During the recent CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia, Klaus von Grebmer, Director of Communications, IFPRI, spoke about the need to implement collective communications activities among the CGIAR Centers. In an interview conducted at the conclusion of the first day of the event, he elaborated further.
“To illustrate my point,” he said, “take the recent food price crisis. The public had three questions during this crisis: What is happening? Why is it happening? What can be done to mitigate the effects or ensure that it does not happen again? IFPRI responded quickly and effectively to this situation and was also able to coordinate with some other Centers to get certain key messages out to the public, but the task was really too big for this core group alone.”
Although the key messages were available and accessible to everyone in the CGIAR System, Klaus does wonder if they couldn’t have gained even more mileage if all the Centers had pooled resources and amplified these messages in their respective regions and from the point of view of their own areas of expertise.
“If there is an expert organization on agriculture in this world, it’s clearly the CGIAR,” he said. “It needs to coordinate and pool its resources on occasions like this one to provide clear messages and respond quickly to questions from the public.”
Focus on the System
A System-wide communications strategy would also require staff to be more outward-looking.
“Currently, only a few Centers seem to care about the reputation of the CGIAR,” explained Klaus. “If you want to promote the System, then you have to promote System activities and System media events. If you are too Center-focused, then the System suffers. This was something I also experienced when I chaired the Marketing Group. I saw a discrepancy between authority, responsibility, and accountability. Some communications colleagues didn’t deliver on collaborative work because they felt they would be acknowledged more for the work they did for their own Centers than for the work they did for the System.”
Still, Klaus feels the new CGIAR has an opportunity to address the current lack of a collective communications strategy.
“Presently, the Transition Management Team responsible for revitalizing the CGIAR is mostly focusing on the development of content, such as the mega programs,” he said. “This is natural and very important, but the next area of focus must be on a System-wide communications strategy. You can have the best research in the world, but if the results are not communicated to the right audience, they will not have any impact. It is negligence to invest in research without appropriate investments in communications. If the System wants to enhance and maintain its leadership role in agricultural research, it is vital for it to communicate its research effectively to its key stakeholders, and also to its donors.”