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Communications and Digital Technologies

21 September 1999
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

21 September 1999

Documents handed out:

GCIS Briefing to Portfolio Committee on Communications
Briefing to Portfolio Committee on 11 May 1999
Briefing to Portfolio Committee on 24 February 1999
GCIS and Development Communication

Chief Executive Officer, Mr J Netshitenzhe, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Mr Y Omar, Chief Director: Media Liaison Ms P Maurice-Mopp and Chief Director: Policy and Research Mr T Trew were present at the GCIS presentation.

Question to GCIS officials
The following points emerged from the questions:
-That GCIS promotes the concept that parliamentarians should contact their constituencies. For example, Imbizo where all elected representatives go to communities and interact with them directly. GCIS ensures that government has direct touch with people through information coverage on radios television etc.
-That the media projects a negative picture about South Africa. For example the media was showing footage of the food poisoning of children at the opening of the All African Games. The effect of that was that people who watched this were given the impression that the All African Games was a failure. The issue of the negative picture given by media has been covered by the Comtask report. In her response, Ms Maurice-Mopp said, "It is a struggle which we cannot win overnight…diversity in the staffing of newsrooms should take place in order to see changes….."
-That feedback from communities cannot be established immediately because the majority of people in the past had been deprived information and there is a huge gap to be filled. People should be empowered to know their basic rights and be able to fight for them.
-Illiteracy is the area government is committed to and it is why GCIS has set up information centres so that people can go there and get information.
-That documents are printed in plain language and they are printed in different languages.
-The minimal collection of GCIS documents in public places such as post offices and clinics is due to the fact that people are not aware that they are free and in some areas this may be because advertising regarding them only started last week.
-GCIS interacts with Statistics South Africa but it has not raised the strategic question that SA Statistics is sending the wrong signals (that is, the way they present their statistics, for example, that South African has the greatest number of road accidents).
-That GCIS has been in existence for 16 months. The entire management of their predecessor, SACS, has left but they inherited 230 staff members. There have been some problems in restructuring GCIS.
-That GCIS is committed to having an impact on HIV/AIDS and changing people's lifestyles regarding the use of condoms etc.

Appendix 1:

GCIS Briefing to Portfolio Committee on Communications
Presentation by Mr Joel Netshitenzhe CEO

1. GCIS enjoyed good working relations with the previous Portfolio Committee on Communications, which was both a partner and an important source of advice. We are confident that this will continue and even improve in the next five years. We wish to congratulate new members of the Committee and particularly the Chair.

2. Our presentation will give a brief and broad overview of the work of the GCIS on the basis of various elements of its mandate. For purposes of elaboration, we have selected three clusters: co-ordination, training and strategy; development information; and communication research.

1. Democracy in our country is underpinned by openness on the part of government institutions and partnerships across social sectors. This cannot be realised without a citizenry that is well-informed about government policies and actions. The task of communication is therefore at the centre of the deepening of our democracy and good governance. The Open Democracy Bill will take this a qualitative step further by obliging government, within certain reasonable limitations, to provide the public with information in its hands.

2. GCIS was established in May 1998 on the basis of the Comtask Report. Among others, this report called for the establishment of "a communication and information system tailored to meet the demands of the broader democratic human rights environment". "No task is more pressing", Comtask observed, "than finding ways to alleviate the isolation of those who, through apartheid, poverty and present circumstance are deprived of the information with which to take control of their lives and enter into dialogue with government". The senior management of GCIS (the Secretariat) was seen as a strategising body that "should be centrally co-ordinated from as close to the Presidency and Cabinet as possible. In other words, the voice that speaks to the public should be the voice of government itself".

3. As we indicated in our previous presentations, the GCIS Secretariat identified a number of priorities arising from the Comtask and Cabinet mandate. These are: consolidation of government communication into an integrated system; development communication meant to service the majority of the people; pursuing the objective of media diversity; improving media relations and general policy of dealing with the media; introducing technological improvements in the work of GCIS; and implementing a coherent training programme for communicators.

4. Also critical was the task of restructuring and turning around SACS, an organisation that had lost senior personnel; that was riddled with demoralisation because of the period of uncertainty in the transition; and whose technology was outdated due to the freezing of major initiatives in this period.

