The company behind last week's public engagement fiasco apologizes for its missteps and defends its qualifications as an internationally recognized communications facilitator.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 14, 2013
this article has been updated
This morning, Hamilton City Councillors meet in the General Issues Committee to receive a delegation from Stephani Roy McCallum of Dialogue Partners, the Ottawa-based company hired by the City to develop a citizen engagement program for the city's service review and train City staff on public engagement.
Some Councillors, led by Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, have called for the City to terminate its contract with the company over the recent events.
Dialogue Partners has issued a new public statement in the aftermath of last week's PR fiasco that accompanied the launch of Our Voice, Our Hamilton. The statement, which is published on their website, reads in part:
We are often brought in to a project when there is already conflict, controversy and emotion. We don't create it; we help others figure out how to work within it, honour all voices, and help everyone find a path forward.
So imagine our surprise this week when we found ourselves in the middle of an extremely controversial situation...which we played a part in creating.
We are human. Quite human in fact. And we've made some mistakes.
The essay distils ten lessons learned from the incident, including a conclusion that the company's decision to remain quiet for several days after an early statement posted on Facebook was not the most effective way to demonstrate effective communication.
Included in the list of lessons is criticism of what the consultants call "bullying and intimidation" online and their belief that "the loudness and disrespect" of some commentators "have silenced the voices of others."
Dialogue Partners managing director Stephani Roy McCallum wrote an open letter to City Council [PDF] to "take responsibility for many of the events that have transpired since January 7th" and apologize for its communication missteps. Those missteps include asking a respondent to clarify what "HSR" means, having pictures from Hamilton Ohio and Hamilton Washington on its Pinterest page, allowing a malicious exploit on its website, and allowing statements on its community priorities tool that the City considered "offensive and inaccurate".
The letter challenges Councillor Merulla's recent comment that Dialogue Partners is a "stranger of [sic] competence", affirming that Dialogue Partners is "known internationally for our good work in public engagement on complex and complicated issues."
It also defends the company's use of Survey Monkey to run its surveys, arguing that this does not violate Canadian privacy law, and argues its website accessibility "meets most, if not all, [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] criteria" according to the company programmer.
McCallum also wrote an open letter to Hamiltonians [PDF] that summarizes the same points and states, "We hope you will give this important conversation a chance."
Update: Thanks to the ever-intrepid Joey Coleman, who was on hand to record this GIC meeting, you can watch the video.
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