Supporting Effective Communications: the Baldrige Criteria

Posted by Christine Schaefer

Last year, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) published a new benchmarking tool, Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures, to help its members measure the effectiveness of their school system communications. The Rockville, Maryland-based professional association—whose members include school communications professionals throughout the United States and Canada—tapped longtime Baldrige examiner Sandra (“Sandy”) Cokeley, APR, to help guide the groundbreaking benchmarking project. In a recent interview, Cokeley shared how the project benefited from the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence.

Cokeley was director of quality and community relations of the Pearl River School District when it became one of the first recipients from the education sector to receive a Baldrige Award in 2001. She also has been involved with NSPRA on many levels since 1989, serving as president of the local and state chapters in New York and as president of the national association in 2008-2009. An active alumni member of the Baldrige Program’s 2014 Board of Examiners, Cokeley today continues using the Baldrige framework to help various organizations in the areas of public relations and organizational improvement. She said her background with the Baldrige Program and related knowledge of continuous improvement led to her role with the NSPRA benchmarking project. Following are her responses to questions about the project.

1. The Baldrige Education Criteria are credited as a reference in the NSPRA publication. Tell us more about the connection.

The strong alignment between this project and [the Baldrige Criteria] is evidenced through the parallels between the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) model for continuous improvement and our RACE (Research-Analyze-Communicate-Evaluate) model for communications. (PDSA is used by many organizations pursuing continuous improvement through the Baldrige Criteria; the RACE model is a standard practice in public relations planning.) The rubrics are organized across three levels (“emerging,” “established,” and “exemplary”), which align with the maturity of the two models.

NSPRA Rubric Descriptors

NSPRA Rubric Descriptors

2. How has your Baldrige background helped inform the benchmarking project?

For decades, school communications professionals have shared best practices with one another, but not necessarily in a formal, measured way. Folding the Baldrige framework into the benchmarking project helped strengthen how we compare and evaluate our performance because of the strong connection between the RACE model and PDSA.

With RACE, you research the existing knowledge, attitudes, and opinions of the people you’re communicating with around what you’re trying to communicate; you then analyze that research and develop a plan; next, you do the actual communicating; finally and most important, you evaluate and see if you realized that change in knowledge level, attitude, or behavior that you were seeking.

Being able to articulate the RACE model along with key principles of the continuous improvement model, such as alignment, integration, and measured results, helped us tremendously. Emphasizing the results component of benchmarking was also significant.

3. Tell us more about the development of the benchmarks.

One of our [NSPRA] members approached us in 2011 regarding the development of benchmarks in our profession. Education has been focusing on increased accountability with recent linkages of student performance to teacher performance and associated administrator accountability. Per NSPRA past practice, we developed a task force to explore how we could develop benchmarks our members could use to evaluate and grow their communications program.

Because our work encompasses a broad cross section of focus areas and approaches, we first decided to narrow our focus in three primary areas. We identified three “Critical Function Areas” for our initial focus (with plans to expand later): (1) Comprehensive Professional Communications Program, (2) Internal Communications (Faculty and Staff), and (3) Parent/Family Communications.

Next, using both our own research as well as other research available in the field, we identified program components under each of these three areas. For example, for the Function Area of Internal Communications, program components include the following:

  • Researching and Understanding Employee Needs, Expectations, Opinions, Attitudes, Knowledge Levels
  • Employee Engagement
  • Employee Alignment with the School District’s Vision, Mission, and Goals
  • Leadership and Management Communications
  • Managing Information Overload
  • Customer Service
  • Employee Ambassadors
  • Communicating with Employees During a Crisis

In the true spirit of benchmarking, we next went out to our members and asked them how they were measuring their effectiveness in each of these components and to share their results with us. We then shared this compilation of work and sought feedback from our members at a seminar in July 2012. What evolved was the idea of developing rubrics of practice under each of these function areas against which our members could evaluate their program. They also asked for standardized measures, either through set survey questions or a set survey instrument.

We went to work on the rubrics first. Over the next year, we developed the Rubrics of Practice in the three Critical Function Areas and published them as a resource last year.

4. How have school communications professionals received and used the new rubrics?

We are receiving great feedback on the tool. Members are using it in all of the ways we wanted, from independent evaluation of their program to inform improvement to a more comprehensive evaluation with involvement of their board of education.

Still, this is very much a work in progress. We acknowledged from the beginning that it was a huge undertaking and would most likely continuously evolve given how our work is always changing.

5. What are the next steps in this work?

This past year, we added a fourth area of “Branding and Marketing Your Schools.” The revised version is in production now and should be available soon.

Looking ahead, we have identified other areas for future rubric development and are also exploring the standardized survey/measure request.


Editor’s Note: The 2013–2014 Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence are available for download. The 2015–2016 revised version will be available in early 2015.

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