Dispatch from Oz: Think privacy isn’t important? Aren’t you glad this loo isn’t made of glass?

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Guest post by David Taylor from the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, in honour of Privacy Awareness Week: 3-9 May, 2009

In 2003, Privacy Victoria launched a sponsorship of the Platypus House at the Royal Melbourne Zoo. At the time the then-Privacy Commissioner, Walkley Award winner, and ex-journalist, Paul Chadwick, indicated, “Privacy Victoria sponsors the platypus at the Melbourne Zoo because these fascinating monotremes are a natural symbol for the idea of privacy. Platypuses are shy, discreet and wary, innately valuing their privacy. The sponsorship aimed at helping people think about privacy in a new and engaging way.”

How has a small, statutory authority—with a tiny budget—been able to effectively promote privacy compliance to its 250,000 plus civil servants in the state of Victoria, Australia? And how does Privacy Victoria communicate to its populace not only their privacy rights, but also the need for each citizen to work actively to protect his or her privacy?

Promoting privacy compliance is not the same as selling a new car (though these days it might actually be easier!). This means we really have to think carefully about identifying our publics, as well as what they need to hear. I would argue that, to a large extent, Privacy Victoria is successful in its privacy awareness efforts because it always places effective relationships with its publics at the centre.

In our communication role, we have to think outside the billabong and not be afraid to seek assistance, especially regarding community outreach strategies. And while resources limit our reach into cyberspace (with a website that is fairly static) over the coming year we are planning some improvements.

Partnerships with other government departments and agencies are essential in enabling a piggy-backing of infrastructure and networks. These efforts include participating in grassroots Indigenous and culturally specific community events, where staff are able to speak one-on-one to service providers or distribute a range of innovative promotional materials, including door-hangers along the lines of “do not disturb” hotel rooms or (when we had the budget) tubes of sunscreen with a “privacy—cover yourself” message. (See our Annual Reports, which describe this work in detail.)

Sponsorship proved a key tool; we used a set-up budget wisely, for a longer-term gain rather than throwing it all at a one-off advertising campaign. We looked at the various publics whose information needs were identified in the limited amount of local research. These included older Australians, women and young people. For example, to reach communities in every suburb and country town, we sponsored Victoria’s lawn bowls associations. While these Associations have an older membership, the sponsorship of Tennis Victoria was more directed to families and Victorians of all ages. In another strategy aimed at involving young people, we sponsored portable toilets at a Big Day Out, Think privacy isn’t important? Aren’t you glad this loo isn’t made of glass? Don’t think privacy is important? It’s amazing how long you’ll queue for some.

Both efforts were well received, helping to communicate our messages with engaged publics. People still talk about the sunscreen and toilet signs, while the door-hangers, rulers (Privacy: where do you draw the line?) and civil service training DVD, have been adopted by other privacy agencies around the world.

Even though money is tight, each year–for a small investment–we are able to reach thousands of Victorians from ethnically diverse communities by sponsoring the annual Celebrate Our Cultural Diversity Week. This sponsorship arose from the 2003 strategy that drew upon the services of a network of community ambassadors who were able to take key messages directly to their communities and who served as campaign spokespeople. This strategy was particularly successful in the more established migrant communities. These often had more resourced community leaders, who were motivated to develop longer-term relationships with the Victoria Privacy Office.

For the Victoria civil service, we established a Privacy Victoria Network and training program and summarised the legal language of 12 information privacy principles into a succinct and memorable statement:

The right information:
• to the right people
• for the right reason
• in the right way
• at the right time

Privacy Victoria also established an annual Privacy Awareness Week, now held in the Asia Pacific (including Canada).

How successful have our efforts been to date?

A late 2008 Stakeholder survey showed that, while there was room for improvement—particularly in engaging with senior executives—the Office was “felt to be doing a very good job with limited resources.” While resource constraints don’t provide for formal evaluative tools for our general public work, it is clear that there are two drivers for increased contact from the general public. These are:

1) advertising; and
2) media reports of data privacy breaches.

The first driver we can’t afford…and we have a love/hate relationship with the second one!

