STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, ENHANCED USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AMONG ISSUES AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE MEETS AT HEADQUARTERS 30 APRIL - 11 MAY

27 April 2007
PI/1768

STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, ENHANCED USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AMONG ISSUES AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE MEETS AT HEADQUARTERS 30 APRIL - 11 MAY

27 April 2007
General Assembly
PI/1768
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release

STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, ENHANCED USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AMONG ISSUES

AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE MEETS AT HEADQUARTERS 30 APRIL - 11 MAY

The twenty-ninth session of the Committee on Information, the intergovernmental body tasked with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information, will open its annual session on Monday, 30 April.  The strategic communications work of the Department of Public Information, the enhanced use of information technology and targeted outreach programmes are among the wide range of issues expected to be addressed by delegations.

Summarizing the activities of the network of United Nations information centres, particularly in the area of communications campaigns, the Secretary-General, in his report on the issue, notes that the reforms by the Department of Public Information over the past five years has resulted in the adoption of a more strategic approach that includes developing communications strategies with clear goals and key messages, and identifying target audiences. 

Giving its global work a local accent, the United Nations information centres are key to the Department’s work, the Secretary-General states.  Bolstered by the more prominent role assigned to them, the information centres have emerged as crucial players in promoting United Nations priority issues at the national level.  The information centres’ key role in “getting the message out” is now incorporated into communications strategies from the start-up of many campaigns.

In his report on the Department’s activities, the Secretary-General notes that, as a result of the changes introduced over the past five years, the Department has adopted a more strategic approach to its work, focusing on setting well-defined communications goals, identifying target audiences, assigning roles to various actors and re-disseminators, and finding ways to measure the impact of those activities.

Leveraging the Internet and digital technology to provide enhanced and more integrated access to all its news products, the Department’s News Centre, audio/visual and press release sites and their underlying production platforms are being revamped to provide a user-friendly gateway -– including access for users with disabilities -– to the wealth of news material produced on a daily basis, the Secretary-General explains.  Many of the revised pages will build user communities through user registration, surveys, polls, e-mail alerts and user feedback forms.

With its key focus on providing accurate and impartial coverage of breaking news about a wide range of United Nations activities, the United Nations News Centre on the Organization’s website continues to gain popularity among diverse audiences around the world.

The Department continues to step up the pace of moving towards parity among the official languages on the website, ensure accessibility and better manage the website’s content, the Secretary-General notes in another report.  The Department is focusing on key areas, not only new pages with textual information, but including webcasting, audio, video and photographic materials, all enhancing the multilingual, accessible nature of the site.

The Department continues to work on targeted outreach programmes that are aimed at and reaching new areas in the public, the Secretary-General reports.  Since the establishment of the outreach programme on the Holocaust in January 2006, the Department has developed a truly international network of civil society groups, collaborating with world-renowned institutions and garnering the support of experts in the field of holocaust and genocide.  Through its Academic Initiative Section, the Department continues to inform and influence the public through academia and civil society organizations. 

Established by the General Assembly in 1978, the Committee examines public information policies and activities in light of the evolution of international relations, and evaluates the progress achieved by the United Nations in the field of information and communication.  The Committee, which consists of 110 members, is also tasked with the promotion of a new, more just and more effective world information and communication order to strengthen peace and international understanding, based on the free circulation and wider and better balanced dissemination of information.

Report Summaries

According to the Secretary-General’s report on the network of United Nations information centres: activities and strategic directions (document A/AC.198/2007/2), information centres are key to the Department’s work, giving its global work a local accent.  The Department’s reforms over the past five years have resulted in the adoption of a more strategic approach to its work, which includes developing communications strategies with clear goals and key messages.  The centres play a central role in the overall implementation of the strategy.  With the renewed emphasis on greater United Nations system-wide coherence, the centres are likely to be playing an ever more important role in communications at the country level.

Bolstered by the more prominent role assigned to them, the information centres have emerged as crucial players in promoting United Nations priority issues at the national level, the report states.  By translating communications materials into local languages, organizing events, approaching opinion-makers and placing op-ed articles by senior United Nations officials in national publications, they provide a crucial link between development and the successful execution of a communications campaign.

