Risto KOIVISTO (Finland)
I. Communication and information policy, a strategic priority of the CLRAE
At its present stage of development the CLRAE, one of the mainstays of European co-operation within the Council of Europe, attaches strategic importance to its information and communication policy. In its Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of 15 March 2000 the Committee of Ministers confirmed the preeminent role and responsibilities of the Congress in promoting local and regional democracy on the European continent. Now the Congress is determined to build up and develop its information and communication policy for the whole range of its activities so as to perform its function as effectively as possible.
I.2. The new reference framework
On 11 April 2000, the Committee of Ministers adopted Resolution (2000)2 on the Council of Europe’s information strategy, setting the principles and broad lines of the Organisation’s information, communication and public relations policy, with a view to improving its visibility in the member states.
In particular the resolution recommends giving high priority to using the new information technologies to promote awareness of the European political design (of which the Council of Europe is one of the pillars), and it assigns a major role in this to the four main organs of the Organisation: the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the European Court of Human Rights and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) itself.
The resolution confirms the importance the Committee of Ministers attaches to the fundamental principles governing information and communication in a democratic society, as set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, amplified by the Committee of Ministers Declaration of 29 April 1982 on freedom of expression and information, and stresses that free movement of information, openness of decision making and accountability of managers for discharging their responsibilities are fundamental features of a democratic society.
The Committee of Ministers here confirms the importance of keeping the public properly informed of objectives, achievements and prospects in every area if the European design is to succeed. It sets the framework and requirements for dynamic information policy based on the principle that “transparency is the rule and confidentiality the exception”, in order to “give the Council of Europe greater presence and a higher profile and to make it more effective”.
More than just a political priority, transparency, visibility and the publication of results are crucial and fundamental if the Council of Europe as a whole is to perform its role more effectively and more credibly and if the specialist target groups (national, local and regional elected representatives, ministries, judges, lawyers, teachers, etc) are to take notice.
The changes that have already been made – including the use of new information and communication technologies (the Council of Europe web site portal and the new Intranet site, harmonisation of the Council’s web sites, migration to the new, more powerful servers of the Council’s Information Technology Department) – and new information policy guidelines for the main organs of the Organisation mark the beginning of a new phase in implementation of the resolution. On the basis of the principles and approach set for the Organisation as a whole, the four main organs of the Council of Europe are required to co-operate closely with the Secretary General in developing new synergies and promote overall coherency in the Organisation’s work while taking full advantage of its institutional diversity.
II. Specific approach of the Congress
Th e Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe adheres fully and unconditionally to the principles, general framework and requirements of the communication strategy set forth in Resolution (2000)2 and devotes constant thought and effort to personalising and enhancing this new strategic approach to information and communication in the Council of Europe.
Coherent, in-depth reflection and a clear determination to improve information management and effective communication have been manifest in recent years – in the positions taken, the documents adopted by the Congress and the activities aimed at local and regional authorities –, highlighting the special function and responsibilities of the Congress.
In May 1998, at the start of his term of office, Alain Chen ard, proposed a particularly significant slogan for his two-year presidency of the Congress, a far-reaching slogan that heralded this new focus: “from ‘knowing how’ to ‘spreading the message’”.
In the past the CLRAE already had a committee which also dealt with the media and, among other things, produced a report on the local and regional media. The Congress's Committee on Culture and Education, established in 1999, is moreover likewise competent for the field of communication.
In this context it is worth also drawing attention to:
the three CLRAE seminars on “The information society at the local and regional levels”, held in Finland (January 1998), Romania (October 1998) and the Czech Republic (March 1999), under the aegis of the CLRAE’s Working Group on the Local and Regional Information Society. The aims of the working group were:
- to promote the development and application of the information society, particularly in local and regional authorities in the Council of Europe’s member states;
- to organise a series of seminars to disseminate information with the aid of practical examples;
- to get co-operation going between the European Union and the Council of Europe (particularly between the Committee of the Regions and the Congress) so as to promote the information society.
The success of the Helsinki seminar (1998), organised jointly by the Congress and the European Commission, demonstrated that co-operation and synergy in this area are possible not only within the Council of Europe but also with the other European institutions1.