1. From a formal SACS formal establishment of over 500, GCIS put a ceiling of about 360 for the establishment. When the Secretariat was formed, there were 230 employees; and with the new intake, the number of persons employed by GCIS stands at about 300. The emphasis in this instance is to ensure a proper balance in the ratio between communication professionals and administrative functions. This applies particularly to the Provincial Offices.

2. In terms of representativity, both the management and GCIS as a whole are currently 70% black. Gender-wise, at management level 34% are female, while for the establishment as a whole, 47.2% are female. Within the whole structure, 1% are disabled. Even more critical is the fact that the overwhelming majority of new employees come from a different background: from the media, communication structures in the private sector and NGO's. This has infused the organisation with a new culture that is reflective of the broader society we serve.

3. Over the past few months, management has been involved in a process of redefining the organisation, posing and answering difficult questions about the alignment of various structures and practices with the core mandate of GCIS. This process is to culminate during the course of this week with finalisation of proposals about structures and systems. But transformation is, of course, an on-going process. We are confident that, over time, we will have a professional communication agency with the kind of information flows and knowledge management that meet the demands of the times.

4. As we have previously indicated, one of the challenges that we have had to deal with pertains to finance: this because when the MTEF was finalised, GCIS had not been formed; and thus, the figures for our Vote were based on the needs and activities of SACS which had a narrower scope of operations. A significant number of GCIS priorities, such as development information, integration of government communication, international work, and media diversity were not part of SACS activities. In our interaction with the Department of State Expenditure, we have received a clear understanding that the situation would be continually reviewed.

5. With regard to training, great progress has been made, with the establishment of the Interim Training Council which includes unions and all three spheres of government communicators. GCIS is represented on the National Standards Bodies, and it has facilitated the setting up of an education and training authority for the private sector media and entertainment industry. The national skills audit has been completed; a training service database is in place; and some of the courses are already under way.

1. Among the abiding challenges for any communication agency is to ensure that the communication agenda infuses the work of the corporate entity it serves. Over the past year, we have seen great improvement in this regard. GCIS planned in the build-up to the elections to ensure that a communication strategy is ready as soon as the government had pronounced on its programme. Based on the President's State of the Nation Address, a government communication strategy was adopted by Cabinet on 7 July 1999, under the theme, "A nation at work for a better life".

2. The strategy is informed by the government's programme and priorities; and it takes into account the overwhelming mandate that government has received. In addition to matters of content, it also examines issues of style: visible accountability to, and partnership with, the people; integrated communication approaches on the part of various clusters of departments; and a sense of urgency and speed in handling critical matters facing the nation. GCIS itself played a role in planning for the opening of the new parliament, with regard to formulation of messages, programmes of briefings and other activities to ensure maximum coverage.

3. In order to meet the needs of millions of South Africans for unmediated information on the government's programme, and as has become standard practice with such major events, the speech was reproduced in 14 daily newspapers; one million copies of the booklet have been printed; 4-million leaflets in all official languages have been distributed; a 15-minute radio spot was flighted on more than 10 commercial radio stations and 32 community stations; and the speech was available on the website virtually at the time of delivery. The response to this material has been overwhelming: with scores of organisations taking bulk copies for their own distribution, with Post Offices serving as a critical conduit of government information, and with GCIS provincial offices building enduring partnerships on the ground.

4. In order to ensure that government as a whole sings from the same hymn-book, the Communication Strategy was thoroughly discussed at a nation-wide Government Communicators' Conference. The Government Communicators' Forum has received reports and itself made inputs on adaptation of the strategy to line function departmental activities and these are being brought together into cluster strategies. Meetings have been held on request to brief Premiers and MEC's, and Provincial Communicators' Conferences. As professionals in the communication field, we are encouraged by the new sense of appreciation of communication issues at various levels of government. Of course, it will take time for this to be felt in full measure in national discourse, given other mediating factors.

5. As GCIS we are keenly interested in and are taking active part in promoting Batho Pele as part of our responsibility; but also because the success of any communication strategy and the credibility of any message depends on the practical experiences of the people in their day-to-day interaction with government. The manner in which citizens are treated in government offices and facilities is itself an act of communication: whether this is indeed a government that cares.

