GCIS budget vote 1999: Research in communication

 21 September 1999

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:

  1. Studying the environment within which communication takes place, so that that communication can be designed to be most effective;
  2. Determining communications needs and capacities, so that needs can be met and capacity enhanced;
  3. 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.

Presentation by Tony Trew - Chief Director: Policy and Research, GCIS