Friday, January 16, 2009 Weekly: An Interview with ACFO

Recently Joe Boughner [JB], a communications officer from the Association of Canadian Financial Officers (ACFO) let us know that they had just unveiled their new website for their union membership (FI group); and you might be surprised to see what they've done.

We checked out the site and decided to ask him a couple of questions:

[CPSR] What efforts has your union made to incorporate web 2.0 into its communications and where do you see the convergence with public service renewal?

[JB] Thus far we’ve rebuilt our site using WordPress as the content management tool to create an RSS feed for our updates. We’ve also created a series of podcasts aimed at demystifying the FI Collective Agreement.

It’s a learning process for us so we started with things that were really just extensions of our core business operations. We already emailed updates to members; RSS was a logical next step. And our Labour Relations Advisors already help members interpret and apply the Collective Agreement over the phone; podcasts just make this advice more accessible.

As for the convergence with renewal, using web 2.0 technologies is all about reaching the increasingly tech-savvy and much younger FI Community. We see ourselves as stakeholders in the renewal process and it’s up to us to make sure our members understand our role in their working lives. Making the public service a better and more attractive place to work should be the goal of everyone; using 2.0 tools to reach our members is one way we’re contributing to that.

[CPSR]What has driven these efforts?

[JB] Our previous website was almost 10 years old; archaic in web terms. The introduction of web 2.0 tools was part of our broader effort to redevelop our online presence. It wasn’t so much that we set out to use shiny new tools on our website, but rather that when we looked at the best way to get the information out to our membership, these tools seemed to be the best fit.

Our efforts were also driven by our membership. While we were planning the new site we did a survey of our members to gauge their expectations. We learned a lot about their web habits and what they wanted out of the new site. This feedback was instrumental in deciding which features and tools to include.

Lastly, the FI Community is among the youngest groups in the public service. Not only did we need to play catch up when developing our new site, we needed to get out in front and anticipate the future expectations of a younger professional community. Building on an extendable platform like WordPress should leave us plenty of options on that front.

[CPSR]What have the results been?

[JB] It’s a bit early to gauge the results in any comprehensive way; the site launched just prior to the holiday season. However, anecdotally the reaction has been great. We unveiled the site during the Financial Management Institute’s professional development week in the National Capital Region – a popular event for our members – and the response was very positive. We’ll be doing a more thorough review in the coming months but, internally, we are really pleased with the results.

[CPSR]What are you planning for the future?

[JB] It will depend to a large extent on what our needs are going forward. By building the site with WordPress, we have left a lot of doors open for online collaboration and discussion within the FI Community. We’ve always consulted our members on things like collective bargaining proposals; the new site should allow us to do that online in a more collaborative way. We’re also in the process of drafting a white paper on employee engagement; we’re planning to invite comment from the Community and open this up to collaboration online.

We’re also considering the integration of more professional development and networking functionality, either by including services directly on the site or establishing an FI Community presence on other professional sites.

And since we’ve dipped our toes in the multimedia realm with the introduction of podcasts, we expect to carry this forward and introduce videos, more audio and other sharable elements, all in the name of fostering the sense of community among our members and facilitating the spread of information.

[CPSR]Have you read the series of articles we posted on the role of unions in public service renewal? What are your thoughts?

[JB] The posts hit on something that is very important to us going forward. Much of the thinking behind our new site focused on making our members more aware of the services we offer. Our Association does a lot more than collective bargaining – all public service bargaining agents do. It’s up to us, though, to ensure our members know that.

In a more general sense, bargaining agents bring a unique perspective to discussions on renewal. We offer our members a collective voice and we are familiar with the sorts of workplace issues that can have a major impact on how the public service is seen by potential employees of the future.

At ACFO, for example, we are pushing for the renewal of the qualification and classification standards for the FI Community to better reflect modern financial management standards. We are also drafting a white paper that analyzes existing research on the role of employee engagement in recruitment and retention. We are putting that research in a public sector context and will be inviting our members to share their personal experiences.

All of this serves to benefit not only our existing members but also those we hope to attract in the future as part of the renewal effort. It comes down to recognizing that all stakeholders have the same goal – creating a work environment that remains the career destination of choice for the best and brightest Canadians.

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