The key role of information centres in “getting the message out” is now incorporated into communications strategies from the start-up of many campaigns, the report adds.  Based on improved evaluation methods showing that outreach achieves greater media coverage and impact, as well as meeting strategic goals, specific messages and information materials are increasingly tailored to regional audiences.  The United Nations Communications Group –- the Organization’s global communications platform -– has emerged as a vital tool in implementing the body’s communications strategies on its priority issues.  With the creation of communications groups at the country level, the information centres have become an important player in this well-knit and carefully designed communications approach.

The report notes that, in its efforts to redefine the role of the information centres and to make them a more effective vehicle for United Nations global communications efforts, the further rationalization of the network of information centres remains a central focus of the Department.  Working within the parameters of resources at its disposal, the Department has continued a three-pronged approach, namely a strategic realignment of its resources to better meet its changing communications needs in the field; expanded use of the latest information technology; and working together at the regional level for greater impact.

The Department is seeking to strengthen its presence in major media hubs, while giving centres in those locations a greater coordinating role at the regional level, the report adds.  During the period under review, the newly appointed Directors of the information centres in Cairo, Mexico City and Pretoria have assumed their functions.  To enhance the ability of these offices to achieve greater coordination of communications activities at the regional level, each of these centres has been strengthened through the redeployment of P-4 Information Officer posts, which have been filled.  The Departments expects to receive the approval of the Office of Human Resources Management for the classification of a number of existing National Officer posts for those centres where the national officer is the most senior staff member.

Regarding the “strategic realignment of operational funds”, the report notes that, while consideration is being given to the proposals from the information centres for the 2007 communications activities, the Department is continuing its efforts to ensure that a greater portion of its operational resources are allocated to fund these activities, which are achieving greater visibility for the Organization’s work among key audiences in those countries.  The continued support of host Governments in alleviating the high cost of rent and maintenance in some locations allows the centres to use limited resources for outreach activities.  Development of websites in local languages in the countries covered by the information centres is a crucial component of the Department’s communications efforts at the field level.  The aim is for all 63 information centres to have operational websites by April 2007.

The Department has strengthened the leadership of the information centres in Cairo, Mexico City and Pretoria in an effort to rationalize the centres’ work and maximize resources, the report continues.  Emphasizing the leading role of the centres, which are located in major media hubs, the Department has assigned them additional responsibilities with regard to other smaller centres in their respective regions, including assisting information centres and country teams in the region in promoting United Nations issues and priorities.

To further enhance the effectiveness of its outreach in Europe, the Department, working through its three key communications offices in Brussels, Geneva and Vienna, introduced a number of innovative approaches to networking and cooperation.  The three offices have also taken the lead in organizing regional United Nations communications groups, bringing together partners from a broader United Nations community in their locations.  The Regional Information Centre in Brussels has played a key role in providing information and communications technology support to other members of the United Nations country team.

The continued rationalization of the network of information centres is a process that will, by necessity, take different shapes in different regions, reflecting the diversity and the complexity of the Department’s field operations, the report says.  The innovative approach taken by the Department to rationalizing its communications work by strengthening major media hubs has already reaped benefits, including the development of new partnerships and the sharpening of United Nations messages.

The Department is taking a number of steps to further strengthen this process, including organizing a regional communications workshop for information centres in Latin America and the Caribbean, to take place in São Paulo, Brazil, in the first half of 2007, and developing strategies to further rationalize the work of the information centres in Asia and the Pacific.  It will also seek to revitalize its partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Development Group office, which oversee the work of the United Nations country teams in over 166 countries, to ensure the successful operation of the communications groups working at the country level.

As the Department has evolved over the years, both in terms of what it does and how it does it, so have the information centres, the report states.  Through the realignment of resources, the upgrading of their technological infrastructure, building partnerships at the local and regional levels and ensuring regular interaction with Headquarters, the Department has sought to make the centres more effective and relevant to the work of the United Nations at the country level.  “These efforts will continue as the Department strives to equip the centres for broader success,” the report concludes.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations website: progress towards parity among official languages, accessibility and content management (document A/AC.198/2007/3).  Visitors from more than 212 countries and territories access the United Nations website, viewing more than 1.1 million pages, daily.  While website usage was until now being reported using page views and accesses to www.un.org, in reporting on usage, the current industry trend favours using “visits” in combination with “page views” or accesses as this provides more accurate data on usage patterns.  The Department is, therefore, using “visits” as a second measure of usage in addition to “page views”. 

