Input requested for SSR communications strategy

04/05/2011 @ 10:22
par Elsa Dazin

Communications is a key dimension of Security Sector Reform processes that often represents a challenge. ISSAT is very much aware of this crucial issue and actively tries to integrate it throughout its interventions. We are interested in learning about other insights and contexts where the design of a communications strategy for a SSR process has been done.

Has anyone experienced developing a communications strategy for a SSR process? Experiences and examples will be greatly appreciated.

Thanking you in advance,

Mpako Foaleng, ISSAT SSR Advisor, and Elsa Dazin, ISSAT Project Officer.

01/12/2011 @ 00:27
by Thammy Evans

Dear Mpako and Elsa

Communications for something as complex, wide reaching and as potentially profoundly tumultuous as SSR is a considerable process in itself. It is as you say, however, crucial, because, fundamentally, communications can help build confidence and that is a lot of what SSR is about — confidence in rule of law, civil society confidence in itself as an oversight mechanism, confidence to go to school, work or play without fear of reprisal.

The elements of a communication strategy are at their basic level relatively straightforward, and differ little from a communication strategy for any product, organization or process. There are a myriad of communication strategy plan templates available online for free which could be perfectly adequate if applied with the right knowledge. But therein lies the difficulty, for the devil is in the detail.

Communication of SSR within a country seems to flounder for four principle reasons:

  1. SSR advisors from the supporting country often do not fully understand the intricacies of communication channels/means and communications timelines in the reforming country. In a rush to produce deliverables they try to impose communications strategies, programmes and messages that are ultimately unsuitable and sometime detrimental;
  2. reforming countries are typically not strong in strategic, mass or stakeholder communication;
  3. SSR experts are often, as ISSAT has already identified, very technical, and they are not in themselves communication practitioners
  4. as a result of point 3 above, a communication strategy is usually simply tacked on the end of the SSR programme as an after-thought, when it is least able to help mould stakeholder reception and appetite for the very reform it is trying to help achieve.

In answer to the four points above, it’s prudent therefore that:

  1. a SSR communication strategy is locally owned, locally suitable (fully contextualized), and locally implemented;
  2. advice and guidance is given to help build up local capacity to formulate and implement an indigenous communication strategy, messages and plan, without in-so-doing replacing such local capacity;
  3. communications experts (in consultation with SSR experts) should write the communication plan.  This is particularly important when it comes to formulating the communication strategy (or subsequently revising it). Thereafter a whole host of stakeholders and not necessarily communication specialists will be implementing the plan, (literally ‘communicating’ the messages);
  4. communications experts should be brought in early, preferably at the design stage, in order to maximize on communicating to secure political will and stakeholder buy-in.

Communication (which can be behavioural as well as verbal, written or visual) is fundamental to change. It is a two-way process, and well balanced communication flows can create positively reinforcing feedback loops. If communication is seen as part of the SSR toolkit, it can be used as a means to drive reform.

These are rather broad brush views of my experiences and observations. Specific strategies and examples become rather embroiled in the peculiarities of a nation on a specific reform path. If you would like more detailed insight on the basic elements of a communications plan (Goals, Audiences, Messages, Means etc) and how they apply in a SSR process, then just let me know. A possible avenue for fairly recent lessons identified in this area try following up with UNDP Kosovo on their Communication and Outreach programme for Kosovo’s Internal Security Sector Review, and/or contacting Communication for Development 

Best regards