Censor.NET explores what the concept of strategic communications is all about and how strategic communications could benefit Ukraine. We spoke to Natalia Nemyliwska, Director of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre (NIDC) in Ukraine, to learn more.
Within the framework of the above-mentioned Strategic Communications Partnership Roadmap, signed on Sept. 22, 2015 between NATO's International Staff and Ukraine's NSDC, the NSDC is to coordinate activities on behalf of Ukraine, while the NIDC is the executing agent for NATO.
Q. What is the Roadmap about?
A. This Partnership is unique, as it endeavors to provide Ukraine with comprehensive assistance in the sphere of strategic communications. We aim to focus on helping Ukraine develop holistic approaches to communication and its policies. We will also aspire to promote a deeper understanding of strategic communications, which includes well-coordinated inter-agency cooperation. Should a challenge arise, the whole system must be ready to respond quickly and in a coherent manner.
Q. This is something Ukraine currently lacks. Coordination, speed and clarity of our messages continue to be a problem.
A. In a system in which everyone knows his or her role, the reaction time between the challenge and the response is faster.
Q. Nevertheless, this is not merely a matter of responding to current challenges?
A.: No. This is a system which is capable of responding to any contingency. I would like to note that Ukraine will not be starting from scratch, as the country has been facing the information challenge for more than two years now, and has gained experience in the sphere of communications, including communicating its message to its Western partners with regard to the developments in the east and south of the country.
Q. Normally, Ministries and Governmental Agencies follow a set of rules that determine public information policy and inter-agency cooperation. However, existing approaches in Ukraine do not appear to be particularly efficient. Instead, we see a lack of willingness to take responsibility, with people saying, "Let's meet, for instance, at the NSDC on Tuesdays and Thursdays". Clearly, such "manual management" is not effective. What coordination platform can be used here to improve the situation?
A.: From the Ukrainian side, the NSDC and its Secretariat are the executive agents for the partnership and its implementation in Ukraine. This is the hub around which all of our systemic work will revolve. We, in coordination with the NSDC will support the systemic processes and will liaise with our partners willing to contribute to this partnership.
Q. The roadmap you have developed offers a clear-cut stage-by-stage plan of developing a strategic communications system in Ukraine. Is the plan ready along with the stages and activities, and responsible entities?
A. Our Roadmap includes three levels of cooperation: strategic, operational and tactical, with emphasis placed on defense and security structures writ-large. We will support Ukraine in its efforts to shape an overall vision as to how a system of strategic communications could look. At the end, the system that will be built will be a Ukrainian one, which corresponds to the country's needs and realities. We will channel advisory support provided by NATO and those countries and partners who can propose various models and approaches and share their experience, while taking into account what is needed to design the most effective system for Ukraine. We will also support training opportunities, seminars and study tours, and so on.
Q. In order to develop the Roadmap Implementation Plan, it was necessary to study the system in Ukraine. How did you approach this challenge with the NSDC?
A. Of course, we had to study this area in detail. We approached this task with due determination, in collaboration with all of the stakeholders involved in the process. I mean here the foreign advisors, NATO member country representatives, and international organizations. We were able to bring together all those who stand ready to assist Ukraine in the communications domain. We collected data on the existing structures, what they do, whom they work with, and how they communicate internally, with a view of also identifying gaps.
With the aim of presenting the most accurate information that would reflect the "as is" state in this sphere, draw objective conclusions, recognize what is lacking and what could be improved, and also analyze the experience gained by Ukraine in order to understand where it could be used towards shaping the system of strategic communications.
Also, to identify areas where we, as NATO, could be of added value, of course, taking into account the nature of our organization, its historic and practical experience. In my view, for example, we possess unique experience in areas such as public diplomacy and crisis communications. NATO as an Alliance communicates its activities to the wider public, while individual Allies also inform their publics about NATO's agenda and priorities. We have a dedicated division at NATO HQ (by the way, the NIDC is a part of this division), which leads NATO public diplomacy efforts for allies and partner countries.
Another area where NATO has valuable experience to share is in crisis communications and crisis management. NATO's current Strategic Concept outlines three major strategic pillars, namely: collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security. This is something where NATO as an organization can make a contribution. Additionally, NATO comprises 28 Allies who can share their own national experience.
Q. Each Trust Fund project is led by a number of contributing nations. For instance, the Cyber Defence Trust Fund is led by Romania and Turkey. Apart from the United Kingdom and USA, who else contributes to the Strategic Communications Trust Fund?
A. First of all, let us understand that at this stage there is no Strategic Communications Trust Fund for Ukraine. However, trust fund is just one tool - a funding mechanism for specific programs and activities, but there are more ways to extend tailored assistance to Ukraine, including through the Strategic Communications Roadmap.
