Media

Dialogue Partners Apologizes for Mistakes, Defends Qualifications

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.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

15 Comments

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 12:14:45

In their blog, Dialogue Partners says timelines for citizen engagement were changed and condensed on this project. Worth asking why. This is usually where, and how, projects go off the rails.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 12:53:21

A welcome change from the earlier coulda-been-headline "Dialogue Partners Mistakenly Issues Defensive, Qualified Apology"

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 13:36:44

I can see why they aske what is HSR .... but to put pic of Hamilton Ohio and Hamilton Washington is prety much not doing there home work at ALL

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 13:45:57 in reply to Comment 85173

For starters...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton,_Ontario

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By uelcan (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 14:06:30

I've asked this question before but someone at City Hall must have reviewed and signed off on this project before it went live online. Did no one at City Hall oversee the project every step of the way?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 15:11:58 in reply to Comment 85177

Signed off in what way? Reviewed the website material? Reviewed the survey?

Probably not. They're paying Dialogue Partners to develop this content to engage the community presumably because the city has no staff who do this type of work. The most city staff could do is review facts and pictures. But why would the city waste staff time to double check the consultant's work on something so basic?

My thinking is that once the contract was out, Dialogue Partners proceeded without city staff oversight in developing their various webpages and their survey.

Personally, I'd like to hear more about the surveymonkey survey, and whether or not it actually violates MFIPPA.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 15:17:22 in reply to Comment 85179

Strike that, just read via twitter that Roy MacCallum said the city approved everything that went on the Our Voice Our Hamilton website (no mention of the pinterest though).

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted January 15, 2013 at 08:15:58 in reply to Comment 85180

There was very little on the actual website that someone could find fault with, so I guess the city did its job there.

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By uelcan (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 15:25:44

I know advertising agencies who have worked with the city and it is a very close working relationship. By policy, the City of Hamilton has written in the contract that the City has to approve/sign off on all aspects of the project. I think a few people beyond Dialogue Partners should be accepting responsibility for this situation.

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By The Great Lorenzo (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2013 at 20:23:03

Hire someone local who gives a damn. This group is a typical Ottawa based firm that rides the money!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted January 16, 2013 at 09:08:16 in reply to Comment 85185

You'd end up with somebody's brother-in-law ; )

You have to follow the appropriate purchasing guidelines. You can't just pick who you want when you're talking about public money; that is one way corruption begins.

If they had simply picked a Hamilton company for say $700K and then it came out another company could have done it for $400k people would be on here complaining about the incompetence and wasteful backroom dealings of council.

This project was botched, no doubt about that, but to me this whole thing has taken on a bit of a tempest in a teapot vibe.

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By Dane (registered) | Posted January 15, 2013 at 08:42:19

I could really care less whether its a local firm or not. Blind Hamilton boosterism does local business no favours. Do we expect other cities to not entertain RFPs from our local businesses. My experience is that "locals" tend to rely on geography rather than expertise and quality. What I want to hear is us snagging a local firm that so busy doing projects across the country and not acting as an extended City division.

In regards to the decision. No one working for the City is going to suffer any reprimand, its municipal gov't. No one would even be able to track the committtless communication bog that led to these fools getting hired. With the firm in questions, well they messed up very big. Since there is no denying that anyone in the right mind would let these guys go, it is unfortunate that this sets the bar for expectations that our City management expects. Now, every firm or business knows that they got a free pass. At least once (likely more).

All in all though, from a community response perspective, I wish this level of passion and outrage was invested in higher priority items. For example, Areotropolis hearing and Casino initiatives.

Comment edited by Dane on 2013-01-15 08:43:20

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted January 16, 2013 at 09:09:48 in reply to Comment 85188

All in all though, from a community response perspective, I wish this level of passion and outrage was invested in higher priority items. For example, Areotropolis hearing and Casino initiatives.

Agreed.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2013 at 11:06:33 in reply to Comment 85188

#TellAEGDEverything
#TellOLGEverything

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 09:05:59

http://www.thespec.com/news/business/article/883751--media-manipulation-a-cautionary-tale

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