I understand the PR Conversations blog boasts an international readership, with thousands of visitors arriving each week through RSS feeds, linking from blogrolls from around the world or via targeted search queries. As someone who lives and works in a single-country continent, I’m delighted to have opportunity to tap into this conversational network and resource.

Here are some burning questions I’d appreciate getting answers to:

1. When it comes to privacy issues, what type and tone of communication messages do you find the most appealing? What is a total turn-off?

2. Does the Victorian Privacy Commission’s existing campaign resonate with non-Australians, or is it culturally specific?”

3. What would make you pause and think twice about your online privacy? For example, are you willing to trade your privacy for online social connections?

4. What tips can you give to (under-resourced) team of three, full-time staff on measuring the effectiveness of community engagement strategies?

David Taylor is director, privacy awareness, Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, Victoria, Australia. He is a member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

Privacy Awareness Week is 3–9 May, 2009.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Toni

    Thank you! That’s high praise indeed. I look forward to any further comments you might have. Best wishes from Oz!

  2. Interesting post. In the age of mass communication and cameras everywhere, protecting privacy becomes more important than ever. PRs have a role to play in ensuring that only information in the public or client interest gets prompted. As for the media, I increasingly favour European-style privacy laws over the British free-for-all.

  3. I agree that PRs have a huge role in privacy risk management – understanding the likely impact that the loss of personal privacy can have on clients can help prevent, or at least mitigate, disasters – “once it’s out there, it’s really out there!”. A sober view is often required.

    As for the British-free-for-all… relatively recent court cases have provided some reason for hope on that front.

  4. David,
    Let me begin with a very personal account of my relationship with the privacy issue.

    When I discuss with others about shattering paradigms related to our profession today, I include one which I define (as acutely suggested by Prof. Giampaolo Azzoni from the University of Pavia, Italy) as ‘radical transparency’ meaning that privacy, once a highly valued indicator, has now turned into a lip service, politically correct, commoditized and simply evaporated concept.

    The professional consequences (let alone the often dramatic and socially disruptive human ones) are that we can no longer claim to be the gatekeepers of our client/employer public information and have been thoroughly de-intermediated from that role.

    Having said this, I also have a good friend I much respect, Stefania Congiu, who has been for many years one of the leading bureaucrats in the Italian Privacy Authority and have oftens discussed in recent years with prof. Stefano Rodotà, who was this Authority’s first and appreciated Chair.

    One more recollection: back in 1973 I served as director of public relations for Italy’s then major publisher and having decided to look for outside counsel I visited on the big American agencies.
    I was shocked to learn that they had archived dossiers on Italy’s most influential journalists and politicians containing all sorts of private information. My education and upbringing stimulated horror and I seriously thought then of changing profession (the alternatives then were, of all things, active politics or journalism ….).

    Yet, I continued… and also began to collect dossiers, write confidential reports for clients on opinion leaders and influencers (I had later moved into consultancy) and, most recently, authored a paper for the Institute for Public Relations arguing that a professional’s little black book is also the property of h/er client/employer, that one of the dearest values public relations may bring to any organization is the adoption of a knowledge management system capable of retaining personal relationship systems and thus transform their undisputed value into organizational relationships, thus adding to the value of the organizations immaterial capital.
    A much too long premise, but just so that you have an idea from where my comments come from.

    I was moved by your representation, intrigued by the tools you have been using and would like to address, from a non expert perspective, some of your queries.

    In fact three of them, as the one related to online privacy I consider, as mentioned above, a non issue.

    1. When it comes to privacy issues, what type and tone of communication messages do you find the most appealing? What is a total turn-off?