Q. This means that the overall process might be quite lengthy. Based on previous experience of setting up NATO Trust Funds in Ukraine, the organizational phase took quite some time and these Trust Funds did not become operational until relatively recently. Is there a risk that establishing the Strategic Communications Trust Fund might take too long?
A.: As mentioned before, we should look broader than just the establishment of a Trust Fund and continue the provision of tailored advisory assistance in the strategic communications domain, including by implementing the Strategic Communications Roadmap.
Q. Which structures are involved in the development and signing of the Partnership Implementation Plan on behalf of Ukraine?
A.: Our main partner is the NSDC. We coordinate all our activities with them. It is up to Ukraine to determine who is to be involved.
Q. It is always useful to learn how cooperation between the Ukrainian government and foreign partners develops. In the past, Ukrainian government structures have often needed strong stimulation to take part in international cooperation projects. The Ukrainian government has a reputation of not being very pro-active, while Western advisors cannot simply point out the drawbacks of Ukrainian structures. This approach is insufficient to bring about far-reaching change. Do you also intend to help identify practical solutions?
A. On the one hand, encouraging the Ukrainian Government might be necessary, but this approach can also prove to be, in some case, counterproductive. We are an organization that works with partners based on their individual needs and requests. When dealing with common projects, there is a need for a balanced consensus between both sides. As a result, we maintain a balanced position in this regard. However, I would like to point out that in our particular case, there is significant interest and willingness on the Ukrainian side.
Q. Systemic processes are traditionally hard to implement in Ukraine. Our habit is to look for quick-wins and short-term projects producing immediate results. Government officials change quite often, and this undermines the effectiveness of long-term reform initiatives. Do you feel comfortable having to work in such a context, given that developing strategic communications is necessarily a long road?
A.: Actually, there is an understanding which exists, and it is a growing sense that communication is a continuation of policy, and policy today is driven by the need to bring about long-term systemic change and reforms.
Q. Which ministries are currently working with the NSDC on this initiative? Who takes part in it?
A. The NSDC, which is our main interlocutor, will determine who to involve.
Q. Will NATO and Ukraine identify experts together, or is it up to Ukraine to decide whom to invite?
A.: This is a common decision. In planning our activities, we will consult potential experts in this highly specialized area at the level of a country or NATO itself. And together we will decide whom to engage. I would like to emphasize that Ukrainian state institutions are the main beneficiaries of the Partnership.
Q. Who are the key actors in the communications process? Are we talking about communication between government and citizens, or communication between Ukraine and NATO, or Ukraine and the rest of the world?
A.: Indeed, domestic and foreign audiences united by one common idea. Everything should fall under an overarching narrative.
Q. Is this Partnership going to offer ways of streamlining communications as well as taking into account factors including the ongoing Anti-Terrorist Operation in the east of Ukraine and the situation in the temporarily occupied territories?
A.: This is a large-scale effort, so of course, Ukraine's current realities will be taken into consideration. In my view, one of the important aspects of the work to be taken forward is reaching out to the people in eastern Ukraine.
Q. Russia's propaganda machine in the occupied regions has proved highly effective. Will Ukraine be able to counter this?
A. I am sure it will. Moreover, I am confident that this is going to happen in the near future and will bring the anticipated results. In reality, the one thing Russian propaganda is good at is diverting attention away from what is truly important - from real events and processes taking place in Ukraine and among citizens. It is aimed at engulfing you in artificial information vortexes, information funnels. One has to avoid this, whenever this is not of critical importance. There are, for instance, messages Russia uses daily in a bid to harm Ukraine's relations with the West. These messages must be debunked and the record set straight, daily. For example, the message that there is a civil war raging in Ukraine.
Q. Yes, indeed. During his international visits, the president of Ukraine takes every opportunity to debunk the claim of a civil war in Ukraine.
A.: I personally am of the opinion that one should separate the low priority negative messages and discard them. You have to communicate who you are, what you do, where you are heading, what you want to achieve and what you are doing to make this happen. All of this will help defeat Russian propaganda, as the truth always prevails.
Q. Opinion polls show a falling level of trust to government and its officials. How did we arrive at this point? Is it because there is no adequate communication, because they fail to report their progress? Or is it because they are failing to do their jobs? Why is there such a trust deficit?
A. In terms of the communication process, many of the reforms being implemented and undertaken will not bring immediate and visible results. Therefore, communication strategies need to focus on the long-term perspective. You need to analyze reforms, impact, timelines, and communicate this information to the public in a comprehensible manner, based on truthful information, underpinned by real actions.
Q. The NSDC is the main platform for Ukraine's strategic communications policy, but we see also the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Information Policy involved. Who else will contribute to the process?
A. A great deal of work is taking place at all levels. In my personal view, what needs to be done now is to reinforce these efforts through closer cooperation and better coordination of actions in all places and levels. These are all parts of larger process, which should be working towards a common goal.
Anna Kovalenko, Censor.NET
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