1. At the last briefing to the previous Committee a high premium was placed, in the questions from Members, on whether we are making any progress in reaching out to the majority of South Africans - as Comtask said, "no task is greater and more pressing" than finding ways of alleviating their isolation. Indeed, commissioned research that we recently completed - and which will be made public soon - shows that these multitudes are starved of government information. A hierarchy of inadequacies express themselves, with those in urban areas feeling that most information is on international matters; those in peri-urban and rural areas being of the view that most information is on urban areas!

2. We hope that the practice that we have now improved, of ensuring massive dissemination of the government's programme through "vernacular" and community radio stations, and the partnership with the Post Office and NGO's will help dent this problem. However as much, if not more attention, has to be paid to the utility of such information. The research that we have referred to bears this out, with people seeking in the main information they can use.

3. As part of our broader mandate and on account of this research and consultations with the Provinces, the GCIS set out to investigate the feasibility of setting up government information centres in each district of the country. Firstly, we are working on transferring existing provincial offices, where desirable, from city centres to areas where they are needed most. Secondly, our investigations established that many other departments are intending to set up, or have established, district/regional offices - all of them as individual initiatives. The inter-departmental Task Team that we have set up has unanimously reached the conclusion that all these initiatives should be integrated into One-Stop Government Centres. A number of parastatals are part of the initiative; and consultations are being held with various NGO's and CBO's.

4. Once all the research and preparatory work has been completed, the matter will be placed before Cabinet: for the whole of government to pool resources and set up multi-purpose centres in all districts of the country where communities can be provided with integrated government information and services, including utilisation of latest available information technology. Pilot projects will start in the next six months in a number of provinces. This will go a long way in making government accessible to the people, and form part of the two-way dialogue that is so critical to an information society.

5. However, what is critical is that staff will have to be trained to meet the needs of communities - preferably employed from these communities themselves. Running parallel to this process, GCIS has initiated a project to determine Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) from communities; and answers and "referrals" will be prepared both to assist government communicators on the ground; and to avail the information to communities. This will be updated on an on-going basis.

1. As Members may be aware, this mandate from both Comtask and Cabinet is one that has lagged behind because of problems of getting suitable personnel. This has now been resolved. The aim is to set up a body in the form of a Media Development Agency which will address issues pertaining to diversity, including ownership and distribution. Such a body will, on the basis of broad policy, work out detailed criteria to assist community and other small media enterprises.

2. The principle guiding the approach of GCIS on this matter is that the final product should be realised on the basis of the widest possible consultation. As such GCIS has gone into partnership with FXI and NCMF and held deliberations with the Print Media Association on the processes of consultation that will culminate in a draft policy for presentation to Cabinet. A national workshop has been held, and consultations are continuing in the Provinces. Within government, a number of relevant departments have come together to share experiences and perspectives.

3. Our perspective on the MDA is guided by the following principles, among others: an arms-length relationship between benefactors and the MDA; confinement to matters of the media environment rather than its content; seeking as much consensus as possible among role-players; that all role-players should be aware of dangers of selfish interest and strive to manage these into an accommodating self-interest; that the MDA process can only succeed in its objectives if it is combined with the many initiatives within the media establishment; and lastly, the need to learn from international experience.

1. As will be elaborated later GCIS has been directly involved in the awareness campaign around HIV/AIDS. As the President indicated in the State of the Nation Address research is being conducted on the impact of current campaigns. Assisted pro bono by a variety of research agencies, the research will include testing messages and campaigns that will not only heighten awareness, but also change life-styles.

2. GCIS has also been involved in many other initiatives and campaigns of government, including follow up to the Jobs Summit, the Presidential Inauguration, the Defence Acquisition Programme, the Y2K campaign, and the President's visit to the US and UN. We continue to service Cabinet on matters of communication, in liaison with other departments. In this and other respects, we are in constant consultation with the media to establish the most appropriate ways of improving our service.

3. One of the areas of serious concern to all South Africans has been the portrayal of the country abroad, with the attendant impact on investment, trade and tourism. GCIS is completing a research project on this matter - both qualitative and quantitative - and this will inform the strategy that will be taken to Cabinet. Among the major issues that the research has demonstrated, is the conventional wisdom that what we do and say to ourselves as South Africans forms the main basis of international perceptions of our country. From consultations that we have held, it is clear that, among South Africans in various sectors, including the advertising industry, there is eagerness to work together to develop a massive campaign to promote our country abroad.

