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Communicating Reforms

What do we want to communicate: the “Association Agreement” as the document or reforms and the way how peoples’ lives will change with their implementation? The issue has become a part of the discussion during “Communicating reforms” workshop held by on May 31/2016 by Ms. Ehtel Halliste, former Press Spokesperson for Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One of the most important components of European an Euro-Atlantic Integration is the Strategic Communications. Domestic audience wants to know what reforms are planned and how planned changes will affect people’s daily lives.   The real challenge here is to build support to government activities and this requires a great effort on the part of communicators.

What is the difference between supporting government initiatives and systematically informing people about the implications of reforms on their daily lives? In first case messages are general and simple. In second - require detailed information and instructions what to do. We are more interested in the 2nd case which refers to strategic communications, aimed to influence the opinions, attitudes and ultimately the behaviour of people. All reforms require behaviour change.

Communicating reforms, explain why reform is needed, what it entails, what will it change and when, whom the reform is targeted on and who is implementer, explain in details what will happen. If changes are to be positive – explain what will be good, but at the same time, if the changes are negative, be honest, explain what will happen, how government will deal with that. Constant flow of information is crucial and this flow is to be consistent.

5 strategic things to consider are: what change in behavior is required and this is your objective, which audiences to be reached, what messages will be appropriate, which channels of communication will most effective, how will the communication process be monitored and evaluated.

What strategic communication CAN and CAN NOT help you with. Strategic communications can help you to: identify and manage barriers to reform, help build local ownership through engagement and contribute to sustainability, ensure transparency of reform, change mind-sets, allay fears, and persuade people of benefits, deliver a credible, relevant, and compelling message to persuade, educate and call people to action, engage and mobilise stakeholders with little clout. But StratComms can not convince all those with a vested interest in the status quo to support reform, can not serve as a standalone activity, absent of efforts to build advocacy coalitions as part of a public–private dialogue, can not guarantee consensus, can not change mind-sets and opinions without a trusted messenger, can not act as a substitute for local ownership, can not act as a substitute for leadership. At the same time, strategic communications help to integrate & coordinate all of your communication efforts: public relations, media, internal, donor, outreach etc. Principles of strategic communications will help you to ensure that your limited resources (human, time wise and financial) are applied as effective as possible.