In a recent post I referred to the Tanzanian Government case which Mindi Kasiga and Gerhard Butschi presented at the Global Alliance’s recent World Public Relations Festival in Cape Town, as one of the two most inspiring and innovative presentations.
Without further ado (as my friend Strumpette would certainly say) I will now pass you on to a highly interesting interview I did with Mindi and Gerhard.
I am sure many other questions will come up and please feel free to comment, as I am sure both interviewees will be happy to answer.
Only one further note: take a good look at the digital management website where the pro.com software is explained in detail….what a great piece of hard and productive work!
Thank you Gerhard, and thank you Mindi for being so kind, professional and charming…and while you are at it, please take a look at the Tanzanian team in action (mindi and gerhard, professional public relators at work, what are you doing?).
QUESTION 1: Why was the President so committed to the Communication Initiative from the outset?
The Communication Initiative of the government of the United Republic of Tanzania started in 2002 during President Benjamin Mkapa’s second term in office (which lasted from 2000-2005). Pres Mkapa was determined to lead the war against corruption and to coordinate decision-making processes governed by professionalism, objectivity, integrity, impartiality, transparency and good governance. By this time, civil society and pressure groups had become aware of their role in educating and communicating to the public, and also providing criticism of the government when needed. Moreover, Tanzania’s multi-party system provided a platform for opposition parties to explain or dismiss government success stories. The overnight explosion of the media resulted in a situation where allegiance to the government was no longer a given. This was contrary to the media environment of the 1980s where two or three state owned print media ensured that government was portrayed in a positive light. In view of all these changes, Pres Mkapa was concerned that government’s success stories were not being heard. He was also concerned with the capacity in his office in the areas of information, communication and outreach. It was thus his commitment and tireless efforts that drove the initiative to increase and improve communication with the Tanzanian people.
By the end of Pres Mkapa’s second term (2005), the situation had deteriorated for the government. The new market driven economy (that replaced socialism) had transformed the Tanzanian society completely. Especially in the big cities, people became much less tolerant of government communication that only technocrats could understand because the packaging was too difficult to digest. During the early years of his first term (2005-2006), the current President, Jakaya Kikwete, committed himself to the Communication Initiative and promised to give it more prominence and support in order to make sure that it was sustained. This has resulted in every Ministry currently having communication units staffed by at least two professionals (who have received extensive training where necessary). Furthermore, most Heads of Communication now attend management meetings in their ministries, thereby participating in policy-making and implementation. A government communication forum attended by all communication specialists in the different Ministries and the Directorate of Communications (the latter situated in the President’s office) takes place every week, supported by teleconferencing when the need arises as well as informal daily interaction between the communication specialists.
QUESTION 2: How were the Cabinet Ministers convinced to cooperate in the effort?
At first it was very difficult to get Ministerial buy-in for the Communication Initiative. While a few were genuinely interested, high-ranking officials close to them were very sceptical. However, Government was committed to make Ministers more aware of the importance of communication. Therefore, in 2005, Pres Mkapa invited the South African Minister of State in the Office of the President, Hon. Essop Pahad, to address the Tanzanian Cabinet. A similar effort was undertaken in 2006 (during the current President’s term) whereby Minister Pahad was again invited to Tanzania to speak on the importance of Government Communication.
These efforts played a big role in convincing many Ministers that the Communication Initiative is indeed important. As political figures, the Ministers also understand the need to communicate different initiatives and policy implementation processes that are ongoing in their ministries as well as the danger of not communicating to the people.
QUESTION 3: How did the rest of the bureaucracy react?
The biggest challenge was not to convince the Ministers about the importance of communication but rather the bureaucrats and technocrats in the government — a battle that is still continuing today. Some of the deliberate efforts to make them aware were the following:
ü The high level meeting where former President Mkapa called all Permanent Secretaries, Regional Commissioners, District Officials, some Parliamentarians and a few Ministers together with Media people and articulated the need for government and the media to communicate to the people of Tanzania.
ü Another step was highlevel communication training that was tailor-made for Permanent Secretaries, Policy Directors, and departmental and ministerial spokespersons.
