GCIS budget vote 2002: Communication Service Agency, Government & Media liaison, Policy & Research, Information Technology & Resources, and International Marketing & Mobilisation

10 May 2002

When certain Deputy Chief Executive Officer functions were grouped together as a branch tasked with Strategy & Content Development, it was in order to achieve greater coherence and effectiveness in the various kinds of information and communication coming from GCIS and from the government communication system generally.

The activities that constitute this branch are set out in the report under the headings: Communication Service Agency; Government & Media liaison; Policy & Research; Information Technology and Resources; and International Marketing and Mobilisation, which will be the subject of a full presentation on its own. In the short time available it seemed most useful to illustrate the integrated way these different components have been and will be working amongst themselves and with others.

Nothing perhaps illustrates this better than Imbizo. As communication that is both interactive between government and public and integrated with respect to different departments and spheres of government, it is also more than merely communication.

Assisting in the Presidential Imbizo Visits and providing national co-ordination for the Focus Weeks require intense organisational work, done largely through our National Liaison section both through the forums it convenes and through the initiation of new structures, national and provincial, linking all three spheres of government. Such is the enthusiasm of the public for this kind of communication and the commitment of government that the 100 events of the first focus week in November 2001 become 300 in May this year – and the objective must be at least one in every local government area in October this year.

While the interaction at an Imbizo event is critical, media understanding and publicizing of the process ensures that others still to be reached are aware of what they have a right to. The presence of the media at events also adds force to issues raised by the public. Our Media Liaison section has therefore been very active around Imbizo. The President’s recent visit to the Free State was used as the first, pilot, run for the Presidential Press Corps, providing useful experience for the development of this new media institution in the coming months.

Since Imbizo started early last year, a certain cynicism that was there in the media has been superseded by understanding of the nature and importance of such interaction as a way of improving the effectiveness of government in meeting the needs of the people.

Research confirms the importance of direct communication. A regular part of the work of the Research Directorate is to assess the information needs and preferences of the public. This work indicates that a quarter of South Africans say they would most like to receive information from government face to face – and in rural areas and amongst the poor that \rises to over fourty per cent, on a par with radio.

The purpose of such interaction is to check on the effectiveness of government in performing its functions and to take action where there are shortcomings. Imbizo therefore requires that where issues raised cannot be addressed on the spot, systematic note be taken of them and that the appropriate authorities take action. To help address this challenge our Policy Directorate has been working with the Policy co-ordination and Advisory Service in the Presidency to both to establish a system for this work and to process the concerns raised. The experience of the last Focus Week is currently being reviewed so that improvements can be made in the effectiveness of follow-up and feed back.

Finally, accounting to the public on what government is doing requires that the interaction of executive and public be accompanied by the dissemination of clear information about government’s programme of action and what progress is being made. Material produced by our Communications Service Agency that has served this purpose includes the Mid Term Report; radio dramas presenting the programme of action; facilitating the broadcast through community radio of phone-in programmes which allow the public to put their concerns and ideas directly to members of the government.

Naturally the Multi Purpose Community Centres and the Provincial & Local Liaison section have also played an integral part in Imbizo and can be expected to do so to an even greater extent as the MPCC programme rolls out further.

This is one illustration of how GCIS is seeking to work in an integrated way oriented towards meeting government’s communication needs and the information needs of the public, and giving concrete meaning to the ideal of two-way communication.

The second illustration comes as it were from the opposite end of the scale, much less visible and behind the scenes. It concerns the requirement on our Chief Information Officer to ensure the most effective use of information and information technology by GCIS. That work affects everything we do profoundly, but amongst others it relates to a commitment made to this committee a year ago. That was that amongst our targets for 2001/2002 was on-line access to continuously updated information that had until now been published in traditional and periodic ways, such as our directories of contacts. That work is complete and the new online directories will be launched on the day of the GCIS Budget Vote next week, at a function at the Bonteheuwel MPCC following the debate. Savings on paper and photocopying alone by this project and another which replaces our paper and fax-based clippings service to government by an electronic one, will amount to almost half a million rand a year. Those savings will free resources for expanded work and further investment in technology to raise productivity. Equally, if not more important, people who need the information will always be able to find it in an up to date version. For those who still need it on paper, it can be downloaded and reproduced by our regional structures and GICs, by MPCCs and by provincial government communication departments.

This is one of many projects in the field of information and communication technology, amongst them redevelopment of the Government On Line web-site During the coming year we expect the recent establishment of a Chief Information Office bringing together technology and information resources under one strategic management, to lead to further improvement in the way that GCIS serves both government and the public.

Presentation by Tony Trew, Deputy Chief Executive Officer: Strategy and Content Development, GCIS