FOCUS WILL BE UN INFORMATION DEPARTMENT’S COMPLETED REORIENTATION,
AS COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION MEETS AT HEADQUARTERS 18 - 28 APRIL
The twenty-seventh session of the Committee on Information, the intergovernmental body tasked with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information, will be held at Headquarters from 18 to 28 April.
Since 2002, the Department of Public Information (DPI) has undergone a comprehensive review of its management and operations. According to the Secretary-General’s progress report on the continuing reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications, the reorientation of the Department is now complete, with the Department having implemented those aspects of the comprehensive review which are within the authority of the Secretary-General and are based on existing General Assembly resolutions and guidance provided by the Committee on Information. As a result, the DPI has adopted a new strategic approach that concentrates on key messages forming a part of a coordinated communications strategy.
In addition, the Department has acquired new communications tools that seek to make balanced use of the new communications technologies, especially the Internet, while continuing to improve on its use of the traditional means of communication, including radio and print materials. It has also widened the pool of its communications partners, ranging from public to private and corporate sectors. A new culture of evaluation and performance management has now become an integral part of its activities.
The report notes that the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations this year -- a time of reflection and renewal -- presents the Department with an excellent opportunity to tell the United Nations story in a more dynamic way to more people around the world than ever before. “This is a time not only to tell our story, it is also a time to better equip the Organization for today’s challenges and to gain public support for its vital work. It is a time to reinforce the relevance of the United Nations in today’s world.”
The Department is well prepared to take on the challenge of telling the story of a renewed and revitalized United Nations. To do this effectively, it needs the support of Member States and, in particular, the Committee, its partner in this vital task, the report adds.
Before the Committee is the progress report of the Secretary-General on the continuing reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications (document A/AC.198/2005/2). Over the past 12 months, the United Nations has been in the eye of a media storm in many parts of the world, states the report. Amid allegations of corruption, mismanagement and a lack of transparency and accountability in some of its activities, its efficiency, effectiveness and relevance have been publicly and persistently challenged.
The nature of these criticisms has varied widely: the Organization’s image in the Middle East continues to be buffeted as developments unfolding in Iraq and in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have prompted controversy with regard to the role of the United Nations; in North America and in parts of Europe, there has been strong criticism of alleged corruption and mismanagement in the “oil-for-food” programme; and there has been similar concern voiced over charges of sexual exploitation in peacekeeping operations.
The Department has faced an unprecedented test in mobilizing resources to engage in this public debate simultaneously on so many fronts. As an initial step, it strengthened its monitoring of media around the world, making use of new technologies and intensified efforts by United Nations information centres to provide senior officials with press materials and regular analyses. Moreover, the Department strengthened its media outreach capacity, committing dedicated resources to working with other offices to ensure a coordinated and rapid response to misinformation in the media, as well as the formulation of substantive information for United Nations officials to use when speaking to the press on specific issues. In addition, the Department assisted in the drafting and placement of “op-eds” (opinion articles) by senior officials in newspapers in all parts of the world to further project the Organization’s perspective on crucial issues.
Throughout the second half of 2004 and in early 2005, the DPI concentrated on drawing the world’s attention to the process of revitalization and reform of the United Nations promoted by the Secretary-General. At the centre of the Department’s campaign in support of the renewal were preparations for the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly at the commencement of its sixtieth session in September 2005 to review progress in implementing the United Nations Millennium Declaration.
Aware of the challenge by the Secretary-General to use the Millennium+5 Summit as an opportunity to agree on bold decisions needed to move the world closer to that shared vision, the Department is developing an integrated communications strategy to link the summit with a series of high-profile events, including the launch in December 2004 of the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which outlined more than 100 proposals on reforming the Organization to enable it to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
From its inception in 2001 and as first reported in 2002, creating a culture of evaluation has been a cornerstone of the DPI reorientation process. The Department’s strategic planning through systematic evaluation has been reinforced through cooperation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services. This collaborative project to evaluate all DPI activities has now entered its third and final year. The systematic review of the impact of public information activities has encouraged managers at all levels to focus on the evaluation of programme outcomes. This emphasis on results has underlined the importance of direct and regular contact with users of public information products, to align the work of the Department more closely with the needs of its target audiences.