ü A process to establish a Government Communication Policy has also made many Permanent Secretaries aware of the Communication Initiative.
ü A study tours for senior government officials to South Africa and United Kingdom to study communication structures was another deliberate step to create awareness of the Communication Initiative.
QUESTION 4: What was the early Burson Marsteller audit about and what did it say?
This report was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as part of their project with the Government of Tanzania to build communication capacity. The overall brief was ‘to enhance the capacity of the President’s office to enable more effective, accountable and transparent communication of the Government’s policies and activities, so as to encourage greater participation in the business of government by the citizens of Tanzania.’ The project focused on the communication capacity in the President’s Office and the entire government, and complements UNDP’s participatory Democracies Programme that has a major civic education component.
The report covered seven main areas and its recommendation for actions with regards to sustained enhancements in communications capacity were focused on the following: vision, policy, strategy, structure, mechanisms, training and equipment. The goals were that, five years after the recommendations in the report have been implemented, the following should inter alia have been achieved:
1. Vision: The Government provides timely information to the citizens; the enhanced communication is contributing to increased transparency; communication structures initially implemented at key ministries are adopted throughout government; and relations with the media has improved.
2. Policy: A government communications policy has been drafted and implemented in order to achieve the above-mentioned vision. The policy constitutes a series of operational guidelines and the authority for following them. (The report also outlined some of the needed requirements and statements for this policy).
3. Communication Strategy: For proper implementation of the above policy, a two-way communication strategy is needed which identifies messages, audiences and the means of getting the messages to and from the audiences. This requires a high degree of co-ordination across government departments. Also, messages need to be developed within a framework, in which each level of message respects the level above and informs the level below. This whole process needs to be undertaken in a systematic manner.
QUESTION 5: How did the UNDP help in selecting professionals?
The UNDP Deputy Resident representative to Tanzania at the time received the Burson Marsteller report and conceptualised the project for the government of Tanzania. After the appointment of the Director of Communications (which was part of the recommendations), the two of them worked on a concept that fitted government as well as UNDP structures. They agreed in principle that after the project has taken off (after five years), all structures and personnel needed would be absorbed by the government and communication will no longer be a UNDP project but rather a Government Communication Initiative.
Jobs descriptions were prepared and positions were advertised in local newspapers. Initial staff members recruited were the following:
ü Communications Officer with Media background (through UNDP)
ü Communications Officer with Marketing background (through UNDP)
ü Electronic Communications Officer (through the Government)
ü Communications Officer with Communication Arts (through UNDP)
ü Communications Officer with Political Science background (through the Government)
ü Director of Communications with International Relations background, also acting as Deputy Private Secretary to the President (through the government).
QUESTION 6: How were these professionals subsequently trained and by whom?
All staff went through training programmes right after they joined, with the exception of the Director that had to be trained before everybody else. Initial staff members also undertook several study tours to South Africa and the UK. One of the recommendations from the South Africa study tour of early 2003 was that Benita Steyn’s book on Corporate Communication Strategy be studied by all Tanzanian government communicators.
The first comprehensive joint training was conducted by Dr. Gerhard Bütschi from Switzerland in September 2003, and again in early 2004. Other training courses were conducted by the World Bank’s Training Institution DevComm, the University of Dar es Salaam, as well as private consultants from South Africa and the UK.
Once Digital Management’s software solution for strategy formulation, planning, implementation and evaluation of the public relations/government communication function had been acquired by the Tanzanian Government (sponsored by the World Bank), Benita Steyn (from South Africa) and Dr Gerhard Bütschi presented an intensive weeklong theoretical training course in strategic communication management and evaluation (attended by 47 government communication specialists). This course was preceded by a series of electronic briefings. Thereafter Tanzanian communication specialists participated in two phases of systems training on the software.
QUESTION 7: How do you distinguish ‘information’ from ‘dialogue’?
