 (Vision Vancouver)