CARIFORUM meeting on EPA calls for action on communications and public education

In this workshop on the communications and public education dimensions of the implementation of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, a major theme was that communications strategies are integral to maximizing the impact of EPA implementation work plans. This link is informed by the recognition that these strategies outline a vision, well-defined objectives and a coherent plan of action to accomplish strategic goals in respective implementation efforts. In this regard, the importance of twinning national EPA communications strategies with respective national EPA implementation work plans was emphasized. 

The workshop was funded under the 9th European Development Fund (EDF), Caribbean Integration Support Programme (CISP). It was also made possible by support from UKaid from the Department for International Development, through the Caribbean Aid for Trade and Regional Integration Trust Fund (CARTFund). Resources provided by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) also made the workshop possible. 

Workshop deliberations which remained actively seized of three observations, offered participants in the feature address delivered at the opening ceremony on behalf of Senator Joanne Massiah, Minister of State within the Ministry of Legal Affairs of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. 

The observations set out were that “the development of a regional and by extension a national communication strategy must be guided by goals and objectives that seek to achieve measurable outputs and outcomes. Secondly, you must identify and categorize your stakeholders because the content and message to be communicated would not always be the same. Importantly, you must become aware of the needs, interests and challenges of your stakeholders, which is essential in designing a communication strategy. Thirdly, a monitoring framework must be included in the strategy as a means of reviewing and making adjustments to ensure its effectiveness.” 

The workshop was convened under the aegis of the EPA Implementation Unit within the CARIFORUM Directorate of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat. 

The forum was designed to draw attention to and provide a ‘tool kit’ for the formulation and execution of a communications strategy, in the particular context of trade agreements. In this regard, special attention was given to the EPA. The proceedings also afforded CARIFORUM officials an opportunity to apprise the forum on the status of the development/implementation of respective institutional communications and public education work plans, and — where states were in a position — to showcase communications strategies. 

Communications perspectives on EPA implementation were also provided by a team of resource persons drawn from two national business support organizations, a leading regional civil society organization, and regional organizations. Resource persons on hand from the Development Cooperation and Programming Unit of the CARIFORUM Directorate and GIZ lent perspectives on resources that can be brought to bear on EPA-related communications and public education initiatives. 

An official from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) delivered a presentation that took into account the results based approach to project design, in the context of developing a communication monitoring, follow-up, tracking, data base and evaluation plan. 

The highlight of the closing session was an exploration of the scope to capitalize on synergies in communications and public education approaches, with respect to those actors that have a stake in EPA implementation, namely: (a) the regional EPA Implementation Unit; (b) national EPA implementation authorities and relevant government departments (including government information services or their equivalents); (c) regional private sector interests; (d) civil society; and (e) the donor community. In terms of leveraging synergies and setting a plan of action, the forum endorsed the following: 

(i) Efforts must be made by all states to purposefully implement communications and public education initiatives in a sound, systematized fashion. Massiah’s speech drew attention to this point, underscoring that such an approach would be “key in securing stakeholder buy-in, interest and ultimately paves the way for their continuous and active participation in the [outreach] processes”; 

(ii) For those states that have not already developed a communications strategy, they should do so urgently (and link it to respective national EPA implementation work plans). It was also agreed that states should submit their communications strategies to the regional EPA Implementation Unit as soon as possible, so that such strategies may guide the work plan of the unit. There was an expressed commitment to developing communications strategies with performance targets/indicators and monitoring and evaluation frameworks; 

(iii) The GIZ offer of assistance to advance the cause of EPA-related communications and public education initiatives, including through the provision of resources for short-term consultants to be retained for purposes of backstopping at the level of CARIFORUM states and the regional EPA Implementation Unit, on an as needs basis. The modalities of this assistance are to be further detailed and agreed on, in short order; 

(iv) The establishment of an online virtual network of officials, which GIZ has proposed to underwrite, tentatively called the CARIFORUM EPA Institutional Network (CAFEIN). It is envisioned that it will provide for a data base for knowledge management, a platform to showcase events and capacity building opportunities, news and success stories, links to support projects and initiatives, and a blog-styled discussion forum (including access to social media and other modern communication technologies) to share best practices and experiences regarding outreach; 

(v) The importance of mainstreaming inclusive collaborative efforts in EPA-related communications and public education efforts. The forum was minded of the role of actors identified in the closing session that examined the scope for synergies in sensitization on the CARIFORUM-EU EPA and its implementation and the need to build solid, productive, and broad partnerships. 

Reflecting on the way forward, participants expressed satisfaction that the workshop represented an important milestone in and contribution to efforts to scale up systematized EPA-centered outreach in the region. They were of the view that it is an “excellent basis” for moving forward with and building momentum regarding EPA-related communications and public education. It was further noted that deliberations that animated the workshop “demonstrated the spirit of collaboration and common purpose that is taking hold regarding EPA-related communications and public education.” In this context, participants put great stock in the promise of the virtual network, describing it as a “key achievement” of the workshop. 

The just-concluded forum forms part of the regional EPA Implementation Unit’s communications and public education programme, and it builds on two similar workshops convened earlier this year: The regional media workshop on the CARIFORUM-EU EPA (14 to 15 March held in Antigua and Barbuda) and the regional workshop on the CARIFORUM-EU EPA for senior officers of the government information services (17 to 18 March held in St Kitts and Nevis). 

The fifteen signatory Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific (CARIFORUM) states to the EPA are the independent CARICOM member states and the Dominican Republic.

 

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