Handbook of Communication Audits for Organisations Edited by Owen Hargie and Dennis Tourish Routledge 365 pages £19.95

This practical book for students and managers sets out to equip readers with the tools to evaluate and improve organisational communication, but the content is not restricted to healthcare.

But when the authors list the benefits of good communication - a saner environment, happy employees, satisfied customers - it's easy to see its relevance.

The four parts take in a review of why communication is important; an analysis of audit methodologies such as questionnaires, focus groups, diaries, and interviews; six case studies - two from the world of healthcare; and an overview, including what makes an effective communication strategy.

The authors point out that organisational improvement requires people within and across teams sharing information, influence and ideas. They could have added that effective communication is the touchstone in changing relationships between healthcare professionals and patients, as well as a key defence against healthcare error.

The book does not, however, rest on a mantra about the undisputed importance of communication. It shows the reader how to track and measure communication.

The 'how to do it' sections are informative, easy to follow and provide warnings to help the practitioner avoid common pitfalls alongside practical advice - such as how to recruit and moderate focus groups.

The authors acknowledge that the nature of communication has changed. Effective communication is no longer about the announcement of management conclusions but rather the process of stimulating new thinking and organisational learning.

However, while this might be correct (in both senses of the word) the methods and the case studies often show less reconstructed audits being used to bridge gaps between management aspiration and reality.

The final overview laudably orientates any communication strategy towards action rather than action plans, work rather than working parties, and keeping things brief (as opposed to end less briefings). Communication strategy is rightly presented as a process of transforming existing practice rather than being an 'addon' or initiative.

This is not a book you are going to want for Christmas. But it is the sort of book that you want to find when you are in the first state of uncertainty about a particular task ahead. If you are interested in auditing and improving organisational communication it provides ideas and practical help in an abundant but well-organised fashion.

The book presents a wide range of material from advice to the novice (such as whether to present data in a bar chart or pie chart) to discussions of topics such as 'communication audits as pedagogy'.

As a result, readers are likely to dip into its contents rather than take on a cover-to-cover read.

The authors tell us that an audit report needs to be timely, well written, organised, and costeffective.

This book is certainly timely, well written and organised (you must judge cost-effective yourself).

There are also some good lines - such as the comparison of the NHS management structure to flat-pack furniture - difficult to put together, instructions that make little sense, and never designed to last.

Steve Dewar King's Fund fellow.