The report notes that the overall number of new pages on the site in official languages other than English has steadily risen.  The Department is presently responsible for the majority of these languages pages.  The Web Services Section, which handles the bulk of these pages, has increased the number of new or updated pages in languages other than English or French.  The number of new pages in Arabic is low because of temporary staff changes and because, despite serious efforts, the Department has not yet been able to enlist the support of an institution of higher learning for that language for pro bono translation, as is the case for Chinese, Russian and Spanish.

According to the report, as manager of the United Nations website, the Department has been grappling with the goal of parity among the official languages on the United Nations website as requested by Member States.  This challenge also extends to all other content-providing offices.  The challenge is complex; its practicality and the scale of resources needed to meet the Assembly’s request have been submitted in earlier reports to the Committee on Information and to the Fifth Committee.

Moving towards the goal of language parity on the United Nations website has many aspects, the report explains.  While access to official documents in all official languages is now available from the United Nations website, the day-to-day reality is that new material is placed on the site by author departments in the working languages, English and French, but overwhelmingly in the former.  In order for the website to remain fresh and useful, it needs constant updates and revision, making the challenge of achieving parity more complex every day.  The commitment of resources to this function for pages in all official languages is, therefore, essential, but comes at the cost of slowing the pace in which new material can be processed in all languages. 

The new posts made available in the present biennium allow the Web Services Section to increase the volume of new and updated postings, the report adds.  At the same time, however, new requirements requested by the Assembly, such as making all new and updated pages accessible for persons with disabilities, has meant that the original intended impact of the new posts may not be fully realized.  Other efforts to increase parity are centred on the Dag Hammarskjold Library and Knowledge Sharing Centre (DHLink) which ensures that official documents are fully indexed and made accessible through the Official Document System (ODS) as well as the Library’s United Nations Bibliographic Information System (UNBISnet).

United Nations Internet broadcasting (United Nations webcast) provides the platform and opportunity to a global audience to view, directly from the source, proceedings of United Nations meetings and events of, for example, the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council, as well as United Nations conferences, and to follow debates, discussions and decisions on various issues that may affect people worldwide.  Over 8.3 million webcast videos –- both live and archived –- were viewed by users from over 194 countries and territories during 2006.

The Department has recognized the importance of the United Nations webcast as a cost-effective communications tool with global outreach, and is seeking ways to strengthen webcasting capacity in order to meet the high demand for this service both at Headquarters and at other duty stations, such as Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. 

Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 60/109 B of 8 December 2005, the Web Services Section has been restructured, the report notes.  Six language units were established to correspond to the six official languages of the United Nations, according to Member States’ request.  This enhanced capacity -- once fully achieved with the completion of the recruitment process expected by mid-2007 -- will permit an increase in the processing of new pages in languages other than English, more assistance to other departments to render their content in other languages and more resources for existing pages.  With the exception of the Spanish language unit, the staffing of the new language units is, however, not yet complete. 

Looking ahead, there is a necessary trade-off in the allocation of available resources between site development, moving towards parity among languages, compliance with requirements for access by persons with disabilities, content management and site analysis.  A complete redesign of the United Nations home page is under way to make the site more user-friendly, intuitive, personalized and accessible.  With the new resources, the Department continues to strive towards improving parity without sacrificing the comprehensiveness and the up-to-date nature of the site.  Additional new pages in all languages are now available at greater frequency.  Special attention is paid to areas showing higher levels of usage.  The use of some resources to ensure accessibility has affected the pace in moving towards parity.

Summarizing key advances in the Department’s work from July 2006 to February 2007, the Secretary-General’s report on activities of the Department of Public Information (document A/AC.198/2007/4) notes that, as a result of changes introduced over the past five years, the Department has adopted a more strategic approach to its work, focusing on setting well-defined communication goals, identifying target audiences, assigning roles to various actors and re-disseminators and finding ways to measure the impact of its activities.  This new orientation is built on a closer working relationship with three distinct sets of collaborators: the network of United Nations information centres, other United Nations departments and offices and the family of United Nations organizations, and a global network of over 1,500 civil society organizations.

