South Africa’s next SoE report is being prepared by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Right from the beginning of the SoE process, a deliberate effort was made to plan and execute a strategy that would help sustain stakeholder interest throughout the assessment process. While it was called a “communications strategy,” some of its components correspond to the steps of an impact strategy.
Step 1: WHY. Impact statement: what did they want to see changed as a result of their assessment?
The communications strategy begins by recognizing the context of the assessment. “Although reporting on the state of the environment is not mandatory at this point in time, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) has decided to commission a comprehensive assessment of, and report on the state of the environment in South Africa. This will be the first comprehensive report since 1999.” (DEAT 2004)
Among other objectives, the National SoE Report (NSoER) was designed to:
- provide objective, accurate and scientifically credible information about the condition and prospects of the South African environment;
- report on the effectiveness of policies and programmes designed to respond to environmental change, including progress toward achieving environmental standards and targets; and
- make recommendations for strengthening policies and programmes.
Embedded in these objectives is a focus on change: the desire for stronger environmental policies and programmes, based on credible and relevant knowledge of the South African environment. However, the strategy also notes that media continue to view NSoER as another government report with few linkages to decision making or the lives of average South Africans. The implication is that communications activities must therefore clearly demonstrate how the report will impact on decisions and daily lives.
Step 2: WHO are the key actors, and how will we build relationships with them?
This communications strategy lacks the specificity of an impact strategy with respect to the identification and building of relationships with key actors. The strategy identifies only two target audiences, “media” and “stakeholders.” One of the first activities of the strategy involved identifying stakeholders. However, the strategy itself is largely silent even on general categories of stakeholders (for example, government officials, elected representatives, NGOs, private sector interests) and the most effective channels to reach out and engage their attention.
Step 3: WHAT knowledge is to be gathered?
The communications strategy was designed as a parallel activity to the NSoER process, and therefore does not include the details of how information would be gathered and analysed. However, the strategy does identify the core “knowledge management” functions of the NSoER.
- to review the resource management and environmental issues reported in 1999, and to identify new issues;
- to assess the conditions and prospects of the environment, and identify potential problems; and
- to continue the development of appropriate indicators.
Step 4: HOW to reach key actors
The “opportunity management” component of the strategy clearly recognizes:
- the need for planning activities to inform and engage stakeholders throughout the NSoER process;
- the preparation of key messages; and
- the impact of issue attention cycles on uptake of the NSoER message, more particularly how issues in the current political environment and of concern to the public could either reinforce communications around NSoER, or draw attention away from NSoER communications.
Planning and messaging
Key messages included:
- you have the right to know the state of the environment in which you live; and
- the National State of the Environment report tells us what the condition of our environment is, why it is in this condition and what we are going to do about it.
What is interesting about this communications strategy is how it has been phased with the whole NSoER process. For every stage of the process, there is a plan for a parallel communications activity. More specific messaging was planned to coincide with different phases of the project.
|Pre-national Planning Session
||Last week Sept 2004
||South Africa is engaging key role players in developing the 2005 NSoER.
||Draft communication strategy Branding of NSoER Project Event Management and Planning Identification of stakeholders
||End Sept to Mid-November 2004
||Media dialogue on the concept, background and purpose of the NSoER project. Proposed for 1st Week November
|National Planning Session
||A National Planning session will identify the key issues for the 2005 NSoER
||Presentation of draft communication strategy Identification of key communication issues
|Post-national Planning Session
||Key issues that have emerged at the National Planning Workshop include…. The 2005 NSoER process is linked to the Provincial and City State of Environment Reports
||Provincial and Local Awareness and Education Campaign Determination of the Project Milestones
|Impact Assessment of Communications
||The impact of the NSoER process is being evaluated
||Evaluation of the impact of communication and NSoER project
|Launch of the NSoER
||End November 2005
||South Africa’s 2005 NSoER is now available!!!
||Preparation of a communication plan
Recognizing the “Issue Cycle”
The strategy also includes an analysis of the environment surrounding the communications activities that might affect uptake of messages and findings in South Africa.
- recent times have witnessed growing balanced reporting and public debates in the media about the government’s performance;
- overall positive coverage of DEAT-related matters in the mainstream media;
- the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg has raised greater awareness about the importance and linkages between responsible environmental management, social development and economic development;
- in the light of WSSD, skills training and capacity building for environmental journalists in the key issues of the sustainable development debate, as well as in ongoing professional skills, are now emerging as priority areas among journalists; and
- a growing number of journalists have expressed interest in engaging with governments around building skills and capacity to analyse the debates, issues and challenges around sustainable development.
- given that the momentum was not sufficiently maintained in the post-release period of the last NSoER in 1999, media interest on both the state of the environment and the indicators has not been substantial;
- the impact of the last NSoER is currently not sustained in the psyche of South Africans;
- media continue to view the NSoER as the release of another technical report. The media do not analyse the progress, challenges and constraints the report presents about the implementation of sustainable development targets since WSSD; and
- alternative voices claim that not enough is being done to monitor and report on negative impacts.
To date, newsletters and the DEAT website have been the primary vehicles for reaching key actors. Not all elements of the communications strategy were implemented. However, the NSoER is still to be released. At that point, it may be easier to judge whether the groundwork of the strategy has led to greater impact on decision making and on public awareness and support.
Step 5: Monitoring, evaluation and improvement of the strategy
The drafters of the communications strategy recognized the importance of continuous review and adjustment. They agreed to design and adapt the communications strategy based on the results of the communications impact assessement report, in order to achieve the desired impacts.
The monitoring and evaluation component was not implemented, but the objectives listed provide an excellent basis for monitoring the impact of the next NSoER process.