    My experience is that communication is effective if at least the following conditions are met:
    °contents must be familiar to the specific public you are attempting to reach (not overly familiar, otherwise you lose its attention, but somewhat familiar). You might be surprised if I suddenly begin to write in the Italian language now, but after a few words you would be turned off;
    ° contents, as well as sources, must be credible for the specific public you are attempting to reach. Credibility (of both contents and sources) is a highly complex animal, but suffice it to say that most public sector so-called educational campaigns amount to a waste of resources (when not truly counterproductive) given the little credibility of the source; and that many of the contents do not pass simply because the specific public believes to know better and is resistant to generic arguments and being cumulated in an overall ‘mailing list’….to use an euphemism….
    In the more relevant efforts it would be wise to pre-test these indicators with a representative sample of your specific publics. This not only allows you to fine tune the contents and to eventually select a more credible source, but also to define specific communication objectives, following the roll out of your program, whose achievement you may you may then effectively measure.
    Of course, as you know well, the indicators of effective communication are many more, but my experience indicates that those I mentioned are the most useful.

    2. Does the Victorian Privacy Commission’s existing campaign resonate with non-Australians, or is it culturally specific?”
    Well, from a euro centric perspective your ideas are definitely creative and would undoubtedly need to be adapted to function in a different context.
    But this is true for all public relations and communication initiatives.
    Globally valid campaigns are an exception and thus confirm the rule of specific applications to which we constantly refer to also in this blog.
    There is no doubt that the approach is attractive and I am sure that many colleagues around the world, as I do, will consider it a highly interesting approach to public relations for a difficult issue.

    4. What tips can you give to (under-resourced) team of three, full-time staff on measuring the effectiveness of community engagement strategies?

    Having omitted to reply to your on-line issue, I will balance by suggesting a role for a digital curator (doesn’t have to be necessarily full time or a staff member, could also be a very curious and able intern selected from a nearby University) would be of great help. What I mean is someone well versed in extracting and interpreting information and ideas from the Internet (all the Internet, where possible) to stimulate out of the box thinking, tracing what others do and how they do it, summarizing reliable sources and distributing them inside the organization as well as outside. The objective is to increase the credibility of your organization and avoid being caught by unexpected events.
    But his has little to do with measuring…

    I already mentioned some indicators for measuring the effectiveness of communication contents.
    How instead to measure community engagement strategies, as you say?
    Community is, in my view, a not sufficiently segmented and rather generic concept.
    I presume you refer to the citizens of the State of Melbourne, but might have misunderstood.
    I would segment this more and aim at creating (I am sure you have done this already..) different evaluations of relationships with each identified ‘cluster’ investigating with cluster samples these four relationship indicators (trust in the relationship, commitment to the relationship, satisfaction towards the relationship and perceived power balance in the relationship).
    While doing this, you could also do the same with the people in your organization who deal normally deal with those clusters.
    And where possible also ask both how they think the other end of the relationship would reply.

    This, besides evaluating your community engagement strategies, also gives you many other interesting and useful findings, and allows you to set measurable relationship objectives to pursue, specific to each cluster, as I said before for the communication objectives.

    As much as it may sound complex, it really is not. The only thing is that this must be embedded in your plan and performed before you start of with a new one.

    I wonder if all this is clear and relevant, but I hope so and am happy to supplement this with more if necessary.

  5. Toni

    Thank you for your long and very considered reply. I am travelling for work at the moment and do not have the facilities to reply properly. But I will do so in a few days.

    I have actually met Professor Rodata, when he travelled to Melbourne a number of years ago. A delightful and erudite man.

    My best wishes, David

  6. David,

    It’s always a pleasure to see communicators using creativity to effectively overcome limited resources. It sounds like you are doing some very effective PR.

    On your question about culture, I would like to offer what might be a slightly unexpected perspective: do your urban and rural Victorians have the same culture about privacy? I grew up in a village where privacy was fairly superficial, a fact which greatly annoyed me as a teenager when my parents knew everything I was trying to hide! Life in the big city is more anonymous and, by definition, private. What I find particularly good about the tactics you’ve used is that they can be understood by both groups.

  7. In May 2009, David Taylor submitted this guest post on PR Conversations, Dispatch from Oz: Think privacy isn’t important? Aren’t you glad this loo isn’t made of glass?.

    If you are interested in finding out more about David, I invite you to read his guest interview. Communicator’s Corner: David Taylor, which was just posted on the (Melbourne-based PR agency’s) Cellophane blog (“communication, creativity, collaboration and characters”).

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