7 May 2019
UN Updates Governments on “Communications for Impact”
Photo by IISD/ENB
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The Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications reported that the reform is a staff-led process that aims to change the collective culture and mindset around communication as much as the structure and policies.

As part of reforms to the UN development system, almost 50 UN Information Centres have been integrated with RC offices, enabling “a truly global reach” through the 131 RC offices.

Smale outlined other ongoing reforms including a data-driven approach to measure and evaluate the impact of outputs, revamping the UN's website, and increasing UN’s social and interactive content.

29 April 2019: The UN Department of Global Communications is undertaking reforms to deliver “modern, agile, and global communications,” while instilling a culture of collaboration and innovation, according to a briefing for UN Member States. The Department has been renamed from the Department of Public Information (DPI). The reforms aim to build the broad global support for the UN needed for tackling global challenges, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Alison Smale informed UN Member States.

Briefing governments during the 41st session of the Committee on Information, on 29 April 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, Smale reported that the reform is a staff-led process that seeks to change the UN’s collective culture and mindset around communications “as much, if not more” as the structure and policies.

As part of the UN development system reform, almost 50 UN Information Centres have been integrated with Resident Coordinator (RC) offices, which Smale said allows “a truly global reach” through the 131 RC offices, enabling UN country teams and RCs to capitalize on the Department’s expertise, tools, platforms, guidance, messaging and outreach networks. She said the Department also is working to fully integrate UN Information Centres around the world into the work of the Department at UN Headquarters in New York. Among other ongoing reforms, Smale highlighted: a data-driven approach to measure and evaluate the impact of outputs; revamping the UN website; increasing social and interactive content; and building alliances with national and international media outlets. She informed Member States that the SDG Media Compact now includes nearly 50 active partners from the news and entertainment business, who are committed to promoting the Goals.

Smale said the Department aims to expand the UN’s global reach and support for its work, including by engaging youth. She pointed to the first Model UN Youth Summit that took place in March 2019 and the SDG Book Club, which encourages children to read a curated list of books from around the world related to each of the 17 SDGs in all six official languages. In addition, as part of preparations for the Climate Action Summit in September 2019, through an artificial intelligence (AI) “bot,” individuals around the world have shared more than 110,000 climate actions undertaken. Underscoring that “this is communications for impact,” Smale announced that the Department has begun preparations to develop global events and initiatives for the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020. She identified Dubai EXPO and the Tokyo Olympics as other opportunities to showcase the UN’s work.

Welcoming the Department’s reforms, Omar Hilale, Chair of the Committee on Information, echoed Smale’s vision that the 75th anniversary is “a perfect opportunity” to highlight the UN’s priorities. He underlined the need to be strategic and use new technologies. He also cautioned against reducing the Department’s allocated budget, but said it must “do better with fewer financial and human resources.” He suggested finding new ways to fund the Department’s growing activities, such as voluntary contributions and partnerships with think tanks and press organizations.

In the ensuing discussion, many delegations welcomed the Department’s increased effort to reach new audiences via social media platforms and new technologies. At the same time, Nepal pointed out that radio, television and print remain the primary sources of information in remote corners of the least developed countries (LDCs). Thus, the UN must use the “right mix” of traditional and new media when disseminating information about its activities and principles; the UN could also make materials available through toll-free telephone numbers. Similarly, other delegations said traditional media must remain a priority given the digital divide within and between countries.

The EU suggested that the UN Communications Group consider ways to improve the UN’s “branding.” He explained that the UN lacks system-wide management of its branding, and said a more “harmonious and logical” visual identity could be beneficial.

Emphasizing the importance of the Department’s field-centered approach, Japan expressed the expectation that, with the reform of the RC system, UN Information Centres will collaborate more closely with RCs and UN country teams. The Republic of Korea said new ways must be found to “make full use” of UN Information Centres to support RCs and UN country teams. He added that reforms should focus on strategic communication, with an emphasis on education. India welcomed the growing number of languages in which guided tours are offered at the UN. [UN Press Release]

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