This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
ICA’s Communications Strategy (1997)

June, 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol. 90 No. 3, 1997, pp. 51-55)

ICA's Communications Strategy
by Mary Treacy*
A Flexible, Fluid Strategy  for the 21st Century
Several years ago it was possible to make long-term strategies and to stick to them. However the rapid developments in today’s world, especially when one enters the field of Communications and the new technological revolution, make it extremely difficult and indeed unwise to envisage devising and adopting long-term Communications Strategies. Therefore, although it is prudent to look and plan ahead, one must bear in mind that any strategies or policies adopted should not be considered as being etched in stone, but should be flexible and fluid in their  implementation and subject to revision at regular intervals or as necessary, and will be supplemented by special projects as the needs arise and change.

Communications priorities can best be identified once a general organisation policy has been established giving an accurate image of the organisation. Therefore, it is an opportune moment to deal with Communications Strategy and Policy now that the ICA has a well-defined mission statement and that the organisation as a whole has established the Principles which will guide it towards the new millennium.

Interdependence and Cross Fertilisation of Projects
It should be stressed that all Communications projects can interconnect and facilitate multiple use of the same information. For example, publications can be made available on the Internet or in multimedia form. The television video news releases can provide audiovisual material for use in multimedia or on the Internet. Databases can be provided in interactive format through the ICA Web Site and so on and so forth.

Working in Partnership with Other Organisations
ICA Communications Department has been working increasingly with other organisations to achieve common goals.  In order to maximise limited financial and human resources, further opportunities for joint communications efforts with ICA member organisations, university departments promoting co-operation  and other organisations will be aggressively pursued.

New Developments
Because of the general satisfaction expressed with the overall Communications Programme, the Strategy Document presented to the ICA Board in Uganda concentrated on  new strategies and particular considerations which we wished to bring to their attention or request their guidance and support before investing additional human and financial resources.

Global Communications Policy
The new decentralised structure of the ICA, the growing independence and separation of some of its sectorial organisations from the mother organisation and the setting up of regional structures and governing bodies are all factors which have dramatically changed the ICA environment and created additional challenges for effective communication.

Communication does not only concern the Communications Department. It constitutes an essential part of the work of every ICA staff member, and the ICA member organisations, especially individuals within these organisations holding ICA office such as ICA Board Members, Chairmen and Secretaries of Specialised Bodies, UN representatives, etc.

Within the new decentralised structure of the ICA, Communication is increasingly important in projecting a Movement united in its diversity by common principles and ideals. It is important, therefore, to create a global communications policy so that a positive corporate image of the organisation can be projected without fragmentation of the ICA’s Core Messages.
The policy will include three key elements - participatory planning, corporate focus and decentralised implementation.

Reaching a Wider Audience
Limited  resources have so far made it impossible to reach the broad public directly. Instead, the ICA has taken advantage of the “multiplier effect” and has focused on its partners and identifiable strategic target audiences. However, recent development will make it possible in the coming years for ICA to communicate the co-operative message to a wider audience.

The Communications Strategy includes plans to use the Internet as a Communications tool and details of this part of the Strategy can be found on page 56 of this Review. The Strategy also includes a Targeted Television Strategy which you can read about on page 60.

Increased Use of Languages
Although we have five official languages, ICA Secretariat has been mainly using English for the past few years in order to reduce translation and printing costs. However, in 1996 we started to produce a Spanish version of the ICA News and in 1997 have extended this to include a French version.

Last year the entire text of Ian MacPherson’s report on the Co-operative Identity including the Background Paper was published in four of our official languages thanks to translations provided by our member organisations. Members have also collaborated in translating the One Page Identity Statement which has been published in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Portuguese, Danish, Hungarian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese.

Most of  these versions are being made  available on ICA Web Pages.

The ICA Web Site includes sections in French, Spanish and German and this service will be increased to provide information in other languages as this becomes available. The Internet provides us with the perfect opportunity to “publish” the ICA message in a number of languages without extensive printing and postal costs.

Database Development and Statistics
Although ICA authorities have regarded setting up of viable databases and the need to generate reliable statistics as one of the organisation’s priorities, sufficient resources have never been allocated to this task, which has recently been incorporated in the overall Communications Department.

