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Re: Policy outreach and communications - what works for improving food security and nutrition at the country level?

Lalita Bhattacharjee

Contribution posted by Lalita Bhattacharjee and Antonio Schiavone, FAO Bangladesh

FAO’s National Food Policy Capacity Strengthening Programme (NFPCSP) in Bangladesh - Communication and Outreach

FAO’s National Food Policy Capacity Strengthening Programme (NFPCSP) has been providing technical support to strengthen Bangladesh’s institutional and human capacities to design, implement, and monitor food security and nutrition policies. Apart from strengthening the capacity of relevant ministries and government agencies, the Programme also promotes better access to food-security related information and knowledge exchange.

The Food Planning and Monitoring Unit (FPMU) of the Ministry of Food is the Government unit responsible for monitoring the food security and nutrition situation in Bangladesh and the implementation of related policies. The FPMU collects stories and disseminates information for food security and nutrition analysis and policy formulation, and delivers evidence-based policy advice to the Government on issues relevant to food security and nutrition.

The NFPCSP Outreach Strategy is characterized by:

Objective 1. Enhancing dissemination to promote stability and efficiency (Food Security and Nutrition): Stability and efficiency can be achieved only if updated information of food security (e.g. production; government imports; price for domestic procurement) reaches market actors.

Objective 2. Creating an enabling environment for policy making: in addition to products, the FPMU’s outreach should contribute in creating an enabling environment for government policy decisions to happen.

Audience/Stakeholders

FPMU is targeting a wide range of actors that includes development partners, research institutions, private sector (importers/producers/traders), media and the general public. Each group is important and can influence the policy process in different ways.

Dissemination strategy

The Food Security and Nutrition Information System (FSNIS)

The FSNIS comprises: i) a Data Management System and its Food Security and Nutrition Data Portal (through the website) which provides the public an easy access to a comprehensive and continuously updated database of information on food security and nutrition data in Bangladesh. Through this portal data can be downloaded and analyzed in different formats; ii) the document repository consisting of an online Library (through the website) and physical documentation center; iii) a website containing all information on recent events and published reports (www.nfcpsp.org and www.fpmu.gov.bd)   

ES Connect Mailing list

The website offers a space for publishing all the information products that are developed or stored. For the ‘promotion’ of FPMU/NFPCSP products, a more pro-active outreach approach to disseminate information products is the ES Connect mailing list. ES Connect is an online Customer Relation Management service of FAO's Economic and Social Development Department: by registering through the ES connect or the NFPCSP website, users receive emails with hyperlinks to some of the latest information products. While the hyperlinks to regular reports and policy briefs are systematically disseminated through the ES connect mailing list, products such as presentations, training and workshop materials, and interim research grants reports as well as events are in some cases uploaded on the website but not promoted.

Other Dissemination Tools

Courier-Post Mailing list (printed documents): For products such as the Fortnightly Food grain Report, Quarterly Food Situation Report, the FPMU prints and mails about 50 copies to government agencies (and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry –FBCCI).

Events and Meetings: Information products are also distributed in meetings/events organized by development partners and other stakeholders or by the FPMU/NFPCSP. Events organized by the FPMU/NFPCSP such as the Research Grant Workshops offer an important opportunity to reach out to a considerable amount of stakeholders, usually with products such as the monitoring report and policy briefs.

Conclusions

Results and Challenges:

  • An Outreach Strategy was produced half way through the project and provided an excellent guide to plan, implement and monitor outreach activities
  • Producing: Recognized quality of work produced has increased reputation and visibility of the project and of FPMU (now recognized as central focal point for food security policy). Good outreach and communication has of course contributed to this achievement, but most of all reputation and excellence greatly helps outreach!
  • Publishing: Policy tools used have been adequate to the scope of the programme. For example the website has been maintained and developed thanks to dedicated resources assigned, as also the case for the documentation center.
  • Promoting: The main challenge of the outreach process has been probably the promotion part. Frequent public events have effectively facilitated the distribution of products and increased visibility and availability of information to the general public as well as its uptake. However, more ad hoc promoting events could have been organized if more resources would have been assigned to this specific activity. From the project side, the programme and outreach officer, given also the size of the project, was forced to spend more time on the programming and management activities rather than communication. To this end a communication and outreach expert was not planned at the beginning of the project and the situation was adjusted half way. From the government side persistent delays in the recruitment of specialized personnel in FPMU (a librarian, a web site manager, etc) has hampered efforts to effectively transfer certain skills, leaving the burden entirely on the project’s programme and outreach officer. In general it seems that outreach and communication activities are still low in the agenda and the full potential of expanding this activity is yet to be fully recognized. It has to be said that also scarcity of resources force senior management to make strategic decisions that often tend to penalize communication. 

Recommendations

  • Communication and outreach starts with planning from the beginning of the project
  • Assign dedicated resources
  • Most of all, outreach will be greatly facilitated if there is a quality product to promote and for the target audience to uptake!