7 March 2000
GCIS has taken several major steps towards identifying and meeting the information needs of the South African public. Various mechanisms are being put in place to cost effectively identify information needs while the Government Information Centres (GICs) working through the MPCCs are rapidly becoming centrepieces of government information.
1. Identifying information needs
The GCIS Information Centre has long played an important role in responding to queries from the public. In the coming financial year we hope to integrate this information centre with the regional offices of the GCIS and other government departments into a seamless flow aimed at better understanding and meeting the needs of the South African public.
The GCIS is preparing to enlist the co-operation of government offices which directly service the public in identifying the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that come from the public. These are then passed onto the GCIS Information Centre which secures accurate answers from the relevant sources. The answers are then made available to all government offices so that staff can respond better to public inquiries. Coupled with this proposal is the idea of establishing a government call centre – a plan which should come to fruition during the financial year 2001/2002.
GCIS will continue using traditional research methods to achieve this objective. This will include training staff in the regional offices on how to identify the needs of the communities they serve. Given the cost of an average research project, the GCIS is implementing a cost-effective strategy that entails the following:
Where possible, to establish partnerships around research agendas. A recent example of this is research into HIV/AIDS. Following upon President Mbeki’s call in his State of the Nation Address last June for a review of all interventions around HIV/AIDS, the GCIS has initiated wide ranging research into the impact of communication campaigns during the past 18 months. The efforts of the Department of Health, HSRC, MRC, CSIR, and two NGOs -- Street Law (in a project funded by the National Democratic Institute) and the women’s Health Project based at Wits University -- were galvanised to help with the research. This will be finalised by the end of March and we hope to have a new communication strategy available soon after that.
- We are examining a proposal to establish a GCIS research services package that offers departments the benefits of our research expertise and bulk buying capacity. During the course of this financial year the GCIS research directorate assisted in the following areas, among others: international marketing; the campaign around Y2K; perceptions of the Department of Defence; and assessing the communications environment for the State of the Nation address.
Chapter Five of the Comtask Report placed development communication firmly on the GCIS agenda.
It pointed out that the development challenges facing South Africa meant that the following objectives should be achieved in a relatively short period of time:
- determining the information needs;
- developing an infrastructure and disseminating information in a manner which is appropriate and timely; and
- ensuring the use of innovative and non-traditional means.
The GCIS is pleased to report substantial progress in this regard. The most dramatic progress has been around the launch of Multi Purpose Community Communication Centres (MPCCs). We see MPCCs as structures which enable communities to manage their own development by providing access to appropriate information, facilities, resources, training, and services. The centres will offer a range of services as defined by the needs of the community.
We are engaged in parallel processes of restructuring the 9 regional GCIS offices and launching the MPCCs. SACS used to have these large offices based in urban areas. Currently these regional offices are being scaled down and replaced by 46 offices called Government Information Centres (GICs) working at district level. Such a move ensures that the GCIS gets a lot closer to the public we serve. The GICs are being located in the MPCCs.
The second process has been the co-ordination of those departments and government agencies establishing local level information centres. This has meant the involvement of the Departments of Communication, Arts, Culture, Science & Technology, Trade & Industry, Safety & Security, Welfare, Provincial & Local Government, and Sports. Also involved are STATS SA, the Universal Service Agency, Telkom, the Post Office, CSIR, the Development Bank, and HSRC.
These structures are represented on Project MPCC. The different organisations collaborate on identifying the location of an MPCC, and on the process of establishing the centre. Local and provincial governments are also consulted in the identification and location of these offices.
It is envisaged the GICs shall be responsible for the following areas:
- translating the development communications approach to the specific needs of that province;
- establishing distribution networks; and
- identifying the information needs of the communities in that province.
While our approach has been to identify one MPCC per district, we acknowledge that this is a vast area to be covered. Thus GCIS staff in the Government Information Centres will be asked to establish a network of satellite offices where government information can be disseminated. These would include NGOs alongside labour offices, courts, local government offices and so forth.
As much as the GCIS had indicated in its briefing to this committee last year that five such GICs/MPCCs will be launched before the end of this financial year, this had to be cut back to three. The first MPCC was launched in December in a village called Tombo, approximately 200 km from Umtata. The first GIC has been located there as well.
The next one will be launched on Friday 10 March in Kgautswane in the Northern Province and the third one in Worcester on 24 March.
There were several reasons for focussing only on three.
- The first was budget constraints. This approach had not been budgeted for and the GCIS had to apply for supplementary funding from the Department of State Expenditure.
- The second reason for the delay has been the lead time required for identification of suitable locations. The GCIS has been judicious in ensuring that we are not responsible for building even more government offices.
- Given the number of actors involved, it took longer than expected to arrive at the ideal model for the MPCCs.
The experience of the past few months has nevertheless been important for informing our approach to MPCCs, and we intend rolling out 20 more in the coming financial year.
3. Other developments
The following areas need to be noted:
Relations with Provincial Communicators continue to improve. It was decided at a joint meeting to formalise the largely informal relationship between GCIS regional offices and their provincial counterparts. This would ensure that expectations and commitments are clearly spelt out.
- The partnership between the SA Post Office continues to strengthen with the Post Office providing a cost effective distribution service. This service has been utilised on three occasions already, with many of the teething problems ironed out.
Yacoob Abba Omar: Deputy Chief Executive Officer, GCIS