To accomplish the Department’s mission to help to fulfil the United Nations substantive purposes by strategically communicating the Organization’s concerns and activities to achieve the greatest public impact, the Department holds consultations with some 50 departments and United Nations offices and 26 field missions identified as “clients”.  As substantive offices supporting the implementation of United Nations priorities, these clients are responsible for generating the new material the Department needs for setting priorities and identifying key messages.  The Department’s task is to take that content, repackage it for various target audiences and promote it globally. 

The Department serves as the secretariat of the United Nations Communications Group.  Established in 2002, the Group now includes 41 offices from throughout the entire United Nations system.  Through its regular brainstorming meetings at Headquarters, issue-based task forces and annual sessions of the heads of public information in the United Nations system, the Group continues to coordinate the system’s overall activities in the public information and communications area.  A task force on avian flu has been set up, for example, to craft communications and to coordinate the role of United Nations system participants.  System partners are also working on a common communications approach to climate change, and a task force on sport for peace and development has developed a business plan for 2007-2009, providing a framework for implementation of the United Nations Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace.

With the successful completion of a three-year pilot project carried out in conjunction with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the Department has now integrated the systematic evaluation of its activities and products at all levels.  Over the past year, in an effort to further expand and improve its outreach to young people, the Department focused on soliciting feedback from educators and students on its various products and activities.  A survey of teachers found that they consider the United Nations to be a very authoritative source for information on global issues.  Overall, 95 per cent stated that having the United Nations as a producer of an educational product played an important role in their decision to incorporate it in their lesson plans.

Among the Department’s thematic communications campaigns, the report notes that the General Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, held on 14 and 15 September 2006, provided an opportunity to focus on the increasingly important issue of migration and development.  In its effort to generate maximum media coverage of the launch of “Delivering as One”, the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on United Nations System-Wide Coherence in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment, the Department adopted a two-tier system of messaging, one for the spokespersons of the Panel and another for United Nations spokespersons and directors of United Nations information centres. 

With the recent surge in demand for United Nations peacekeeping, the Department’s work in that area and the level of its cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have greatly expanded, the report adds.  The crisis in Darfur is being given heightened attention.  In addition to working closely with the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and the African Union on communications strategies, the Department also undertook the work of identifying and recruiting the public information staff that are being deployed to Darfur, as well as developing their operational plans and tasks.  On a more global level, the Department continued to produce regular internal guidance on developments regarding United Nations involvement in Darfur.

Describing the Department’s news services, the report notes that the Department is leveraging the Internet and digital technology to provide enhanced and more integrated access to all its news products.  The present News Centre, audio/visual and press release sites and their underlying production platforms are being revamped to provide a user-friendly gateway to the wealth of news material produced on a daily basis.  Many of the revised pages will build user communities through user registration, surveys, polls, e-mail alerts and user feedback forms.  Once the full package of pages is deployed, new functionalities will be offered.  In the audio-visual area, the phased introduction of new web pages is already automating many traditional functions.  Users wishing to access United Nations photos can now conduct online research, download searchable photos, enter requests and have a personal history of all high-resolution photo requests, thereby saving staff time allocated to those functions.

In its ongoing efforts to bring the Organization’s core messages to the widest possible global audience, United Nations Radio has continued to expand and strengthen its partnership with a broad range of local, national and regional broadcasters, increasing the number of such partners from 190 in June 2006 to 201 in February 2007.  United Nations Radio programmes are now also able via the Internet to a number of media entities, including the World Radio Network.  In the past two years, United Nations Radio has vastly increased its audience in North America and Europe.  The reach of United Nations Radio has also expanded in the francophone world.  The Department recently began targeted distribution of United Nations Radio programmes in French to 200 private, commercial and community radio stations in Africa, using the World Space Afristar satellite and the Radio France Internationale network of stations, which access the programmes via its download service.