If one revisits the four historic PR models, information as a purpose of PR refers to the dissemination of information from organisations/government institutions to stakeholders (that is not based on research or strategic planning, and therefore does not presuppose previous knowledge of their concerns, needs or expectations). We therefore see it as a one-way approach to PR/communication characterised by the government’s ‘need to tell’ and, at its best, an effort to satisfy a stakeholder’s ‘need to know.’
Dialogue is the foundation of the 4th PR model, namely the two-way symmetrical/participatory approach to PR/government communication that has effects that benefit both the organisation/government institution and its stakeholders/citizens. We therefore see it as the ‘need to share views, expectations, and concerns in an effort to facilitate mutual understanding between government and stakeholders, based on dialogue (participatory communication) rather than monologue by government’. Government communication specialists serve as mediators between government and the stakeholders, interpreting them to each other, adjusting their relationship by using negotiation to bring about changes in the knowledge, attitudes and behavior of both the stakeholders and the government.
QUESTION 8: When and how did the software come in the picture?
After Government leaders realised that they needed a digital communication management solution to manage the complexities of two-way communication between State House/its Directorate of Communications and their stakeholders; 26 government Ministries and their stakeholders; as well as coordination between State House/the Directorate of Communications and the Ministries/departments/agencies/their communication units.
The international tender process started in October 2005 and was concluded in 2006 when Digital Management AG Switzerland was selected the preferred partner in the Communications Initiative.
QUESTION 9: Why is the software so important and which are its real benefits?
The software consists of an explanation mode (view) as well as a data entry mode.
• The explanation mode outlines the theoretical principles that underlie the software (most notably the strategic alignment of PR tasks/activities/plans/strategies to top level strategies and policy frameworks) and is thus an important self-help tool to fulfil the expressed need of building capacity amongst communication specialists in Tanzanian ministries/departments/ agencies as well as the Directorate of Communications situated in State House (President’s Office). It creates understanding of why the paradigm shift to participatory communication is necessary and thus serves as a motivator to discontinue outdated practices such as a focus on information dissemination. The explanation view provides descriptions of each step in the process as well as access to a glossary with over 600 terms, covering not only the PR/communication field but also related fields. The glossary thus standardises terms and puts all 50 communication specialists in the Tanzanian government on the same page (so to speak) in achieving common understanding of complex concepts.
• The comprehensive methodology of the data entry mode serves as a road map to lead government communication specialists along each step of the way in their efforts to digitize the government communication function, especially its new focus on managing stakeholders, issues and reputation risks, and evaluating the success of communication projects and campaigns. Each step is accompanied by ‘yellow pages’, providing information and tools and methodologies on ‘how to’ formulate strategy and complete the planning and evaluation templates provided. It is thus a learning tool, even in the data entry mode.
• Benefits for the Tanzanian communicators are that they become more effective. Strategic alignment between broad government policy frameworks and strategies, and communication strategy and plans is obtained, as well as an enhanced reputation for the government through issue and stakeholder management. They also become more efficient in that duplications and redundancies are avoided, virtual teamwork is optimized, budgeting and cost control is improved, and people, processes and funds are managed and reported. The efforts of 50 communication specialists in 26 Ministries and State House are coordinated, streamlined and synchronized with regards to strategies and communication activities, efficient use of resources (people, time and funds) is achieved and there is continuous improvement through organizational learning.
QUESTION 10: Is it not an excessive superstructure with many binding constraints?
No. As you will see above, the software enforces standard procedures and provides common understanding of complex concepts and processes in every ministry which is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. It fosters and enhances cross-ministerial collaboration and provides an information-sharing platform, available to all members of the government communication fraternity.
QUESTION 11: What led the World Bank to support the project?
The World Bank has been supporting Tanzania as a stable Government for many years. The software fulfils the aim they share with government leaders namely of guiding and entrenching participatory communication processes in State House and the 26 Ministries. That is, elevating communication practice from a technical focus on information dissemination and media relations to a strategic role in developing an overarching communication strategy that supports government policies and frameworks. Furthermore, implementing and evaluating communication projects and campaigns to ensure that the people of Tanzania has a voice in government, that their expectations are met as far as possible, and their concerns and needs are addressed.
that’s it, folks…