4. Other urgent projects:
4.1. We are completing the tendering process for bulk-buying of research and non-personnel advertising which will save the government resources that have been used disparately.
4.2. We are within the set targets with regard to Y2K compatibility; and from its wide usage, we can confidently say that the Government Website has become an important source of information.

1. An approach to communication which is built into the activities of government, from policy development and planning to execution, with a corps of professional communicators.

2. The process of establishing One-Stop Government Centres (MPCC's) for integrated service to communities, including direct two-way communication.

3. More effective input into the campaign on the HIV/AIDS epidemic so we can start making an impact on life-styles.

4. Establishment of the MDA and steady but visible progress towards media diversity.

5. An effective international campaign to promote South Africa based on integrated government efforts and partnership with the private and other sectors.

DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATIONS - Ensuring the right to speak
Presentation by Mr Yacoob Abba Omar (Deputy CEO)

Chapter Five of the Comtask Report placed development communication and media diversity squarely on the GCIS agenda.

It pointed out that the development challenges facing South Africa meant that the following objectives should be achieved in a relatively short period of time:
determining the information needs;
developing an infrastructure and disseminating information in a manner which is appropriate and timely;
and ensuring the use of innovative and non-traditional means.

In its recommendations on Media Diversity it concluded: " There is a need to embark on a number of initiatives to increase media diversity, such as:
the promotion of and advising on a subsidy system for the funding of media diversity;
the promotion of and advising on support mechanisms for community and print broadcast media;
the exploration of mechanisms, including legislation, to facilitate access by all print media to a fair and equitable distribution system;
advising on the development of partnership arrangements with sectors involved in the delivery of information at community level."

In our briefing to the Portfolio Committee earlier this year we admitted progress in both these areas - development communications and media diversity - had not been as rapid as we would have wanted it to be. As the CEO of GCIS pointed out then: " If the organisation erred on the side of trying to define this strategy more than acting around it, we hope that the next financial year will see great strides being made in this area."

We are pleased to inform this meeting that the GCIS has made significant progress since.

GCIS works within the same context that faces our nation a whole, namely that of meeting three enormous and simultaneous challenges: democratisation; redress through reconstruction and development; and successful integration as a winning nation in a globalised world.

Within this context GCIS naturally places special emphasis on development and on broadening access to information and to the means of communication.

This goes for the content of what we communicate, so that we help empower and mobilise South Africans to play an active part in improving their own lives.

And it goes for two of our major current priorities, aimed at opening access on the part of those previously excluded to communication with government and to the means for articulating views, interests and aspirations.

The one is the establishment of a countrywide network of Government Information Centres, within the framework of the Multi-Purpose Community Centres.

And the other is the establishment of a Media Development Agency.

What we seek to achieve through the establishment of a Media Development Agency is included in what defined the founding consensus of our transition to democracy.

It is that our media, like all our other institutions, ought to come to reflect the full diversity of our society.

And it is that a critical part of achieving this goal is to promote access to the media on the part of the majority of South Africans who were previously excluded or whose access was seriously hindered. Access in this regard may mean ownership; membership of media professions; or availability of a vehicle that gives expression to one's perspectives, interests and aspirations

When the GCIS was established, the government took the view that the history of our country is such that we need an agency to promote these goals and processes, and specifically a Media Development Agency.

To this end the Policy Directorate which GCIS included in its new structures was assigned as one of its major responsibilities the process leading to the establishment of the MDA. Now that that structure is on the way to being fully staffed, the process has picked up speed. It is moving along two takes. On the one hand GCIS is keeping itself informed of the views being formulated on this matter within the media industry and amongst NGOs.

We have been working closely with the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and the National Community Media Forum (NCMF). The two organisations have been conducting hearings into the question of media diversity and how this can be achieved. This process began with a national seminar in July and will be followed up with regional workshops.

GCIS addressed a workshop called up by these organisations with the Print Media Association of SA where the establishment of a Print MDA was discussed. These various institutions have agreed that the GCIS led process should provide the umbrella for their initiatives.

And on the other hand it is leading a governmental process across several departments to formulate a set of positions on the various options and issues which will define the character; funding; scope and authority of an agency whose task it is to promote development and diversity within the media of South Africa.

The key government initiatives represented were the Film and Video Trust of the Dept of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST); Community Broadcasting Initiative of the Dept of Communications (DoC) and the Media Policy Unit of the GCIS. It was clear from these discussion that a mechanism which is sustainable in the long term is necessary to ensure the development of media.