Another major challenge for the Department is to monitor and analyse the impact of its communications campaigns and press coverage of United Nations activities. Given budgetary limitations, employing an external company to do so is not a viable option. The Department is, therefore, building its technical infrastructure and internal capacities through training to enable the staff to conduct systematic media monitoring and analysis. This is a priority for the Department in 2005.
The client planning process, initiated in 2003 as part of the reform of the DPI, was further strengthened. The Strategic Communications Division, which has the primary responsibility for this aspect of the Department’s work, continued to consult with and advise client substantive departments on strategies and tactics needed to better promote their major activities and get their key messages out. Over a dozen communications strategies were formally devised and agreed upon for priority issues and events and these strategies were then carried out, with coordination across the Department.
The DPI worked on two major fronts this year to address the surge in demand for United Nations peacekeeping: one was to raise awareness about United Nations peacekeeping, particularly the challenges posed by deploying new and expanded missions; the other was to prepare public information components of peacekeeping operations for rapid and effective deployment. A cornerstone of the Department’s work in the area of peacekeeping remains its close cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). Planning and coordination with the DPKO intensified in 2004 as DPI prepared public information materials and disseminated information on the surge to media and United Nations information centres.
The News and Media Division has continued to pursue aggressively its central mandate of bringing, on a daily basis, the news of the full range of the Organization’s diverse activities to the world through various media, including print, radio, television, photography and the Internet. A principal focus for the Division’s activities over the past year has been the strengthening of partnerships with radio and television broadcasters for the delivery of more audio-visual products to a wider range of audience. This has been achieved through a three-part strategy of enhanced feedback and evaluation with existing partners, outreach to new partners and strengthened coordination with other members of the United Nations family.
The Department has continued to build on its strong existing base of more than 174 partner radio stations in 75 countries. New partnerships, for example, include Radio 10 in Guatemala, Radio Post Phillip in Australia and Communidad 100 in Argentina and three more stations in China -- Radio Sichuan, Radio Lianing and Radio Ji Lin. One of the major highlights during the year was the launch of a new radio programme dedicated to Africa. A weekly show targeting Asia has been revitalized, and a staff member has travelled to India to produce and promote programmes.
In another effort to broaden its outreach, the Department has received a grant to hire a United States radio reporter to prepare news and feature stories -- “UN Minutes” -- for distribution to radio stations and networks, primarily in the United States. Bloomberg Radio has expressed a special interest in these short programmes, which are more in tune with an American mainstream audience that listens to music programmes intercut with short news segments.
Enhanced distribution is key to improved outreach and, along with most of the United Nations agencies active in the audio-visual field, the Department has led efforts to develop new ways for broadcasters to access its products. These efforts have culminated in an important new initiative which will enable the Department and audio-visual producers throughout the United Nations system to distribute video material promptly from Headquarters and from the field to broadcasters.
Some 10 new significant television partners have joined the growing number of international television partners airing DPI productions. Over the past year, the Department has also worked to increase the placement of public service announcements on United Nations priority issues. Of particular note were the successful television spot series with Forum Barcelona, whose 13 spots were distributed to 175 television stations worldwide, and television spots on the United Nations International Day of Peace from the A&E History Channel. Also, United States cable partners, such as Cable Positive, the United States cable and telecommunications industry’s AIDS action programme, have agreed to distribute spots on HIV/AIDS to a wide range of outlets free of charge and on a regular basis. Discussions are also under way with stations on a series of spots commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations.
Confirming the continued relevance of print products, the Department has issued a new, revised edition of Basic Facts about the United Nations. This invaluable book provides a comprehensive yet concise overview of the multifarious activities of the United Nations system, including its work in the political, economic, social and humanitarian spheres, its continuing advancement of human rights and international law, and its successes in the area of decolonization. This completely updated, Internet-friendly edition, provides a bird’s eye view of how the far-flung members of the United Nations system work together in support of the progress and well-being of life on our planet.
