ICA's Communications' Strategy (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
June, 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.3, 1997)

                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 audio-visual 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 

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 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 

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.