Communicating with Governments

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Sitting on the plane back from the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta gives me time to reflect on the challenges that the world is facing, writes IABC UK Board member Marcie Shaoul.

This time the 53 Heads of Government from all over the Commonwealth, from Tuvalu to Tanzania, New Zealand, Botswana, Canada convened on the tiny walled and beautiful country of Malta to discuss the pressing matters of the Commonwealth for the next two years.

Notoriously at CHOGMs the country becomes locked down. The fringe events that happen in the wings, the Commonwealth Youth Forum, the People’s Forum, the Business Forum and for the first time the Women’s Forum are shunned by leaders as they sweep in for a two day retreat and a dinner with Her Majesty The Queen who is Head of the Commonwealth.

People Power

However since the controversial CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013, the world has continued to change. People power is increasing, reportage by the person on the street via social media is rife and the world and its leaders is having to sit up and listen. The civil society event, the Commonwealth People’s Forum, where NGOs gather and debate now not only feeds into the Foreign Ministers, but also engages with ministers in the run up to the biennial meeting.

But these events are seldom ground breaking. Whatever you think is on the agenda usually gets surpassed by current events, so in this case terrorism and climate change were the hot topics and planned interactions from young people, NGOs and women’s groups can be left floundering in the wings of the debate.

Flying people in from around the world to generate ideas is one thing, but the perception that they may be there to influence the agenda is a fallacy. If people want to communicate with their governments, they need to think smart about how they do that. Change doesn’t happen at one meeting, pressure is not always the best way to bring about change, and placards rarely make a difference.

Opening up debate

As a trained facilitator I often watch these events with a heavy heart. Knowing what they could achieve and watching what they don’t achieve is frustrating for the whole world. Demanding rarely makes people listen in an open-minded way, and locking intelligent and specialised people out of high level meetings causes them to rally. To my eyes this creates a non-productive log jam, out of which tenuous compromise is the only viable solution.

If governments opened up the process before the meeting to interact formally with groups to gain expert advice on the discussion topics (current affairs dependent) then they would be better informed and discussions could be streamlined.

And when lobby groups are invited to the table, demands should become discussions, conversations should be fuelled by people who are listening and responding, rather than those who are trying to say their piece. Fruitful conversations, common ground and alliances are what will change the world. Demands and ultimatums rarely do.

Marcie Shaoul is a senior facilitator in multi-stakeholder processes and has worked as an international civil servant specialising in areas of international concern. Prior to founding Communications for Development, Marcie was Head of Stakeholder Engagement and Communications at the Commonwealth.

 

Could HR + PR = parity in pay?

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Does the PR industry lack HR skills and is this contributing to the gender pay gap?

Earlier this year the Chartered Institute of Public Relations published the results of its State of the Profession Survey.

It established that one of the top issues the industry faces is the gender pay gap.

A salary discrepancy of £8,483 in favour of men cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work among women.

It’s a sobering thought when over two-thirds of practitioners in the profession are female. The CIPR has committed to tackling the issue head on through a four point plan, which sets out what the Institute intends to do to help employers narrow the pay gap going forwards.

It can’t happen quickly enough.

Not a women’s issue but an issue of how well you run your business

This Autumn the CIPR will publish the results of research that’s being undertaken on people and performance management within the PR industry.
The survey of PR employers looks at which general practices are in place within member organisations to define pay at a senior and junior level and who is responsible for this.

From work carried out to date, such as round table events with a variety of industry practitioners including freelancers, SME owner-managers, in house practitioners, agency players, academics and recruitment specialists, there is a clear indication of a potential skills gap in terms of the human resources function.

While it’s true this wouldn’t universally apply, for example where public sector and larger organisations are concerned, the CIPR wants to know more broadly if this is actually the case.

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New Era for Government, Media and Communication

Notes from Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus which discussed a New Era for Government, Media and Communication and was attended by the The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades.

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The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, opened talking about the importance of communication in a democracy and that “an informed and active citizen is a better citizen”.

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He was followed by the British High Commissioner, Ric Todd, talking about the role of effective government communication in public debate and discourse.

His best line: “good communication does not guarantee popularity, but bad communication guarantees unpopularity”.  This is a lesson many corporate managers can learn.

Mini-masterclasses in communication from Eleonora Gavrielides, the Director of the Cyprus Press and Information Office, and Alex Aiken, Executive Director for UK Government Communications. These expert professionals provided complementary perspectives on what it takes to deliver effective government communications. I can’t say I agreed with everything they said, but it was good to hear how governments are working hard to ensure effective communications with their key stakeholders.

Then some great additional perspectives from local and UK media, the Director of the Cyprus Media Community Centre, talking about the role of non-state actors in communication.

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