FROM INFORMATION TO PUBLIC RELATIONS
For any public sector public relations system to work, instill the trust of citizens in government and also actively involve their opinion in decision making, five essentials are required. These include 1. Independent input, 2. Technology based Process, 3. Delivery platform 4. Strategic Evaluation & 5. Informed output. The indigenously designed ITLA’A initiative in Information & Public Relations Department Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan tries to achieve just that.
1. Independent input: 7 sources of independent input are being actualized. These include electronic, print and social media, citizens portal, government offices, Independent Project Reporting through interns and Volunteer Independent Reporters. The electronic media is being recorded 24/7 with a software based ability to generate and set aside clips of interest covering news regarding KP Govt. Similar software generated content is also being generated from the print and social media. Citizens’ portal can be accessed with a valid email creating a login. Citizens can upload text, pictures as well as short videos. Government offices including public relations officers are, and will continue to be, connected through dashboards for input of news and activities in the system.
The Independent Project Reporting program is based on an Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Journalism Department of University of Peshawar and the Information Department KP. It has 3 mutual benefits and beneficieries. It is based on academia-government linkage so provides a bridge and opportunity to tap into research done by the academia as well as the practical experience and hands-on issues faced by the government to both. Secondly it provides the interns an opportunity to go to signature mega projects of the government, cover them audio-visually as well as write reports based on data and facts with the chance of getting that report printed / telecast or broadcast with their byline. This is matched by the effort of a group of officers to mark such reports of interns suggesting improvements – and enhancing the capacity of these soon-to-be-journalists.
But the best independent input may become possible with the soon to be launched initiative of Volunteer Independent Reporters. This initiative envisages the Department launching a volunteer program at each Union Council level where any post graduate female or male could apply on-line to become a news generator from his area. These individuals will be generating textual, pictorial, audio and video reports independent of any government control at each Union Council level and sending them to the Department. Again while these reports may be released to media with by-line of individual on one side, on the other she or he would be getting a feed-back or assessment from the Department on how to improve their report generation. This network can in future be converted into an independent news agency and earn its own revenue through services provided to media.
A stipend system for both the independent reporting systems is being considered from a project and in future government can consider proper experience certificates to these reporters to be held in good stead while applying for jobs.
2. Technology based Process: The software driven processing of all independent inputs results in two distinct results. We will discuss the first here and the second in 4th essential. The workflow is that all this input will be marked as relating to a particular sector and on dashboard so with a click of a button, be sent to Chief Minister, Ministers, Chief Secretary and the Secretaries. With a ‘Mark for Action’ option, concerned officers will be required to respond back to a negative news with text, picture or video so its responded to back to the media through dashboards or citizen through email. The dashboards are vibrant giving option to Chief Minister and Chief Secretary to exactly know how many such information formats have been sent to which Department and response is awaited from exactly whom. Moreover the repository of all clips and other news is displayed with links for all users to click and get to know what subject is being talked about.
The ‘Mark for Action’ is followed up with a branded SMS to that position holder so that the chances of missing anything due to travel etc are minimized. A WhatsApp group is also formed to share videos and screen shots of inputs from media directly with these dignitaries enabling them to respond quickly to any adverse news or situation.
The biggest crib citizens and media have is that government offices do not respond. This software driven response mechanism, if it becomes successful, will remove that trust deficit and start a two-way communication loop for continuous interaction with public.
3. Delivery platforms: the third essential is to have delivery platforms to transmit, respond to, or advocate, government’s view-point or public service messaging to the citizens, media, non-government stakeholders. Some tools are already available. Government communicates its procurements through classified advertisements in newspapers, its goodwill and advocacy on public service through display Ads. We already have the dashboards under ITLA’A to respond back to media and citizens and the FM Channels at Peshawar and Mardan (FM 92.2 and 92.6 respectively). Due to access of FMs in light of topography of KP, its listenership amongst house-hold bound females in the morning, its versatility as a medium across cultural and financial divides, government has approved funds for establishment of three FMs, one each at Swat, Kohat & Abbottabad. After resolution of on-going issue of licensing with PEMRA these stations will also be set in place.
Since beginning of this year a lot of attention has been given to social media. We run our own facebook page (facebook.com/infokpgovt) & twitter handle (@InfoKPGovt) with a web page which updates news but also includes public record maintained by the Department (infokhyberpakhtunkh.gov.pk).
However government could not succeed in venturing in telecast through its own TV Channel. Getting tele-documentaries telecasted on satellite channels is extremely expensive. What with PEMRA and all, a branded web tv, badloon.tv has been launched to provide ingress into that medium. The TV site also announces schedules, has a repository of all videos already run and has a “Ask a Minister” option where citizens can post their questions. With 10-15 questions in hand the concerned Minister(s) would be asked to come on tv and respond.
This is being augmented with a proper recording studio from the ADP being established. This studio will not only generate audio visual material but with the 10 Mb direct net link (CIR), also be able to pick live feed from Districts where a high speed internet connection is available. In future we can cover khuli katcheries where the Minister or others can be in studio in Peshawar whereas they can respond ‘in real time’ to the public’s queries from, lets say Tank, Chitral or Battagram.
4. Strategic Evaluation: As stated in essential 2 above, the processing of inputs results in another, much more important, set of statistics. Each input is graded with variables and a multiplication based formula. For example for the print media, each individual newspaper is given separate marks, items printed on front-page get more marks than back-page, editorials have separate marks, negativity and positivity get marked in -1 to -10 or +1 to +10. Similarly for electronic media prime time coverage has separate marking, if its breaking news or beeper etc. This leads to marks on each input from 1 to 10. So on the whole each sector and sub-sector get marked. We can gauge, for example, that particular institutions or particular area in a particular department is getting negative feedback and so on and so forth.
A Strategic Communications Cell is being notified with participation from senior journalists, government and citizens which will assess this data every 15 days and advise the government on how to re-enforce or re-orient policy direction as well as implementation plans according to the independent inputs from citizens and media (which also conveys citizens’ perceptions and aspirations). This strategizing the communication strategy based on independent input and a scientific data based process would really open the government to informed decision-making – the hallmark of any good governance model.
5. Informed out-put: Based on an independent input mechanism, its processing on scientific data-based lines, delivery platforms to keep a two way communication going with citizens and a strategic body to take corrective measures the government’s output will be on information qualified and quantified many times over. Such data can communicate the true aspirations of the people, their needs, apprehensions and support on various issues. A government which has a firm grip on such tools can never fail its people.
We need to remember that ‘marketing’ is not a forte of civil servants as it is not part of their pre-service or subsequent trainings. The civil service does a lot of things but is sounable to communicate those to the common citizens properly. This system may just be the panacea for that too by keeping them faceless but allowing them the freedom to upload to the citizens and media all the good that is being done and get a response.
Just a rejoinder. The system of ITLA’A is not particular to A political government – it is for all future governments as well. Its upto the political government to take benefit out of it as it deems fit for furthering its declared manifesto. As civil bureaucracy we are to contribute towards, and implement, policies and this cycle of five essentials does just, and only, that !.