NGOs and other type of CSOs have much to offer in the way of information collection, dissemination, and analysis. However they cannot benefit from “public information” if the relevant public institutions responsible for the supply of that information do not make it accessible. Thus, CSOs must play a continuous role of supervision and advocacy to ensure that access to official information is open and inclusive and that the contents of the information is at sufficient or acceptable level to meet regulatory requirements.
Measures can be taken to ensure that municipal authorities not only provide information, but also facilitate the understanding and application of that information, for instance with the creation of Citizen Information Centres or through the local government web portals. At least CSOs should ensure that both they and the local governments publish and updated important data such as:
- strategic plan, including long-term objectives and annual goals
- contact information for all offices
- information about the budget (e.g. budget process)
- procurement and contracting information
- recent publications
A proposal of framework for collecting information from local governments and other sources include the following key questions:
- What are the information objectives?
- What kind of information we want to collect?
- What resources are available for collecting the data and how will the data be recorded and stored?
- What are you going to do with all collected data?
- How will you verify your data?
- What resources are available for doing the analysis?
Available tools for collecting information
Some tools available for this type of research are the following:
- Literature review
- Focus groups
- Opinion polls (surveys)
- Public hearing
- Public debate
Analysis and dissemination of information
The analysis of the collected data involves:
- organising the findings in a coordinated and logical manner, and checking that there is consistency across the data collected by different means;
- making conclusions from the findings;
- testing the conclusions within your organisation and with close stakeholders to ensure that your analysis is consistent;
- formulate recommendations based on your conclusions.
Thereafter it will be necessary to publish and present your analysis in one form or another. The mode of delivery of the information is very important as reliance on just one media (e.g. Internet) can exclude for instance many citizens and also the venue for possible events should be selected carefully, to be visible and easy reachable.
CSOs are typically more creative than other stakeholders, such as governments and businesses, to disseminating information; this makes them particularly suited to the task. The challenges CSOs face include being heard (particularly as they typically lack the resources that other stakeholders have), being respected as legitimate, and formulating their messages in such a way that they resonate with the target audience.Presentation skills are as important as the messages you deliver. The format of your message will depend on the nature of your presentation – i.e. oral presentation, press releases, posters, videos etc. No matter what presentation type you use, you should make sure that you deliver your messages in an innovative way while keeping them short and interesting. See 10 golden rules for developing effective messages.
The process of successful presentation can be summarized as follows (“The RM Knowledge Translation Toolkit: A Resource for Researchers”, IDRC, 2008):
- tell them what the the messages are;
- show them those messages in action and with detail;
- remind them what the messages were;
- ask them for their questions or concerns.
The specific ways in which information dissemination can be manifested or supported include:
- disseminating positive models of environment sustainability through the media, collaborating with the media in the creation of materials, such as documentaries and features;
- educating journalists by providing training on issues such as writing environmental news;
- sharing best practices with the media, decision makers and the general public; and
- distributing accurate information on the problems faced by communities.
Proper communications and public relations strategies are very important for CSOs, as defining messages and planning how to make communications effective and focused on these messages is central to being heard and interpreted in the way you intended. A good strategy outlines the messages, the channels through which they will be disseminated, who will disseminate them, and what will happen under different scenarios, such as negative press feedback on your campaign.
Sources and useful links:
- TACSO “Manual on CSOs and citizens participation“
- Regional Environmental Center (REC), Sustainability in Action: NGO Initiatives for Sustainable Development in the Western Balkans