The intention is that the results of this process will be put out probably in the next six months in a paper for public discussion and in particular to receive comment from media organisations and other interested sectors and organisations.

Following the period of consultation and public discussion a final proposal will be drawn up and submitted to the Cabinet, so that it can then proceed to Parliament for any necessary legislation or policy measures.

We are seeking the assistance of donors to fund this process, both for input of experts and for the public consultation.

There is no reason that an MDA should not be in place in the next 18 months.

GCIS has gone somewhat further down the road in this endeavour. The next speaker will elaborate on a study GCIS has conducted into the information needs of the South African public - very much in line with the recommendations made by Comtask. The relations with Provincial Communicators continues to improve. It was decided at a joint meeting to formalise the largely informal relationship the GCIS regional offices have had with their provincial counterparts. This would ensure that expectations and commitments are clearly spelt out.

The partnership between the SA Post Office continues to strengthen with the Post Office providing a cost effective distribution service. The GCIS one person Radio Unit continues providing an excellent service to many govt. departments.

The most dramatic movement has been around the Multi Purpose Community Centres (MPCCs). Benjamin has provided a useful definition of MPCCs which has served to anchor our approach. It is "a structure which enables communities to manage their own development by providing access to appropriate information, facilities, resources, training, and services. The center can offer a range of services as defined by the needs of the community."

The experience of other countries point out that the success of MPCCs is affected by the degree of coordination among the different spheres of government as well as among depts. The GCIS has been following two paths in the establishment of MPCCs.

Firstly our 9 regional offices are being restructured. Instead of having these offices being based in urban areas, these regional offices will be scaled down and replaced by 46 offices called Government Information Centres working at district level. It is envisaged that the location of the GICs will coincide with where the MPCCs will be set up. In this way overhead costs will be reduced.

The second path has been the coordination of those depts. and govt. agencies involved in establishing local level information centres. This has meant the involvement of Dacst, the Depts. of Trade and Industry, Welfare, Provincial and Local Government, Sports, and Communications as well as the Universal Service Agency, Telkom, the Post Office, CSIR, the Development Bank, and HSRC.

These structures are represented on Project MPCC and there is agreement on collaborating on the establishment of the MPCCs. The team working on this is collecting data on where the different organisations intend establishing their centres and with the help of the Geographical Information System (GIS) working out what the optimal locations would be.

It is hoped that five of these MPCCs can be piloted in the next six months. While the agencies which already have begun rolling out their programmes have not been officially asked to halt their work they are nevertheless agreed that once the research has been completed implementation will follow a more rational path.

It is envisaged the GICs shall be responsible for the following areas:
translating the development communications approach to the specific needs of that district;
establishing distribution networks;
identifying the information needs of the communities in that district.

It is envisaged that joint strategising forums will be created consisting initially of GICs and Provincial Communicators but which could begin expanding to encompass local government whereby planning and further clarification of roles in specific campaigns can be aired.

Presentation by Ms Portia Maurice-Mopp (Chief Director: Media Liaison)

A key mandate of the GCIS is to ensure greater co-ordination and integration in the work of government communicators. This integrated approach is necessary because:

Government needs to project itself as an efficient corporate entity, able to inspire confidence through holistic performance.
Citizens experience the performance of government in spheres of public activity, and their perceptions are framed in this way more than by the performance of individual departments.
Disparate and unco-ordinated communication efforts often send conflicting messages into the public arena, and
Scarce resources may be mobilised for priority projects through clustering, and duplication is avoided.

To this end, GCIS has initiated a number of processes.

Key among these is a Government Communicator's Forum (GCF), a meeting of Heads of Communication in all national Ministries, which meets every two weeks in Pretoria, and is chaired by the CEO of GCIS.

The primary objective of the forum is to prepare communication strategies for Cabinet decisions the forthcoming week. The forum has, however, become useful for sharing approaches to challenging issues, information about campaigns and presentations on initiatives outside government. Meetings are generally attended by 60-70% of Ministries, and use a video link to Cape Town to facilitate Parliamentary travel.

The GCIS also manages monthly meetings of Communication Clusters which may, in future, mirror the Cabinet Committees. The current clusters are: Macro-economic framework, Safety and Security, International Relations, Governance and Social Services.