The report The local and regional information society (CG(6)3 – 1999) made the point, in its turn, that the primary objective of the CLRAE is to help build democracy at the local level, especially in the new member states of the Council of Europe, and that the “information society” offers unprecedented opportunities, direct and indirect, of achieving this aim. Its detailed analysis of local political participation and virtual communities led to a conclusion very similar to that reached in Resolution (2000)2 on the Council of Europe’s information strategy:
"The best way for this to happen is for public, private, academic and community organisations to work together in every locality to bring all their resources to bear in some kind of a common strategy. It is also essential that community networks should work closely together, sharing their experience and working together collaboratively in all sorts of creative ways."2
It is also worth bearing in mind that CLRAE Recommendation 54 (1999) on local and regional information society, which stirred considerable interest in the Committee of Ministers discussions, particularly paragraph 183, in which the Congress suggests drawing up a European information technology charter to establish a set of principles in the fields most directly affected by the development of new information technologies.
In its Reply to Recommendation 54 (1999) (20 December 2000) the Committee of Ministers expressly states that it “fully concurs with the high priority attached by the Congress to the phenomenon of information technologies development, which – as the recommendation points out - is laying the foundations for a real "information society", at national, European and world level, as well as at local and regional level".4
The introduction of the CLRAE Information Bulletin in 1991 was an initial example. Then in 1997, the creation of the CLRAE Web site – one of the first in the Council of Europe – was to trigger reflection on the relations between traditional means of communication and the new communication technologies, their dynamics and how to harness them together.
II.2. The three dimensions of the CLRAE’s information and communication policy
Because of the complex structure of the Council of Europe, with its various pillars, the traditional distinction between an organisation’s internal and external communication is incomplete without another, intermediate level that we might call “institutional”, which involves communication within the Organisation between its different component parts. If we picture communication as a series of concentric circles, this would be the middle circle, between internal communication (within the Congress) and external communication outside the Organisation:
II.2.1. The internal (intra-institutional) dimension of this policy can be viewed from two angles, distinct for analytical purposes, but always intertwined in practice:
- what we might call political communication (horizontal and vertical), involving the members of the Congress and its various bodies and working structures;
- and communication concerning the work of the Secretariat, which is vital to the smooth running of the Congress.
Improving communication at these two levels has been an ongoing concern of the Congress, particularly in connection with its structural reform (see Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of the Committee of Ministers).
II.2.2. The institutional dimension, where the Congress itself is one of the main protagonists, is essential. As one of the pillars of an institutional edifice as complex as the Council of Europe, the Congress must constantly position itself in relation to the Organisation’s other organs, constantly exchanging information with them. Inter-institutional dialogue is indispensable to the coherency and harmonisation of the work of these different bodies. These formal or informal exchanges are an opportunity for the Congress to benefit from the work done by the Organisation’s other bodies and departments and to share its own experience and the fruit of its own work with them. For the Council of Europe this means greater efficacy, coherency, substance and speed of action; for the Congress it means greater efficacy and impact, a higher profile, a stronger statutory position and substantial savings.
II.2.3. The external dimension of CLRAE communication includes exchanges with other organisations active in local and regional democracy on the European and international levels (whether general-purpose or specialised), and with the media and the general public (closeness to the citizen is in fact one of the distinctive features of the Congress as an institution and a communication vector). These are important targets for the message sent out by the Congress.
Key partners here are the municipalities and regions of Europe, their populations, their elected authorities, and all the opinion shapers - journalists, teachers, experts, senior officials, NGO leaders. Thanks to advanced communication technologies communication can be established directly with these prime targets5. However, the traditional media (the press, radio and television) must not be neglected, and the special contacts with their accredited correspondents at the Council of Europe must, in particular, be continued. The Congress, the institutional "voice" of the municipalities and regions at the European level, must seek means of making this communication more meaningful, more professional and more dynamic.
III. Means of Communication
III.1. "Traditional" means
The so-called traditional means of information and communication continue to be widely and effectively used in every area of the CLRAE’s work. They include face-to-face communication, at plenary sessions and mini-sessions, in statutory committees, during official journeys, at conferences and forums and so on.
In addition, when it takes part in the monitoring and observation of elections in member states and states awaiting membership, the Congress regularly organises on-the-spot press conferences to inform the local and international press of the work it is doing and explain its role as the body responsible for supervising implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. With its policy of disseminating information on the Charter (the main legal instrument at the basis of its work), the Congress helps to increase the Council of Europe’s general visibility and to keep the broadest possible European public informed of the Organisation’s policy on local and regional democracy.
Press releases are issued and are also posted on the Congress web site (63 in the year 2000). They deal with events organised by the Congress, such as conferences (announcement and/or results and conclusions), visits to countries by the President of the Congress or delegations representing it, and reactions by the President (sometimes jointly with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers or the Secretary General) or the Bureau or Standing Committee of the Congress to external political events related to the activities of municipalities and regions.
