A Review of the Fund's External Communications Strategy

This paper reviews implementation of the Fund’s external communications strategy and suggests issues that the Board may wish to discuss at its third meeting since 1998 on the subject. The strategy has been shaped by the previous Board discussions and more recent decisions and discussions on transparency, conditionality, PRSP/PRGF, the Independent Evaluation Office, and other issues. This paper represents more of a stocktaking than a fundamental reconsideration of the Fund’s approach to external communications. It examines the progress made in recent years and steps that might be taken with current resources to increase the effectiveness of the strategy.

Abstract

This paper reviews implementation of the Fund’s external communications strategy and suggests issues that the Board may wish to discuss at its third meeting since 1998 on the subject. The strategy has been shaped by the previous Board discussions and more recent decisions and discussions on transparency, conditionality, PRSP/PRGF, the Independent Evaluation Office, and other issues. This paper represents more of a stocktaking than a fundamental reconsideration of the Fund’s approach to external communications. It examines the progress made in recent years and steps that might be taken with current resources to increase the effectiveness of the strategy.

Executive Summary

I. Introduction

(paragraphs 1-5). This paper reviews implementation of the Fund’s external communications strategy and suggests issues that the Board may wish to discuss at its third meeting since 1998 on the subject. The strategy has been shaped by the previous Board discussions and more recent decisions and discussions on transparency, conditionality (national ownership of programs), PRSP/PRGF, the Independent Evaluation Office, and other issues. This paper represents more of a stocktaking than a fundamental reconsideration of the Fund’s approach to external communications. It examines the progress made in recent years and steps that might be taken with current resources to increase the effectiveness of the strategy.

II. Setting Goals for a Forward-Looking External Communications Strategy

A. The Challenge (paragraphs 6-10) the Fund faces is long-standing and deep-rooted. Although the Fund is now seen as less secretive, its public image continues to be slightly less favorable than the World Bank’s, and both trail the United Nations in polls of elites and of the general public. The Fund’s media visibility varies but is near peak levels, especially in non-English language media. The Fund should seize this opportunity to build on its greater transparency through a continuous, well-coordinated communications effort aimed at improving understanding of and support for the Fund and its activities.

B. The Goal (paragraph 11) is increasing understanding of and support for the Fund’s work, especially in its core functions. Two-way communication with nonofficials is increasingly important, as the Fund continues to engage in self-assessment and reform, and seeks to learn from its interlocutors.

III. Increasing the Effectiveness of the Fund’s External Communications Strategy

A. Focusing and Coordinating the Fund’s Communications (paragraphs 13-19). The Fund should focus upon a few key issues and messages at a time, using internal communications to help staff keep up-to-date on the themes. Training for staff who interact with the media is also important. Op-eds and public speeches should be coordinated through the External Relations Department (EXR) to support the main themes.

B. Improving the Availability and Accessibility of Fund Information and Messages

1. Availability (paragraphs 20-24). Major advances have been made in publishing policy and country papers and summaries of Board papers under the transparency policy, and also in publishing data on the Fund’s finances, its staffs research, and economic statistics. Two areas where more could be done are: (a) coordinating the release of country-related material to the media; and (b) increasing posting by authorities of translations of their policy intention documents on their official websites (to which the Fund could then link).

2. Accessibility—Making Fund Material More Available and User-Friendly (paragraphs 25-32). Clear summaries and supplementary explanatory material should be provided for Fund documents and papers destined for publication, and briefings, interviews, and public speeches should be used more systematically to emphasize main messages. Distribution of pamphlets and other explanatory material on key issues, which are already available in several languages, should be increased, especially in developing countries.

C. Engaging Proactively in Outreach and Dialogue

1. Communicating with Legislatures, the Private Sector, and Civil Society Organizations (paragraphs 33-50). The Fund engages in outreach and dialogue to listen and learn as well as to inform and persuade. The Fund takes into account the views of its critics as well as supporters in revising and improving Fund policies, practices, and advice. Given limited resources, outreach and dialogue with nonofficials must be selective. The Fund has increased contacts with legislators but more sustained and systematic interaction could be beneficial. Fund staff often meet with the private sector at the country level and maintain informal contacts with market participants globally. The Fund’s outreach and dialogue with civil society organizations (CSOs) has also increased and is wide-ranging: a current priority is to compile best practices and guidelines for Fund staff outreach to CSOs. Fund missions have fairly frequent and useful contact with national labor unions, and the Fund has a constructive dialogue with the international labor movement. Dialogue with NGOs has been rather frequent at the international level and at Fund headquarters but more could be done on outreach to NGOs in developing countries that play important roles in the PRSP process and in contributing to consensus on economic policies.

2. Responding Rapidly to News and Views (paragraphs 51-52). The Fund now responds quickly and forcefully to unbalanced or inaccurate stories and to its critics through letters to the editor, op-ed articles, media interviews, and public speeches. Sustained effort to correct false or misleading information is often required, as in the case of recent charges against the Fund on Malawi (Box 1).