The report of the Secretary-General on the rationalization of the network of United Nations information centres (document A/AC.198/2005/3) provides information on the implementation of the regionalization initiative in Western Europe and in other high-cost developed countries and sets out the proposed strategy for the implementation of the initiative in other regions.
It states that further progress towards regionalization would require a level of funding not currently available to the Department. The unanticipated reduction of $2 million from the biennium 2004-2005 allocation for the United Nations information centres drained resources that were intended for strengthening centres in developing countries and facilitating the creation of regional hubs. In addition, rising operational expenditures, such as rent, maintenance and utilities, have further strained the centres’ budgets. The resources are simply not available to pursue large-scale regionalization around the world.
In the face of these concerns, the Department is recommending a strategic recalibration of the existing network. Key information centres in each region will be strengthened to enable them to play a greater role in providing broad strategic communications guidance, coordination and support to centres in that region. This would help focus the work of information centres on priority thematic issues and concerns of particular relevance in each region, and would help the Department better fulfil its mission statement by communicating more strategically to achieve the greatest public impact in the field.
The experience gained so far in the establishment and functioning of the regional United Nations information centre in Brussels is also relevant to any further rationalization plan. The regional United Nations information centre opened on 1 January 2004 and moved to its permanent rent-free premises provided by the Government of Belgium in July 2004. Logistical arrangements, including the set-up of information technology and communications equipment, the creation of a local area network and the installation of the reference library collection were not completed until later in the year.
Since then, the staff have developed the necessary working environment to enable them to assume a leading role in implementing a more robust, coherent and coordinated public information programme in the region. Every effort was made to transfer staff from the nine United Nations information centres in Western Europe that closed on 31 December 2003 to the new regional centre in order to benefit from their skills, experience and institutional memory, to give a jump start to the new operation, and to ensure the continuity of United Nations communications efforts in the region. The recruitment for all professional positions is now complete.
The report states that the Department will proceed to systematically extend a more strategic communications approach to the network of United Nations information centres. This approach is in keeping with the organizational structure put in place with the reorientation of the Department beginning in November 2002, which located the United Nations information centres within the Strategic Communications Division. It will be based on a more regional approach to its public information work at the country level, with the development of regional communications strategies to promote the goals and key activities of the United Nations, and the development of public information activities and materials focusing on priority thematic issues and concerns of the region. To facilitate this, adjustments will be made to the current network of United Nations information centres, including a reallocation of posts, with a view to strengthening its operations and ensuring optimal use of resources within the current budgetary allocation.
The Department has begun to develop this regional communications approach starting with the Middle East and Arab region, and plans a similar approach in other regions, working with the respective regional commissions and other organizations of the United Nations system to develop and implement joint United Nations information strategies. An essential element of the progress towards further physical regionalization of the network of United Nations information centres will be the support of the Member States directly affected by this exercise. After a careful review of the merits of each particular situation, and taking into account the distinctive characteristics of different regions, the Department will continue its consultations with regional groups and with the Member States concerned with a view to extending the regional concept wherever this approach would strengthen the flow and exchange of information.
At the same time, the Department confronts a central dilemma. The creation of regional hubs required the reallocation of funds released by the closing of national information centres. This presumed that the level of operational resources available would be adequate for the establishment of viable regional hubs. However, with the resources currently available, it is impossible to create regional hubs comparable to the model used for Western Europe.
In the present circumstances, the Department continues to explore other measures to underpin its regional outreach. The recruitment of highly qualified national information staff, who are able to provide a local voice to global United Nations messages in local languages, is critical to the effective delivery of the Department’s communications messages. However, since the introduction of the national information officer category in the network of United Nations information centres in 1994-1995, the number of such posts has not matched the emerging needs.
Accordingly, in its realignment of resources within the network, the Department would seek approval in the future, through the appropriate budgetary process, for the conversion of nine information assistant posts to the national information officer level. Indeed, as part of the realignment of the network of information centres, the Department proposes to have the national information officer as its most senior staff member in all locations where its international staff would not be deployed. Furthermore, as recommended by the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Department is seeking to introduce the national officer C grade (in addition to the current A and B grades) to the network, so as to retain highly qualified national information staff and provide them with a career development opportunity.