There is room for substantial progress in this area, in several directions:
- make press releases more target-specific in their wording and in the languages and countries in which they are disseminated; make sure they are published without delay (thereby increasing their impact); always consider whether a press release or another communication technique is most appropriate in a given situation;
- and in general, encourage the Secretariat to bear the communication dimension of its work constantly in mind (how to publicise it, its newsworthiness for the general or specialised media, how best to present an activity or report to make it interest the media); keep in contact with journalists interested in the CLRAE’s fields of activity, in order to target communication in their direction; make sure the President is kept informed of all events on which he might be advised to take a public stance, and of the different means of doing so (sometimes articles or interviews can be more effective than press releases).
Most major conferences organised by the Congress give rise to publications, in a series entitled “Studies and Texts”. Studies on subject matter covered by the Congress and collections of final declarations adopted at conferences are also published and sent free of charge to those who attended the conferences and distributed at subsequent conferences on related themes. These publications are numbered and may be found on the Congress Web site in the “Studies and Texts” series.
The Bulletin of the Congress, circulated throughout Europe since 1991, is another traditional communication tool. It used to be published in 5 languages, but for budgetary reasons it is now bilingual and its circulation has been reduced from 7,000 to 4,000. The mailing lists contain some 12,000 addresses: members of the Congress, all the regions of Europe, major towns and cities, historic towns, associations of local and regional authorities, twin towns, research centres, specialist journals on local and regional government.
The fact that the Bulletin is available on-line on the Congress web site (web and .PDF versions), coupled with the meagre budget available for communication, warrants reflection on the outlook for the paper version in the medium term and on less costly solutions than the post for distributing it (eg sending the electronic version by e-mail, from which the .pdf version, practically identical to the paper version, can be printed). Means of improving mailing list management are also being examined.
Alongside these traditional communication vectors there is also the active part played by the national delegations and their secretarial staff in disseminating information about the work of the Congress (and the Council of Europe in general), as well as that played by the Local Democracy Agencies in various countries of south-east Europe, complementing, as it were, the Council of Europe documentation and information centres in the same countries.
III.2. The new technologies
The new information and communication technologies have gradually come to take priority in the information and communication activities of the Congress. They make it possible to process (produce, store and update) large quantities of information and to reach a vast audience cheaply and effectively, fully in keeping with Council of Europe Resolution (2000)2. The Congress is thus rising to the new challenges of the information society.
E-mail provides a means of rapid interaction with users for internal communication (Secretariat, local elected representatives, experts, LDAs, etc.), inter-institutional communication within the Council of Europe (Committee of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly, Court of Human Rights and the various departments of the Organisation) as well as external communication (EU, OSCE, Media, Associations, other correspondents).
The Congress has also developed its own web site (one of the first in the Organisation, launched in 1997), which is gradually becoming its main communication tool, used to publicise the different aspects of the Congress and its activities, give interested parties access to its basic instruments and documents and provide up-to-date information on its activities.
The thorough overhaul of the CLRAE site is well advanced. It will serve two purposes: harmonisation with the Council of Europe’s portal and web site and a general overhaul to improve and enhance its functionality, navigability and presentation.
Many new items have been added to what already existed. Others, like automatic translation (German, Italian, Russian, etc.), are currently being tested.
- A new home page (in French and English) offers a daily overview of the Congress’ activities by means of information files using analytical navigation bars for easy, coherent browsing and direct Links to other departments and services inside the Council of Europe and also outside (mainly other bodies working with local and regional authorities).
- The site provides direct access to the CLRAE’s press releases, as they appear in real time on the Council’s Media Department site or grouped together in their own special file.
There are also
- enhanced general and specific Search possibilities (adopted texts, Bulletin, Yearbook).
- Contact facilities afford easy interaction with the Congress as a body, the Secretariat, the various people in charge of specific activities, the editorial team of the Bulletin, the Webmaster.
- Links to other Council of Europe sites, national delegations, international organisations, etc. The aim is to foster interaction, co-operation and partnership, both within the Organisation and with outside partners, by pooling/networking resources, data bases, activity schedules and subjects of common interest, such as the CDLR data base project on local and regional democracy in Europe6;
- On-line web tools and services catering, inter alia, for the various needs expressed within the Secretariat: browsing the Web, French and international directory enquiries; sending short messages to mobile phones, automatic translation into several languages, access to the press and the audiovisual media, etc.
