Companies, groups and organizations constantly search for ways to improve their communications, and the ideas and strategies are numerous.

Dean Max Michael installed two blackboards in the Ryals Building to encourage communication on issues ranging from building management to public health.
In fact, a recent Google search of “communications strategy template” returned 722,000 responses.

Max Michael, M.D., has unveiled an idea that is likely not among those — but it may be one day.

Michael, dean of the School of Public Health, recently had two blackboards installed in the lobby of the Ryals Building to encourage communication among faculty, staff and students on issues ranging from building management to public health.

Michael says his school faces the same challenges as others when it comes to communication. Many people, he says, are tired of newsletters and e-mails. Michael thought the blackboards would be a unique way for people to give and receive information.

The idea came during a staff meeting this past summer. Someone mentioned that a mayor from a U.S. city hung several whiteboards and corkboards in front of city hall for people to post notes and ideas.

“I didn’t want to do a white board,” Michael says. “I thought a chalk board was retro.”
Other ideas were proposed. The blackboards were cheaper, and, more important, Michael thought they invited the most interaction.

Many of the comments have been about procedures or special requests.  One person asked if the school could purchase and install covered bicycle racks, a request Michael says is reasonable. He is looking into the possibilities.

Other posts have asked about healthier foods in vending machines, temperature settings in the building, internship possibilities and funding opportunities for students.

“We erased the board recently and wrote responses to the questions that were posed,” Michael says.

“Some of the questions were things that have been nagging folks,” he says. “There also were some very thoughtful questions. It enabled us to put up the issue of state funding and where the dollars go, which was a good educational lesson.”

Of course there are some funny requests that are written from time to time — “Send chocolate to Room 220,” for example — but Michael says he’s pleased with how the boards have been received by faculty, staff and students, and he’s eager to see how the communication practices between the groups evolves in the future.

“My hope is that the boards will become a place were people will share thoughts and ideas on a variety of important topics,” says the dean.