Getting it right for effective communication

Friday, January 15th, 2021 00:00 |
Communications Authority of Kenya.

There are times when one gets the impression that there is much that is dysfunctional in our counties and by extension in the government.

It boils down to one thing: The inability of the government, whether at the county or at the national level, to communicate effectively.

Not to communicate is actually to communicate that there is nothing to communicate.

Yet it is not for lack of personnel. Both the national and the county governments have plenty of communication specialists.

At the national level, every ministry has a director in charge of communication.

Similarly, at the county level, every county government has a director of communication.

Yet it is not only difficult to get information from these offices – those charged with communication will tell you that they, too, often have no idea what is going on in these stations. The reasons are not too hard to decipher.

There are requirements to be in place for effective communication to happen. For a start personnel must be qualified.

That, however, is not the biggest of challenges although differentiation should be made between journalists or even marketers and communication professionals.   

Organisational structure should recognise the communication function. For most governors and Cabinet Secretaries (CSs), the role of the communication office is little more than assembling the press.

This demonstrates a woeful misunderstanding of the function. The role of communication is much more than this.

The communication function must be strategically positioned within the organisation.

These offices are ranked relatively low in the organogram in most public institutions, making it near impossible for them to access the messages that need to be communicated.

The consensus in the industry and among the field’s scholars is that communication is a management function, and the head of that function must sit at the table where decisions are made, in order to strategise on how to communicate effectively. 

Public service has to recognise the need for effective communication and accord it appropriate significance.

This includes respecting the opinion of the communication professional.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of organisations whose heads of communication may be positioned to report to human resource office, to finance and administration with hardly any appreciation of the communication function.

Then there is the challenge of budget. Effective communication outfit is not cheap.

Such an office need equipment like cameras, office space, computers, colour printers, smart phones, effective access to bandwidth, space for library, a boardroom among other things.

Communication office must have a clear plan of action that is both smart and timed with clear deliverables that can be measured.

Confusing effective communication with the appearances in the media of the governor or CS is to miss the role of the function.

While such appearances may be a function of communication, the totality of the role of communication is much more than that.

Focusing on effective messaging would draw attention to the benefits rather than the pain of the projects.

In the counties, it would focus attention on the successes of the administration. 

Communication is one function the public sector needs to address with urgency.

Recognise the communication function, accord it its place in the structure, provide it with sufficient budget, give it space to flourish and then ask for the results. 

The public’s perception of the public sector’s performance would be different. —  The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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