While proceeding with the implementation of the regional approach to communications, the Department lacks the necessary staff and budgetary resources to physically implement the regional model at the operational level. An initial structural analysis of regionalization of the centres in developing countries reveals that the anticipated costs would far exceed available resources and, therefore, would not be a viable alternative to the existing structure at this time. The redeployment of three posts at the D-1 level and 20 local-level posts to centres in developing countries has enhanced the ability of the network to meet the communications challenges in the regions where presence on the ground remains important to an effective United Nations outreach to key constituencies. Many centres in developing countries already operate at a low cost, and can enhance their impact on target audiences through more strategic communications support at the regional level.
The Secretary-General’s report on new strategic directions in the modernization and integrated management of United Nations libraries (document A/AC.198/2005/4) states that technology and organizational change have provided opportunities for United Nations libraries to move from independent repositories to take up a new role as a network of knowledge-sharing communities: from collections to connections, moving from building and maintaining book and periodical collections to facilitating a knowledge-enabled environment and the exchange of information among stakeholders.
United Nations documents will remain at the core of the collections of United Nations libraries, and more attention and resources will be devoted not just to preserving these materials, but to making them accessible and available. The increased availability of information resources through the Internet and of books through efficient online vendors has allowed United Nations libraries to re-evaluate their collections policy. Researchers and users are visiting the library less, tending to make do with materials freely available on the web. The libraries will work with changing technologies to produce electronic collections of external materials on demand through the use of systems that provide access to multiple types of information resources held in different locations. Print collections will not disappear, although they will be smaller and more focused.
The greatest change in the work of United Nations libraries will be the realignment of their services towards operational priorities. The inward focus of traditional technical library work, so necessary before the advent of the World Wide Web and e-mail, is shifting to a model of service that constantly works outwardly on making connections for its users: connections between documents and functions, connections between people and documents, and connections between people and people. The role of United Nations libraries as preservers and disseminators of cultural information will be enhanced, and new services will support the Secretariat’s creation of a knowledge-enabling environment in and among the United Nations library system.
The needs of individual users and small teams will be met through the introduction of Personal Knowledge Management at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library. Personal Knowledge Management is an emerging discipline that will be used in discovering knowledge gaps, team training and individual coaching in the tools and techniques provided by the Organization. Because techniques and tools are constantly evolving, Personal Knowledge Management teams will work continuously with support service units in order to ensure that users have the most appropriate tools to meet their needs and that they know how to use them.
As the key disseminators of United Nations information, depository libraries have always played an essential role in the outreach strategy of the Organization. This role will now be reinforced. With United Nations documentation free of charge over the Internet through the Official Documents System (ODS), the role of depository libraries as local custodians of United Nations documentation will have to be re-examined. There will be a move towards providing these libraries with current information in electronic form, while maintaining access to print materials as long as they are needed.
Goal eight of the Millennium Development Goals calls for global access to the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies (ICT). As part of their contribution to bridging the digital divide and supporting education in developing countries, the United Nations libraries will work through the depository libraries to strengthen their support to users in the developing world. This work will concentrate on building awareness of United Nations materials and their relevance to local issues, as well as on training and the development of tools and products to ensure that countries with poor connectivity and low bandwidth have access to up-to-date United Nations materials in the most accessible formats.
The buildings and the physical environment that have characterized United Nations libraries are being re-examined in the light of new ways of working. The physical structure of work spaces in United Nations libraries will be redesigned to better serve the larger, more flexible and interactive working environment. The updated look of many United Nations libraries will remind visitors of Internet cafes and modern bookstores, while behind the scenes, technological efficiency will make the most of communications, processing and storage technology.
More important than the redesigned building space will be the new collaborative space the United Nations libraries will occupy. The libraries will have a presence across the Organization, both by providing “live” knowledge coaches and teams that will help people find and organize information in their offices and at their workstations and through the network of behind-the-scenes library workers who will prepare targeted information resources to support the work at hand. Libraries without walls will make the work of information professionals more visible.