The Communication Clusters are meant to:
Facilitate creative, cross-sectoral thinking on communication issues rather than continuing narrow, departmental thinking;
Develop communication strategies for the integrated, cross-cutting programmes initiated by Ministers; and
Ensure that communication initiatives fit in with the national strategic policy framework.

Between meetings, GCIS aims to develop an information management system through which communicators can share the public events diaries of their principals, key messages and themes, media agendas etc. This project is currently in pilot phase.

In addition, GCIS has so far had three Consultative Conferences for government communicators, to reflect on key issues, review performance and plan strategically for the forthcoming period.

The GCIS Secretariat also has had regular meetings with Heads of provincial government communication.

A key element of the GCIS mandate is to act as a strategising body for the government communication system. To this end, GCIS works intensively with Ministries, projects or campaigns on developing communication strategies to guide their work. Such strategies would locate the initiative within a communication context, identify major challenges, themes, messages and a broad programme.

GCIS has worked with its partners on developing communication strategies for a wide range of projects and campaigns such as the current Presidential visit to the United States, the upcoming Commonwealth Summit in Durban, HIV/Aids, the Jobs Summit and the conflict in the Great Lakes Region.

In addition, GCIS co-ordinates the development of individual departmental and provincial communication strategies, in line with government's overall communication strategy which has been approved by Cabinet. It is also responsible for monitoring the implementation of the government's communication strategy through all conduits, including foreign missions abroad.

By and large, there is a massive skills shortage across the approximately 2 000 government communicators currently employed. There is an urgent need for professionalisation, as well as for training programmes and learnerships which combine the best of private sector training in a public service context.

Among other things, Comtask recommended that there be interventions to ensure the development of a professional stream of government communicators, and recommended:
A skills and personnel audit, to identify problems and build capacity.
A set of professional criteria for government communicators.
Development of a national training programme for government communicators.

In February 1999 GCIS began a project to lay the basis for a National Training Board for government communicators. The public service's Collective Bargaining Council is in the process of establishing a Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority (P-SETA), which will look at various skills areas and be the umbrella body for a range of "training boards". The structures GCIS sets up are thus temporary, pending finalisation of this initiative.

The training structure GCIS sets up logically belongs in the public service training and development environment, but needs to be linked to the private sector's media training and development environment. To this end, we have formed linkages with industry groups working towards a Media, Entertainment and Publishing Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA), a Printing, Newspapers and Packaging SETA and an Information and Communications Technology SETA.

In the meanwhile, GCIS has formed an Interim Government Communicator's Training Council (IGCTC) comprising relevant national, provincial and local government communication staff, as well as representation from the labour movement to begin addressing the needs of government communicators.

Primarily this Training Council will prepare a skills plan, promote learnerships, assess education and training provision in the sector, and build an awareness of the National Qualifications Framework process among communicators and service providers. The Training Council's work would be guided by the Public Service Collective Bargaining Council and the PSETA, once formed.

A national skills audit of government communicators' training needs highlighted a series of short- and medium-term needs. For the short term, these include communication strategy formulation, public sector communication training and media sensitisation for senior political leaders. Medium term needs have been identified as public and community liaison, media work, marketing and PR in a public service environment, journalism skills, project/event management and the use of communications information technology.

The Commonwealth Secretariat and United Nations Development Programme have committed some funds towards pilot programmes in some of these areas. GCIS is currently receiving project proposals from service providers towards these needs. These will be given interim certification in line with the National Qualifications Framework by the Interim Training Council.

As a result of this initiative, all spheres of government will be able to access specialised accredited training courses for communication, provided that suitable funding is found. In future, unit standards for government communication training courses and programmes will be developed through the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). These will then be used by the Training Council to quality-assure new training programmes, and will be formally accredited in terms of the National Qualifications Framework.

Presentation by the Mr Tony Trew (Chief Director: Policy and Research)

There are many kinds of research done in an organisation like GCIS. But what is most specifically communications research, as done by GCIS, falls into three broad categories:

Studying the environment within which communication takes place, so that that communication can be designed to be most effective;

Determining communications needs and capacities, so that needs can be met and capacity enhanced;

Evaluating and monitoring the impact of communications activities; products or services, so that the use of resources can be accounted for and improvements can be made.

In each case GCIS may on the one hand itself conduct or commission research or we may on the other hand advise other departments on how to engage research services to meet their communications needs.