A recent meeting on databases in January of this year confirmed that the only office which had developed this capacity to any extent was ICAROAP in New Delhi. Besides clarifying the situation regarding database development in the regions, the Delhi meeting was useful insofar as it identified those people in each regional office who have the responsibility for database development in the region and provided the forum for all offices to agree on a compatible operating system (ACCESS) which will facilitate the future exchange of databases and other information.

Much still needs to be done in order to provide reliable statistics which the Development professionals require in order to monitor the state of the movement in the regions and to make appropriate decisions based on accurate figures.

These figures are also invaluable in the advocacy role which the organisation undertakes on behalf of its members at the regional and international level.

However, in many cases not even ICA member organisations have access to accurate statistics concerning the magnitude of co-operative operations, economic indicators such as the market share of co-operative enterprise, the effect of co-operative business on employment, local economies and standard of living, the environment, etc. This makes it very difficult for the ICA to present an accurate global picture.
By corollary if the ICA were given the necessary resources to be able to gather accurate information on these factors, such a database would prove valuable for all ICA members in their lobbying efforts, membership development efforts, etc.
For example, the ICA Europe Statistical Project which is presently being implemented by the Communications Department in collaboration with ICA Europe and the Senior Projects Advisor, will give a comprehensive, valid and useful measure of co-op development in Europe and when placed on the World Wide Web will be available for all co-operative activists to use in their lobbying efforts.
The questionnaire and database for this Project has been formulated so that it can be used for all regions, and all ICA Head Office Departments have been involved in its development so as to respond to the information needs of multiple users.
The Director of Development and the Director of Communications have been discussing possibilities to find the necessary funding or secondment for setting up database projects in the regions.

When extended to the other regions, this pilot project will eventually give an accurate global picture which ICA can provide as a valuable service to all its members.

Communications and Trade
Recently a survey involving about 20% of ICA membership showed that the largest discrepancy between membership expectations and ICA delivery was in the provision of business contacts. The Senior Advisor, Membership Services, in his Membership Strategy for the next four years, recommends that “even though it has always been rather clear that this is not one of the main priorities of the ICA, more can be done in this area without spending too many resources.”
ICA has received a proposal from the University of Saskatchewan Centre for the Study of Co-operatives (Canada) for the creation of a new working group within the Communications Committee of the ICA. The working group would be referred to as the Working Group on Trade and Communications Network Technology.
The purpose of the Working Group would be to receive information on developments in the area of Trade and Communications Networks, advise in the creation of these networks, inform the co-operative community of advances and support the integration of such networks into co-operatives.

This project is a good example of the convergence of areas such as database development, multimedia support and general communications around the emergence of the Internet. As such it is an indication of how each of the projects presented in this document influence and support each other and the other ongoing work of the Communications Programme.

The full project proposal from the University of Saskatchewan can be found on page 63.

Recommendations of the Board

1. The Board agreed that the drafting and adoption of a Corporate Communications Policy for the whole organisation should be one of the organisation’s priorities and recommended that the first  draft of such a policy be presented to the Board in Spring 1998.

2. Taking advantage of the recent decision and funding obtained  on Statistical Data Collection for the European region, the Board recommended that a comprehensive database be set up with the help of information consultants. The database should incorporate the basic information needs of the ICA Secretariat, as well as its members and its specialised bodies, and should be made available via the Internet within one year with the support of information consultants. This information will be accessible to member organisations either directly through their own Internet access or their search requests could be dealt with by the ICA Head Office and the information sent to them by other means: letter, fax. etc.

 The Board stressed that the development of databases  was a priority which should be backed by adequate financial resources and recommended that the Development Department in consultation with the Regional Directors and the Communications Department should put together project proposals in order to attract resources for the development of databases in Africa and the Americas.

3. The ICA Secretariat and Communications Committee were requested to investigate member interest for the creation of a new working group within the Communications Committee of the ICA. The working group would be referred to as the Working Group on Trade and Communications Network Technology.

 The Board further recommended that the ICACC should consider changing its rules to allow Communications Specialists from universities and other organisations supporting the Co-operative Movement, but not necessarily commercial organisations in membership of ICA, to become associate members of the Committee in order to share their expertise with other committee members and the movement at large.

*Ms. Treacy is Director of Communications at ICA Headquarters in Geneva. This represents a resume of the four-year Communications Strategy presented to the ICA Board Meeting in Uganda in April 1997.