There is also a real determination to improve public access to Congress documents by adding new functions (rapid declassification7 and better management of electronic information), including access to older documents, which will have to be incorporated into the site gradually.
The feasibility of setting up an Extranet web site providing access by login / password to restricted Congress documents and information is currently being considered.
The Bulletin of the Congress is now available on- line in a new format (Web page and PDF, the latter offering a potentially interesting alternative to the hard-copy version sent out by post, at least for those addressees who have e-mail addresses and/or Internet access and are ready to go along with the changeover).
The main aim of the new presentation of the site – well on the way to completion – is to identify the Congress both as a part of the Council of Europe (by adhering to the Organisation’s common graphic chart, insignia and logos and promoting the common heritage and the multitude of inter-institutional links) and as a body with its own statute, purpose and means of action (based, inter alia, on the CLRAE’s main element of visual identity, its own banner, present on every page on the site in both official language versions).
Special attention has been paid to the different structural aspects of the message – layout, illustration, colour, etc. – and to proportion and symmetry both on screen and when printed.8
The overhaul should enable the site to reach a new quality and efficiency threshold. In its new version the site is a versatile, dynamic working tool and information and communication platform, giving the Congress the full benefit of the most advanced technical resources.
III.3. Combining the old and the new
Rather than randomly juxtaposing different generations of communication tools the Congress is developing a genuine strategy that carefully combines traditional tools and new technologies in order to exploit their synergetic potential. This approach enables the Congress to adapt to the very heterogeneous communication needs and capabilities of all its partners.
All the Congress’ "traditional" communication and information activities are extensively relayed via the web and with the help of the new technologies, from the organisation stage (general and practical information, on-line registration forms, etc.) right through to the final declaration (published on the web site and thus available to a vast audience) and any follow-up. The web files devoted to these "traditional" communication activities give high added value, in terms of both content (further enhanced by hypertext links) and dissemination. Experience has already demonstrated that all three dimensions of CLRAE communication can benefit from this combination of conventional and modern communication methods.9
IV Needs and resources
In order to optimally implement its chosen communication strategy, the Congress does its best to endow itself with the resources essential to a modern, efficient communication policy.
Communication is a separate sub-head of the CLRAE budget. A communication unit in the Secretariat handles all work related to communication policy and the Congress has done its best to acquire the necessary equipment and to improve and update it as communication policy grows in importance. Good ongoing communication with the Council of Europe’s Information Technology Department (DIT) helps to overcome any technical obstacles.
The Communication Unit was reorganised at the end of 200010; its main aim is to devise and implement the CLRAE’s own information and communication policy under the control of its decision-making authorities.
It is responsible, inter alia, for:
helping the Congress to define its information and communication strategy (guidelines, reports) and to elaborate the corresponding regulatory framework (resolutions, recommendations);
implementing the corresponding measures, programmes and initiatives in the most appropriate manner;
evaluating the results achieved with a view to improving the methods used and increasing their effectiveness;
managing the resources devoted to this policy on a day-to-day basis and making sure they keep abreast of changing trends and priorities.
To increase its efficacy the Congress communication unit is generally open to collaboration with the other communication units in the Council of Europe in the interests of coherent resource use (exchanging experience and joint reflection on how to enhance the overall coherency of the Organisation’s image, sharing data banks and technical solutions, etc.).
However, the means available to the Congress at present are inadequate to the goals pursued and the material commitment they necessitate. An increase in the budget appropriation for this aspect of the Congress’ work should help to improve this state of affairs, in terms of newer, better equipment, but also of staff reinforcements for the communication unit and increased opportunities for staff to undergo periodical refresher training.
The Secretariat needs a permanent, properly qualified press attaché to advise and stimulate the staff. He or she could also take over responsibility for the Congress Bulletin and work hand in hand with the person in charge of the Web site, who at present does both jobs.
In the Council of Europe’s current financial situation there is little hope of a new post being created. Nor is there any possibility, in view of the general workload of the Secretariat staff, of freeing an existing post, as the Congress attempted to do briefly in 2000. The only solution is therefore for the Secretary General to make this post available to the Congress by transferring a vacant post or a post already occupied by a qualified press attaché.
As the institution responsible for representing local and regional authorities and enabling them to contribute to achieving the ideal of European unity referred to in Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe (see Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of the Committee of Ministers),
is determined to give pride of place to communication and information in order to perform its role within the Council of Europe as effectively as possible;
fully endorses the information strategy recommended by the Committee of Ministers in Resolution (2000)2 and is determined to implement it in the manner appropriate to its particular characteristics and identity.