Research into communication needs
One of the first questions faced by GCIS was the future of the set of regional or provincial offices it inherited. Options and scenarios were produced in succession - and it seemed could continue to be produced without limit - until on the insistence of our Chief Director for Provincial and Local Liaison, research was undertaken. This was in the first instance into development communications and comparative experience in other countries, and then into community information needs in South Africa.

The initial research, started at the end of last year, confirmed the need for an infrastructure for sustained two-way communication between government and communities that had far greater reach into communities than currently existed. It also identified multi-purpose community centres as vital distribution channels.

That research was one of the major inputs into our moving away from merely nine regional Government Information centres towards our current programme of establishing the network of 46 GICs, integrated with the Multi Purpose Community Centres and in rural areas each serving on average about 300,000 people. This programme will help realise the vision, articulated in the research findings, of access for all to sustained, face-to-face two-way communication with government centred on the needs of development.

The survey on information needs, early this year, confirmed these new directions and elaborated on what it was that South Africans felt their government should be communicating.

It underlined the need for what we have come to call development communication, that is communication that arms communities and individuals to change their lives for the better.

These and other results have informed GCIS communication plans, feeding into a "Framework for a Memorandum of Understanding" accepted by our Provincial Communication partners in May this year.

Amongst other pointers from the research was a need to move towards more regular and frequent communication by government rather than intermittent and infrequent efforts, and that it should promote accountability of government to the public, in accessible ways. The scale of initiatives such as that around the Openings of Parliament in June, and their form, owe much to such findings.

Reaping the benefits of investment in research is itself a major task, and that is still in progress as far as this research is concerned. Currently we are visiting each of the provinces to present the results of the survey into community information needs, and to discuss their implications for the GICs in each area.

Researching the communications environment
GCIS has, almost from the day it was established, been involved in government's efforts to promote Public Awareness of HIV/AIDS. That included the launch of the Partnership Against Aids.

That initiative was aimed at heightening public awareness of the national crisis that HIV/AIDS poses. It aimed to do so by creating a partnership of all sectors of our society on the basis of a commitment to share responsibility for addressing the problem. There can be no doubt that it did help do this in good measure, and we expect that to be reflected in the marking of the anniversary of the launch of the partnership in just over two weeks from now.

But as the President noted when he opened parliament in June, heightened public awareness yet to bring that change of behaviour which is needed. The incidence of HIV/AIDS in our country continues to rise to an extent that constituted a national crisis.

In the light of the President's commitment of the government to a renewed national effort based on a review of what it had been doing, GCIS was asked by the Inter Ministerial Committee on AIDS to do research that would help government re-invigorate its campaign and re-orient it if necessary. We were asked to help answer the question why behaviour is not changing as much as it should, and whether government should be communicating in a different way on this matter.

Such a daunting research challenge calls for some humility on the part of a communications agency. If our task is to translate knowledge into a message for leaders of our nation and society to communicate, then it seemed to us that we should follow the message of the Partnership Against Aids and try to promote a partnership of all those engaged in research related to HIV/AIDS, as a national research response to this national crisis.

And indeed such a partnership is emerging, as a national consortium. In the first instance as a result of the GCIS initiative, with the assistance of the Department of Health and the Department of Arts & Culture, Science & Technology, it is consolidating amongst government departments and science councils. We are confident in the light of preliminary discussions and contacts that it will embrace academic researchers and the private sector market research industry whose contribution will we believe include pro bono work.

Drawing on such a national intellectual resource base, research will be able with more confidence to help point the direction towards more effective government communication in this critical area.

Monitoring and evaluating
Given the short time that GCIS has been in existence, this critical area of research into the effectiveness and impact of what we are doing is still taking shape.

We are turning our attention to devising systematic and regular ways of assessing whether our work is making an impact, and critically, how those to whom we provide services regard them.

The review of the AIDS communication campaign is a part of that process.

As the programme of development communication and the establishment of GICs and MPCCs unfolds, we will be keeping track of whether or not the directions we took in the light of the research into Information Needs are indeed helping to meet those needs.

The audit of international perceptions of our country will have to be followed by regular research to determine whether the actions adopted in the light of that audit do indeed have the intended effects.

In short, GCIS research is in such ways a concrete and integral part of putting government communications in the service of democratisation; development; and national success in the international domain.



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