21 September 1999
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 Portia Maurica-Mopp - Chief Director: Media Liaison, GCIS