Integrating IMF Communications and Operations
February 8, 2005
Integrating IMF Communications and Operations: Responsibilities of the External Relations Department (EXR)
February 8, 2005
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On March 9, 2005, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) discussed a paper prepared by the External Relations Department on "Integrating IMF Communications and Operations." (The text of the paper is available at http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/docs/2005/020805.htm.)
The Board discussion was the fourth on the IMF's communications strategy since 1998 when the Executive Board convened its first-ever meeting to discuss the strategy. The Board last discussed the subject in March 2003 (see Public Information Notice (PIN) No. 03/33). The discussions of communications have been in addition to the separate Board reviews and updates of the IMF's transparency policy, which set the guidelines for the types and extent of information that the Fund may release publicly (see Public Information Notice (PIN) No. 03/122).
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors welcomed the opportunity to discuss the staff paper on "Integrating IMF Communications and Operations," which updates and reviews the IMF's communications strategy following the 2003 review. Overall, Directors felt that the IMF continues to pursue a reasonably balanced communications strategy, aimed, first and foremost, at strengthening the global constituency for sound and transparent policies, while at the same time enhancing the persuasiveness and thereby the effectiveness of IMF policy advice. In that context, they considered that the External Relations Department has done a commendable job in promoting Fund communications. Directors did not see a need, at present, to increase these efforts significantly or to make a shift in the IMF's communications strategy. At the same time, this discussion has provided useful suggestions on various aspects of the IMF's communication strategy, which we will reflect on and take forward, while also taking into account the ongoing development of the IMF's medium-term strategy.
Directors agreed that a key medium-term objective of the IMF's communication strategy should be better coordination and integration of communication activities with the IMF's operations, both in country work and in broader policy design and implementation. Directors supported closer collaboration between area departments and the External Relations Department in developing and implementing regional and country communication plans. In order to ensure that such plans are adapted to each country's circumstances and priorities, they should be designed and executed with the support of Directors and country authorities. In this regard, Directors noted the recent initiatives by the African and Western Hemisphere Departments to develop region-specific strategies and considered that it will be important to assess those experiences carefully. More generally, the extent and nature of IMF involvement will need to reflect an assessment of the effectiveness of IMF outreach in each country or region.
Directors underlined the importance of better integrating communications with IMF operations, and discussed how best this can be done, given the central role of IMF management and the External Relations Department in the delivery of communication efforts. Many Directors saw regional offices and resident representative offices as having a crucial supportive role, but stressed the importance of close coordination among mission chiefs, department heads, and management for effective communications. Directors also saw a continuing role for themselves in external communication activities, in their capacity both as officials of the IMF and as country representatives. They welcomed the considerable discretion and flexibility they have in determining their appropriate role, which should be maintained. In this regard, they viewed Directors' group travel as continuing to provide a further vehicle for outreach, both to inform member countries about the IMF and its policies and, more importantly, to listen to the authorities and civil society.
Directors generally agreed that communication planning and activities in the context of IMF-supported country programs remain a particular priority. In this context, communications should continue to focus on the authorities' own efforts in reinforcing country ownership of economic policy programs. Some Directors cautioned that particular care will be needed to ensure that the high visibility of the IMF does not undermine ownership. Directors recommended that the authorities be consulted closely when planning in-country communications. They supported the emphasis on enhancing communication with national legislators whenever judged appropriate by the authorities.
Directors considered whether additional resources will be needed for communications in program countries, and how such resources might be obtained, if needed. Some Directors felt that, in light of the workload of missions and resident representatives, additional resources should be devoted to enhancing in-country communications work. Other Directors felt that not much additional work is required, and that what is needed can be accommodated by reprioritizing available resources. Directors offered various suggestions for improving the cost-effectiveness of communication activities. They looked forward to making a further assessment as additional information on costs and trade offs becomes available.
Directors saw considerable scope for the IMF to convey its surveillance findings more widely and effectively. Additional emphasis on communication related to surveillance would, in many cases, need to rely primarily upon area department staff, with support from EXR. A number of Directors pointed to the benefits of making summaries of surveillance analysis and findings, as well as program documentation, available in local languages. They noted the potential benefits and opportunities for wider communication, as well as the additional costs that would be associated with an expansion of non-English materials. In this regard, Directors welcomed the recent formation of a working group of Directors and staff to consider issues related to the publication of material on the IMF's external website in languages in addition to English, and looked forward to its recommendations.
Progress made by the international community toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be the subject of special interest in the period ahead. In this context, the IMF's commitment to helping countries make progress toward the MDGs needs to be emphasized, and clear communications will be key to effective signaling in low-income countries, in line with the IMF's own ongoing deliberations on its role in these countries. At the same time, Directors noted that the IMF is only one among several partners in the achievement of MDGs, and its communication strategy should avoid contributing to excessive expectations.
Several Directors encouraged staff, especially resident representatives and mission chiefs, to engage in dialogue on policy issues with a wide range of counterparts in member countries, although selectively and in consultation with the authorities. In this regard, some Directors suggested that such in-country communications should focus on country-specific policies, given the expertise on global and regional surveillance available at IMF headquarters. To assist these efforts, these Directors encouraged the training of IMF staff in methods of effective communication. A number of Directors, however, expressed reservations about greater involvement by resident representatives in communication activities, pointing to the potential for incompatibility between the role of resident representatives vis-à-vis national authorities and their interaction with the media and the public. The role of resident representatives will need to be developed carefully on a case by case basis to take account of country specificities and the wishes of the authorities. A few Directors also questioned the benefits of greater outreach by technical assistance missions and experts, especially given the already high resource demands associated with the provision of IMF technical assistance.
Directors were of the view that, notwithstanding the major advances made in improving public understanding of IMF policies, the mission of the IMF is still not as readily recognizable or understood as that of development banks and some other international organizations. Publishing and outreach activities aimed at explaining the work of the IMF to journalists, legislators, civil society, and the general public will therefore remain of considerable importance. A further area identified for strengthening outreach is contacts with the private sector. Directors also noted the important role of the Independent Evaluation Office in the Fund's outreach and communication activities. The merits of putting forward consistently a more balanced view of the IMF's role, in terms of successes and failures, was also recognized. Most Directors felt that the level of effort devoted by the IMF to providing general information is broadly sufficient. The staff will review the issue of the disclaimer to be used in publications by the staff.
Directors considered that effective internal communication in the IMF is a prerequisite for effective external communications. The aim should be to ensure that all staff members have access to more information and a common approach to disseminating it. Directors looked forward to the further development of internal communication modalities. Directors also saw scope for further strengthening coordination and communication across departments, and between headquarters and regional offices and resident representative offices.
IMF EXTERNAL RELATIONS DEPARTMENT