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Ideas for a better communication of the ESIF funds

Originally posted at Atlantic Cities Blogactiv (May 2017)

At “regulations” level

Starting from the principle that “all is communication”, 500 pages of regulations are the first difficulty to convey the “structural” message.

Language and titles are also important, above of all when working with different language and cultural contexts.  Ex. Why do we call it “European fund for Maritime and Fisheries Affairs” instead of “EU Sea fund”? Same goes for acronyms, which should be banished and Bodies (the Authority, the Committee, the Secretariat…)

The diverse summaries are still too burdened with EU language; they are lengthy and not practical. Information (written in “ground language”) should be disposed in smaller pieces (1 sheet fiches /checklists), with more graphics (image /video) and with more examples (I.e. what is a flagship project in a macro-region? How do we combine funds in a sea basin strategy? How does a monitoring committee work? Cash flow in projects?)

Also for the summaries, stories (and not only examples) are important. Ex. Who was the first person to implement an European Social Fund project in Europe?

At “programme” level

Either for the operational or cooperation programmes, the profile of the person in charge of communication is a key. The best would be for them not to be a “recycled programme person” (i.e. someone that knows EU programmes and also does communication) but a communication expert totally new to this domain. This will ensure “translation” into real life, and a speech register which is free from EU jargon.

Nevertheless, all the staff in (Managing) Authorities and (Joint) Secretariats should receive training in communication. Again, every action is a communication item, so rather being prepared for it.

Information websites should be compulsory, especially concerning regional-operational programmes (Programmes?) where there is a certain tendency to mix up regional and EU funds in press releases, calls for projects or appraisals (ex. A press release mentioning that the Fordania region has funded XXX social projects – when it should be really talking about European Social Fund).

Websites should also be more than portals. They cannot be limited to calls for projects or to approved project lists. Guides, manuals and how-to’s should follow the same principles as mentioned for the regulations. Good practices can be found in INTERREG North West and SUDOE, among others. These websites should also publish more frequently (not only once per year for the call) and rely on a programme blog and Social Media profiles (beware: using daily language)

For information sheets, the perspective “for dummies” should be adopted so as to make the programmes tangible. For instance, today it is very difficult to find a blog post about “INTERREG for dummies”, even in the most shared languages. It would be helpful to attract newcomers and to start work in projects.

Inter-programme communication and shared communication initiatives are yet to be put into practice. Also, the multiplier effect of events (both their own or external) shall not be ignored by Authorities and Secretariats.

Finally, programmes must “stick to the news” being reactive to what’s happening in the territory and creating awareness campaigns. I.e. a natural disaster in Fordania must serve for a blog post on environmental priorities of the regions’ Operational Programme.

At “project” level

Communication should become a “real” workpackage and not an excuse to fulfil the application checklist. Thus, the communication plan ought to have clear specifications in the calls (publication schedule, types of output, profiles…) and in the assessment (the absence of communication should get a real influence in the reimbursement: principle of accountability). In the case of programmes that work with 1st level controllers, those should be able to evaluate if this work package is fulfilled. Funding should be consequent and, in the case of territorial programmes, it should also take into account translation costs ( as an expense or as staff time.)

As said before in the other two cases:

–          The “Communication” person (or even better, project partner if it is a cooperation project) should be an expert and not a combined role project manager / press attaché

–          Communication, even in the case of an “expert partner”, needs to be a shared task and so project funding must cover for training for the staff  / whole partnership in order to ensure principles are respected

–          Projects should communicate among them (ex. creation of a social KEEP, participation in Yammer’s Regio Network…)

–          Project resumes should use “ground” language in order for the project to be eligible

Excellence could be reinforced by “best practices’ awards in communication”. However, this approach should avoid the top-down perspective. Awards should be decided among peers (other projects, stakeholders) and not by hierarchical bodies or expert committees so as to facilitate shared learning.

In order to align project communication with a more “human” vision, project participants / target public cannot be passive. They should also grow into active communication agents (spokes), through any means, from their social media profiles to discussion with their neighbours.

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