Open, honest communication is the foundation of democracy, and unresponsive government is unacceptable. That’s why Marion County Commissioners made improving internal and external communication their No. 1 priority as part of a strategic plan adopted April 21, 2009. To solicit opinions from Marion County employees on how we could improve our communication practices, we sent an electronic survey (accessible June 16 – 22, 2009) to 1,100 employees. We received 302 responses, or 27 percent participation, exceeding our goal of 10 percent participation. We then analyzed this employee data and applied it to Marion County’s general population in accordance with statistical standards. The rationale: employees are citizens too, and they represent a cross-section of our community. The survey revealed several communication deficiencies. First, according to the survey, employees, like many of our citizens, learn about Marion County’s initiatives through secondhand sources, not from Marion County Government firsthand. Second, the survey asked the sample the best way to exchange information. Overwhelmingly, respondents chose “E-mail Correspondence,” “Face-to-Face Visits” and “E-mail Newsletters.” Finally, the survey asked what topics the sample would find interesting if we were to launch a monthly e-publication. From this research, our e-publication, County Connection was born.
We identified five objectives for our County Connection e-publication:
- Enfranchise employees by hosting an e-publication naming contest and receive at least 25 submissions;
- Launch the inaugural edition of County Connection by Sept. 1, 2009, and each subsequent issue by the first of each month;
- Establish an e-mail distribution list of 3,000 people to receive County Connection in their e-mail inboxes by Sept. 1, 2009;
- Budget $6,500 annually for the project and
- Feature an evaluation survey in the January and February editions to gauge publication effectiveness and receive approval ratings as follows: a) Increase awareness and understanding of Marion County’s initiatives by 70 percent of respondents. b) Expand knowledge of Marion County’s services by 70 percent of respondents. c) Garner support from 70 percent of respondents. d) Earn “Excellent” or “Above Average” scores for the layout and design from 70 percent of respondents.
To tackle this project and several other communication initiatives, the Marion County Office of Public Information established the Marion County SOURCE, an in house network of county professionals. SOURCE is an acronym that stands for Steadfast, Open, United, Responsible, Credible and Engaged. Five SOURCE members serve on the County Connection team. First, we researched newsletter designs from other agencies. Second, we determined that hiring a graphic designer to layout and design an eight to 10 page e-publication was more cost effective than doing that work in house. To ensure the lowest price, we solicited quotes from four local graphic design firms. Third, we reviewed comments from the employee survey to determine what would interest our readers, including: Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight, Commission Corner, News Flash and Calendar of Events among other topics. Fourth, we launched an e-publication naming contest by sending an e-mail to 1,100 county employees. The winner would receive a prize package and lunch with the county administrator. Fifth, we partnered with our Information Technology Department to use Constant Contact, a database management software that would enable us to electronically distribute County Connection to thousands of subscribers without becoming spam. We collected and consolidated e-mail information from citizens to create our distribution list. We also posted County Connection to our Web site. Sixth, we established monthly deadlines. Finally, we brainstormed story ideas, determined the general monthly layout, wrote and edited copy and photographed activities.
- We exceeded our first objective by receiving 109 name competition submissions from 35 employees.
- We topped our second objective by launching our inaugural issue in August 2009, one month early. Since then, we have successfully launched each issue on time.
- We had 3,334 County Connection e-mail subscribers for our August launch, surpassing our 3,000 objective.
- We met our fourth objective by saving $1,364. The project costs $5,136 annually.
- We included our evaluation survey in our January and February editions, exceeding all of our objectives: a) 94.5 percent of respondents said County Connection increased their awareness and understanding of Marion County’s initiatives. b) 94.4 percent of respondents reported that County Connection expanded their knowledge of Marion County’s services. c) 88.9 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to support Marion County government. In fact, the majority of respondents described Marion County as “progressive” or “professional,” after reading County Connection. d) 72.2 percent of respondents rated the layout and design as “Excellent” or “Above Average.” Some of the comments from readers included: “I appreciate your efforts in producing a fine publication that keeps the citizens up to speed.” “I think the citizens of Marion County will become more informed and involved in the county as a result.” “Congratulations on the launch of a beautiful and informative newsletter, which we will be proud to show to investors and clients in Europe and the USA.”
Annual graphic design costs = $4,800. Annual Constant Contact costs = $336. This equals $5,136 annually, or $428 per month and $0.12 per subscriber (based on 3,534 subscribers). Our County Connection team spends approximately 66 hours a month developing County Connection. However, this is part of our normal job duties. Therefore, no costs above our normal salary (e.g. overtime) are incurred.
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