Paper-based collections for specific purposes will remain essential for United Nations libraries for some time. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the Library at the United Nations Office at Geneva are mandated to preserve complete archival collections of official documents. Paper collections are also to be maintained by the libraries of the other duty stations for the documentation produced locally.
Delegates, the staff of permanent missions, Secretariat staff, media, non-governmental organizations and other representatives of civil society, as well as external researchers and the general public, are recognized as users of United Nations libraries. The libraries are now expanding their services to include people from these groups who have not previously used conventional library services. While not all constituents have access to the premises of United Nations libraries, all have access to their rich websites. The libraries will customize their services and information products to ensure that the most relevant and appropriate information is delivered to their many constituents.
Information technology managers are crucial to the running of United Nations libraries. If information technology is to meet its promise of improving the effectiveness and quality of work, the management of electronic content cannot be separated from the management of electronic tools. United Nations libraries must stay at the forefront of the field of information technology if they are to meet the demand for reliable common information services. This is especially true for support to the field and in closing the information gap between the developed and developing world.
The United Nations needs the transforming power of its libraries more than ever in its history. Faced with the challenges of globalization, growing political conflict, the spread of disease and hunger and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the need to put information and knowledge to work in solving global problems has never been more pressing. The combined experience, understanding and institutional memory embodied in the United Nations libraries and their staff has the potential to contribute significantly to this effort.
The Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the United Nations Communications Group (document A/AC.198/2005/5) covers the activities of the Group from March 2004 to February 2005. Established in 2002 at the initiative of the Secretary-General, the Group has emerged as a strong unifying platform for dealing with common communications challenges facing the United Nations. It holds regular meetings at United Nations Headquarters, where current communications issues are discussed. It also meets once a year at rotating locations to discuss policy issues and to agree on common responses and programmes of activity.
In addition, several issue-based task forces work throughout the year to develop and carry out communications strategies. Thus, by integrating communications resources of the United Nations system and devising practical measures through which to share expertise, the Group functions as a close-knit information network, giving United Nations communicators a practical tool with which to more effectively carry out their work.
The third annual meeting of the Communications Group, co-hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the secretariat of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), was held at the United Nations Office at Nairobi on 24 and 25 June 2004. The meeting provided a forum for a broad discussion on information strategies to be adopted and tools to be used for their implementation in the evolving political and media environment.
The question of the relevance of the United Nations was at the centre of deliberations. The United Nations Communications Group recognized that the United Nations remained the world’s only universal system created to address common global problems and that its centrality in global matters was universally accepted. It was important for United Nations communicators to remind their audiences that the success or failure of the United Nations should not be viewed through the prism of a single issue. At the same time, in order to reduce the gap between the expectations people had of the United Nations, and what the Organization was able to deliver, it was also necessary for United Nations communicators to convey the limitations of the United Nations, in addition to its accomplishments.
The Group agreed that one of the key communications challenges before the United Nations system was to draw the world’s attention to the many untold or underreported stories relating to the Organization’s work. In this regard, the “Top Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About” initiative, launched by the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information on World Press Freedom Day 2004, was a useful tool that should be continued and strengthened. The members of the Group also agreed to continue to use the Group as the common communications platform of the United Nations system for this purpose.
The other broad policy issue considered at the meeting was the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The Group agreed that United Nations communicators should convey clear, simple and consistent messages which would help the African people to understand their responsibilities in shaping their future. A proposed advocacy and communications strategy being developed by the Partnership secretariat, and the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa would form the general framework for a single common United Nations system communications strategy for the Partnership, the meeting decided.
The meeting also considered a communications strategy for the Millennium Development Goals Campaign. It was agreed that the overall purpose of the United Nations system Campaign was to generate awareness and mobilization around the Millennium Development Goals globally and nationally, as well as to build support for the 2005 five-year follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit. It was agreed that the campaign should have a visual identity and a common slogan. The DPI would carry out follow-up work in close contact with the Millennium Development Goals Campaign office. It was also agreed that a clearing house would be established within the DPI to maintain a central list and calendar of United Nations system events and promotional initiatives under way. The United Nations family would focus on one or two promotional events to give visibility to the Millennium Development Goals, in addition to the 2005 five-year follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit.