In television, of particular importance has been the growth of UNifeed, the United Nations television satellite feed.  This service, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), provides broadcasters with video of three to four stories a day, six days a week, some from Headquarters, some from the field.   Also, the launch of the new monthly television magazine programme, 21st Century, has provided a great opportunity to expand the United Nations global audience.  The programme includes high-quality human interest stories, easily adaptable to language versions, reflecting some of the most important global issues in which the Organization is engaged.  It is carried by a number of broadcasting companies, including Al Jazeera English and France 24, with many others showing interest.  Meanwhile, production continues on the award-winning UN in Action series.

In the year since the introduction of the new press release web page, launched in early 2006, Security Council and General Assembly statements continue to be posted on the Internet in batches, in order to provide media with the materials they need well in advance of the issuance of the final press releases at the completion of official meetings.  Efforts are currently under way to extend this service, on an as-possible basis, to selected meetings of the main subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.  Timely issuance of press releases has improved, with an increase from 70 to 80 per cent of the releases available within two hours after the end of meeting.  A combination of recent surveys and media analyses found that a majority of both journalists in the field and those accredited at Headquarters found press releases helpful to their work.

With its key focus on the provision of accurate and impartial coverage of breaking news about a range of United Nations activities, as well as easy access to related resources, the United Nations News Centre on the Organization’s website continued to gain popularity among diverse audiences around the world.  Traffic to the United Nations main news portal in all official languages has shown a steady increase, with the number of unique visits to the English site having grown from 650,000 in December 2005 to nearly 997,000 in December 2006.  The site’s e-mail service gained more than 3,000 new subscribers in 2006, along with the increased use of the newly launched syndication feed service, which has facilitated access to the latest headlines from the United Nations News Centre for a variety of websites, personal web pages and individual users.

Regarding the Department’s outreach services, the report notes that the Department continued to reach out to global audiences using innovative and less traditional means of communication, such as art exhibits, academic websites and seminars.  In 2006, the number of people taking the guided tour of Headquarters rose to its highest level since 2000, to nearly 450,000, reflecting the rising trend of tourism in New York City.  The outreach activities of guided tours, the organized group programmes and the United Nations Bookshop will be drastically affected during the closure of the General Assembly Building during the renovation of the Headquarters complex, scheduled to take place between June 2008 and February 2011, as the Capital Master Plan does not provide for access for the general public or large groups at the Headquarters site.

Since the establishment of the outreach programme on the Holocaust in January 2006, the Department has developed a truly international network of civil society groups, collaborating with world-renowned institutions and garnering the support of experts in the field of holocaust and genocide studies.  Through its film series, briefings, discussion papers and innovative online information products, the key to the programme’s success has been partnership.

Through its Academic Initiative Section, the Department continues to promote awareness of the United Nations work on priority issues and to influence and inform the public, through academia and civil society organizations, the report adds.  With the help of its two flagship publications, the UN Chronicle and the Yearbook of the United Nations, as well as through its academic partnership programmes, the Department engages the worldwide public in dialogue on issues being dealt with by the Organization.

On knowledge-sharing and library services, the report adds that, over the last two years, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge-Sharing Centre has developed three specific knowledge-sharing activities: the enhancement of the United Nations Intranet, iSeek; the setting up of a personal knowledge-management service; and the launching of a series of lectures and conversations.  The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), in its report on the thematic evaluation of knowledge-management networks in the pursuit of the goals of the Millennium Declaration, recommends recognizing the Library’s role in leading the Secretariat Task Force on Knowledge Sharing.  As a first step in developing a strategy on knowledge management for the Secretariat, an internal communications strategy, focusing on the use of iSeek, was prepared in coordination with the internal communications working group.  After approximately two years of progressive enhancement, staff are consulting iSeek with increased regularity to locate information and share stories. 

By better defining its communications goals, making optimal use of new information and communications technology, and expanding its partnership with United Nations system entities, as well as with public, private and non-governmental sectors, the Department has made important progress towards enhancing public awareness about the United Nations.  By creating new information and communications tools and better utilizing the opportunities created by the Internet, the Department has expanded its outreach and made significant inroads among students, teachers and the academic community.  At the same time, surveys of programmatic activities show that, in addition to using these tools, the Department must continue to tailor its products to target audiences in order to achieve the greatest public impact for its work.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.