LIFE MATTERS: A checklist for comms to help your organisation respond to Black Lives Matter protest and counter-protest

In life, you can either take the initiative or have things done to you.

And if you have things done to you the chances are it isn’t going to be great.

With that in mind, here’s a check list for communications people to help take the initiative to help their organisation in response to Black Lives Matter protests.

It is far more than communications.

It’s been crowd-sourced and polished with the help of members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook Group. Extra thanks also to Bristol City Council’s Saskia Konynenburg who took part in a Zoom chat with the group to share her experience.

The aim of this is to help direction and response to what is seen as either – depending on perspective – a long-overdue correction of the righting of wrongs or a further example of snowflake virtue signalling.

The aim is to help you be in the room to shape direction rather than have it done to you.

This is divided into five sections with comms one of them. The others are an audit you need to establish, action that may be taken with you and without you, HR and policy implications as well as leadership.

#1 Audit

  • STATUES. Do you have any pre-20th century figures celebrated who may be problematic?
  • BUILDINGS. Do you have any pre-20th century buildings that may be problematic?
  • ORGANISATIONS. What history does your pre-20th century organisation have?
  • STREET NAMES. What streets may be just problematic?
  • WAR MEMORIALS. How exposed are memorials to counter-protest?
  • PROTEST. What protests are vulnerable to counter protest?
  • PLACES. What pub names, signs or places are problematic?
  • PUBLIC OPINION. What is public opinion to the list you have?
  • A COMMISSION. Bristol City Council have ordered a commission into the history of the city to help inform their long-term response. This feels like the right thing to do. Involving historians and civic leaders and others this will take a considered look and takes the immediate sting out of the issue. Can you do this?
  • HISTORY #1. What’s the history of the place you serve? How does that reflect in place names? Are all the names what they seem? (eg Blackboy Hill in Bristol is named after Charles II).
  • HISTORY #2. What’s your area’s recent history? Have there been riots? A bus boycott? Or, like Smethwick in the West Midlands history of racist campaigning in the 1960s?
  • PLACES OF WORSHIP. How are the religious communities in your area faring?
  • BLUE PLAQUES. Are any problematic people being celebrated?
  • WEBSITE. Does your website have references to problematic places or people that need some context?
  • REVIEWS. What do sites like Glassdoor say about you as an employer?
  • RESEARCH. What existing research on the wider issue is already published?

#2 Action

  • PROTEST. What is planned? How are you dealing with them and the counter protest? Where will they take place? Is that sensitive? How are you linked in with partner comms teams?
  • VIRTUE SIGNALLING. Are your actions considered and based on reflection and evidence? Or short-term?
  • PUBLIC CONSULTATION. How are you talking – and listening – to all people, communities and stakeholders?

#3 Leadership

  • DIVERSITY. What diversity do they have? Are they ignorant of BAME issues? How can they acknowledge this?
  • LISTENING AND PERSPECTIVE. How can you get the views of different parts of your society to your leadership? How can they genuinely listen? What’s the white working class view? And the minority view?
  • SPENDING. Does every community get a fair slice of the cake? Is your spending on equalities fair and proportionate?
  • LANGUAGE. The phrase ‘All lives matter’ may seem tempting but has unfortunate far right connotations. The leader who uses it needs to be better advised.

#4 Policy and HR

  • EQUALITIES POLICIES. What policies do you have?
  • LEADERSHIP TEAM MAKE-UP. What diversity do you have in your senior team?
  • DIVERSITY. What are employment and pay rates for male, female and BAME?
  • PROMOTION. How many BAME people sit within the Senior Leadership Team? And as managers? And pay scales?
  • YOUR AREA. Think about the diverse make-up of the population you serve and if there are large or small employers who may be affected by issues.
  • YOUR STAFF. Do you have a forum for BAME staff? How is their voice heard? Are they genuinely listened to?
  • BLIND RECRUITMENT. Is this in place?
  • PUBLIC POLICY. How has government or police policy affected your area? Has this police tactic been an issue in your area? Or the no recourse to public funds approach from Government?

#5 Communications

  • EMOTION #1. Communications are likely to be met with abuse and those who are updating social media need support from the organisation and fellow team members.
  • EMOTION #2. Elements of the audience will react with emotion and may not be receptive. Think about your tone.
  • FACEBOOK. Local issues will be debated in Facebook groups and careful thought is needed on how to engage.
  • SHARABLE CONTENT. Experience shows that memes and images with text are a prime means of debating the issue. Will your organisation engage?
  • IMAGE LIBRARY. Images you pull for posters, signs and other things need to be checked.
  • ORGANISED ONLINE ACTION. How vulnerable are your web assets to an organised campaign designed to slow your servers down? Or to hackers? Or to a pile on on Twitter, Facebook or other channels?
  • LANGUAGE. Does the phrase BAME work with people you’ve labelled? Or do you need something else?
  • CLICK BAIT. What do the headlines, copy and comments on news sites say? Is it offensive? What does it tell you about the temperature of the issue?
  • EXPLAINING. In the future, is there a need for a considered explanation to statues, items and places that give two contrasting viewpoints?
  • ROTAS. Is your comms team geared up to monitor and respond to online chatter out-of-hours?
  • SENSE CHECK. How does your comms play with white working class people? Any people of minority? Sense check it. Face to face. There may be hidden dangers.
  • POLICE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND LRF. Can you make better links between partner comms teams in the place you serve? Can you be actually joined-up rather than just pretend to be?

With thanks to contributions from James Allen, Cornelius Alexander, Daniel Cattanach, Tom Gannon, Sara Hamilton, Kelly Quigley-Hicks, Zoe Hebden, Alexandra Louis, Angela Maher, Cara Marchant, Kate Pratt, Pauline Roche, Caroline Rowe, Kerry Sheehan, Chris Schubert, Kathy Stacey, Andrea Sturgess, Kate Vogelsang and Jo Walters.

Extra special thanks to Saskia Konynenburg for giving her time on this issue.

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