The meeting reviewed several ongoing inter-agency initiatives and adopted action plans, including: the Global Media AIDS Initiative; the Communications Group calendar of media events; Expo 2005 (Aichi, Japan, 25 March-25 September 2005); the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service; and public opinion surveys. During the period under review, the Group met 31 times and covered a wide range of topics, including, the post-war developments in Iraq, the oil-for-food programme inquiry, the International Criminal Court, the Human Development Report 2004, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and United States/United Nations relations.
The report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations website: progress towards parity among official languages (document A/AC.198/2005/6) notes that, in its last session, the Committee reaffirmed the need to achieve full parity among the six official languages on the United Nations websites. In this regard, the Committee took note of the proposal of the Secretary-General to translate all English materials and databases posted on the United Nations websites by the respective content-providing offices of the Secretariat into all official languages.
Accesses to the United Nations website have grown from over 2.1 billion in 2003 to 2.3 billion in 2004. The site currently receives an average of over 8 million accesses each weekday from more than 199 countries and territories, with almost 922,000 pages viewed daily in 2004.
While the DPI is the overall coordinator of the United Nations website, the site is a decentralized system on which various departments are entitled to post their materials. The website functions much like a library, with a vast storehouse of information incorporating many avenues for research, data gathering and public information. It is also a broadcasting medium for the dissemination of United Nations news and information on events, using image and sound -- live and on demand. Moreover, it is a channel for collaborative interaction and feedback.
Departments bear primary responsibility for the content of web pages relating to their own area of work. Under the current decentralized governance structure for the website, the content-producing departments and offices prepare and upload their own materials onto the website. The majority of these materials are in English, with a very limited number in French and still fewer in Spanish. Almost no other pages being handled by other departments are available in Arabic, Chinese or Russian.
The DPI works in close coordination with departments throughout the Secretariat, encouraging and assisting them, to the extent possible, to increase the availability of their materials in all official languages. Nevertheless, despite efforts by DPI and a number of other departments, the gap between English and the other official languages on the United Nations website remains large, primarily owing to resource constraints.
The DPI has taken responsibility for ensuring complete parity for key areas of United Nations information, within existing resources. To this end, the web pages for the activities of the General Assembly and the Security Council provide access to the documents and information on these two bodies in all the six languages; the News Centres provide breaking news in all languages; the Radio web pages provide audio news in all languages and all are updated daily. The daily maintenance of such pages consumes a large proportion of the resources allocated to the language sites. While overall progress towards parity among languages has been slow, the website is at full or near parity in key information areas.
As a consequence of the requirement to ensure accessibility to the United Nations website by persons with disabilities, including those with visual and hearing disabilities, a portion of the existing resources is being allocated to this function. There are widely differing standards in various countries, as well as within the international Internet community. A single recognized set of standards that can be applied universally is yet to emerge.
Meanwhile, the Department is looking into the use of software which would allow users to automate testing to meet accessibility and usability guidelines and simplify the process of understanding and complying with the World Wide Web Consortium standards, which address accessibility requirements for persons with physical, visual, auditory, cognitive and neurological disabilities. The United Nations website has so far implemented the basic accessibility requirements for the top layers of the site and continues to work on wider implementation. Accessibility in English will be standardized first, followed by the other official languages, as the guidelines for those languages are developed.
The United Nations Web Services Section is planning to redesign the top level pages of the United Nations website in 2005. The new “look” will incorporate database-driven features for an automated process and easy access to news and latest developments, as well as better navigation, presentation, search and accessibility in compliance with the requirements for persons with disabilities.
The United Nations website was created and brought to its current status entirely through the use of existing resources. No new resources were allocated to the DPI specifically for the website. The DPI will be unable to redeploy additional resources towards parity among languages on the United Nations website without adversely affecting other mandated activities. Proposals to strengthen the United Nations website will be submitted within the context of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2006-2007. This would further enable the Department to accelerate the move towards parity in the maintenance and development of key areas of the United Nations website.
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