With this in view, the Congress adopts the following guidelines for its communication and information policy:
continue using and developing conventional communication and information methods while constantly striving to perfect them and adapt them to its aims;
attach increasing importance to the new information and communication technologies, which are sure to bring greater efficiency and a great leap forward in terms of quality;
combine these two types of communication with a view to achieving optimum efficacy, bearing in mind the very heterogeneous needs and capabilities of its various partners.
Accordingly, the Congress intends, in particular:
to continue using paper as a means of communication to cater for the special needs of some of its partners;
to identify the most appropriate distribution/dissemination solutions in each case and improve mailing list management in view of the very large number of documents still sent, at considerable cost, by post (not only the Bulletin but also all the other documents regularly sent to Congress members and addressees on the different mailing lists);
to continue to promote its own institutional image and that of the Organisation through its Web site;
to publicise its Web site by appropriate means: information leaflets sent out with the 4,000 copies of the Bulletin distributed in Europe; presentations at diverse events; proper technical information provided on the site itself to enhance its visibility for search engines, Web directories, etc;
in the short term, to complete the general overhaul of its web site and its harmonisation with the rest of the Council of Europe’s on-line communication tools while taking care to preserve and develop its identity;
in the medium and long term, to develop the dynamic, interactive nature of the information it disseminates, in keeping with the principles of transparency and responsibility, by posting it on the web site and by distributing it electronically (mailing lists, messaging, notification of documents), in order to cater for the needs of people interested in its work;
to improve public access to Congress documents (by improved electronic information management and rapid document declassification, in keeping with the Committee of Ministers decision on the subject), including older documents, as they are gradually incorporated into the site.
to provide access – particularly for Congress members, the Secretariat and experts - by login / password to restricted Congress documents and information by setting up an Extranet Web site;
generally to develop constant dialogue with the members of the Congress and the secretaries of the national delegations;
to further develop interaction, co-operation and partnership inside and outside the Organisation by pooling / networking resources, data bases, activity schedules and subjects of common interest;
to reinforce inter-institutional dialogue within the Council of Europe, which is essential for the coherence, efficiency and transparency of the activities of its bodies, authorities and departments, and in particular:
as part of the special dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, to provide in particular for:
- at least one meeting per year between the Chair of the Committee of Ministers and the Presidents of the Congress and its two Chambers;
- the inclusion on the agenda of a meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies, following each plenary session of the Congress, of an item under which the Chief Executive of the Congress presents the outcome of the session, the texts adopted and the action to be taken on them;
to adapt the budgetary resources devoted to this aspect of the CLRAE’s work to the objectives set and the means required to achieve them, in order to be able to strengthen its Communication Unit in terms of equipment and manpower, by
- improved equipment to keep abreast of technological progress;
- more staff, the Unit being badly understaffed (at present only one temporary B3 staff member works full-time in this field);
- the permanent presence of a fully qualified press attaché to advise and provide stimulus to Secretariat staff with regard to the communication aspect of their work;
to foster periodic refresher training for staff involved in defining and implementing the Congress’ communication and information policy
to work actively with the other communication units in the Council of Europe on the interests of coherent resource use, thereby helping the Organisation to save money while at the same time enhancing the visibility and efficacy of its overall communication and information policy;
Furthermore, the Congress invites the local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe’s member states:
to develop their information and communication policies in order to make the most of all the possibilities offered by the new information and communication technologies;
to seek the most effective balance of conventional communication tools and new technologies;
to foster positive social and cultural attitudes towards the new technologies through their education and information systems, within their spheres of competence, while alerting the public to the possible dangers and abuses;
to support the development of on-line public services accessible to ever broader categories of the population;
to develop co-operation and experience-sharing with other local and regional authorities as a matter of importance, as this helps to develop synergies beneficial to the citizen.1 Especially as thought is currently being given to the new information and communication technologies at every level in the European Union. See, for example: The Green Paper of the European Commission on public sector information in the information society, or its action plan "eEurope 2002"; or at the national level - in France, for example: "Diffusion des données publiques et révolution numérique" - report by Dieudonné Mandelkern, member of the Conseil d'Etat - November 1999; or "L'Etat et les technologies de l'information et de la communication : vers une administration à accès pluriel" - report by Bruno Lasserre, member of the Conseil d'Etat - March 2000.