I learned an important lesson on Wednesday night when I attended a public joint school board and community council meeting in Dunbar to discuss the plans for a new school in the community.
It was apparent that members of the community didn’t feel they were being properly consulted over the proposals – even though the decision won’t be taken until March. What was interesting was the difference in the way people responded to information.
As a council official I was – for some – one of the ‘bad guys’ – to stereotype – a bureaucrat; not to be trusted; and not interested in public opinion. It’s funny but I don’t think I said anything last night that I wouldn’t have said as a Head Teacher – yet the message was definitely influenced by my position.
So what did I learn? – we must improve our communication with parents and communities using as many ways as possible to give people an opportunity to access information and to express an opinion. I think people do realise that such decisions do not go to a referendum but what they do want is to be able to have access to information upon which they can make up their own mind. I will never again – I hope – go into a meeting where people feel they haven’t access to information or that they feel a decision has been taken prior to the meeting – even if it hasn’t.