D. Broadening the Reach of the Fund’s Communications

1. Expanding Material on the Fund’s External Website and in Print (paragraphs 53-57). The Fund’s external website is deliberately designed for easy access by users in developing countries and elsewhere who have relatively slow connections. The costs of adding more webcasts, online discussion sessions, and other features need to be weighed against benefits and demand, which has been limited compared with the interest in expanding textual information. Extranets offer opportunities for selective (password-protected) communication, and an extranet for journalists is planned for 2003. The distribution of print publications could be increased, including through expansion of the Fund’s depository library program, which aims to include 400 locations by 2005.

2. Increasing In-Country and Regional Communications (paragraphs 58-61). Area departments and EXR have been collaborating on regional external communications strategies and activities, especially in conjunction with missions, regional offices, and resident representatives. During 2003 three regions warrant particular focus within the Fund’s external communications strategy: (a) Africa, owing to the large number of PRGF/HIPC countries; (b) Latin America, where special economic challenges face several economies; and (c) the Middle East, with the Annual Meetings in Dubai in September.

3. Educating the General Public About the Fund (paragraphs 62-63). The Fund is responding in cost-effective ways to growing demand from the general public, students, and educators for basic information and material, especially for classroom use. The IMF Center has developed and posted educational material in several languages on its website.

IV. Summary

(paragraph 64). The Fund’s external communications work has evolved rapidly and made progress in a number of areas, but there is still much room for improvement.

Annex I. Report of the Publications Policy Task Force. The report reviews the Fund’s current publications policies and practices and provides comparisons with those of other international organizations, especially with respect to publications in languages other than English. The Fund, like the World Bank but in contrast to many international organizations, does not have a formal mandate to publish in languages other than English. Publishing decisions in most international organizations (and in the Fund), where they have discretion and are not mandated to publish, are made on the basis of judgments by management and staff of perceived utility, demand, and cost factors. Most international organizations have found costs and low demand to be serious barriers to increasing their translations and publications in languages other than their official or working languages. Although there has been some increase in requests by Executive Directors and staff for non-English publications, both sales and requests for complimentary copies of the Fund’s existing non-English publications remain very low. Any significant expansion of the translation and publication in non-English languages of material by the Fund, on the website and/or in print, would entail large costs that could only be included within the Fund’s administrative budget targets by making corresponding cuts in expenditures in other areas.

I. Introduction

1. This paper updates information on the Fund’s external communications strategy and suggests issues for the Board’s third discussion of external relations in five years.1 The first Board discussion, in July 1998, called for a more proactive external communications approach to help preserve and enhance the credibility of the Fund. Directors noted that a strengthened communications effort “would entail providing more information to diverse target audiences, extending the reach of our communications, and engaging critics more effectively.” Directors also observed that “external relations must be a genuine dialogue, and the Fund should be open to suggestions and criticisms by informed parties outside the Fund, and take into account such feedback in our policy discussions” (Buff 98/65, July 16, 1998; see also: “The Fund’s Approach to External Communications—Next Steps,” SM/98/153, June 22, 1998).

2. A second Board discussion, in February 2000, considered plans to strengthen the Fund’s external communications and the implications for staff resource requirements in the medium-term (see “Strengthening the Fund’s External Communications: Plans and Resource Implications” SM/00/14, January 27, 2000, and Buff/00/20, the Acting Chairman’s Concluding Remarks on the Executive Board meeting held February 4, 2002). The staff paper prepared for the discussion included summaries of findings and recommendations by outside consultants submitted to EXR during 1999.2 The principal report, by Edelman Public Relations, drew upon a global survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide and recommended that the Fund develop a communications strategy comprising a clearer message, sharper focus and improved coordination of the Fund’s public output, and more proactive external communications, including efforts to draw attention to the successes of the Fund’s work and to respond more effectively to critics. The consultants’ reports recommended, in particular, that the Fund increase its outreach to and dialogue with national legislatures and influential civil society organizations (CSOs), including the private financial sector, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the media.

3. Directors “generally agreed with the consultants’ findings that the Fund’s external communications problems can be addressed through broader, deeper, and more proactive efforts.” They welcomed many of the initiatives proposed in the staff report: “In particular, there was agreement on the immense public communications value of the Fund’s external website, and on the need to increase the output of material for the print media and the public explaining and defending the Fund’s work, and to sharpen ‘the voice of the Fund.’“ Directors “referred to the need for greater outreach to civil society in conjunction with the national authorities concerned, a strengthening of the Fund’s publications program, engagement of member countries’ legislatures in coordination with the Executive Board, and improvement of relations with the private financial sector.” Directors also “underscored that the Fund’s efforts should have as broad-based and wide-ranging an outreach as possible, especially in view of its near universal membership.” Directors agreed to an increase in staff positions for EXR in FY 2001 in order to “strengthen Fund communications, and in particular the various measures proposed by EXR.”3

4. Other Board discussions and decisions have also significantly affected the direction and scope of the Fund’s external communications strategy and related activities.

  • Transparency policy. External web posting and print distribution of staff country reports and many other Board documents under the transparency policy decision of January 2001 have greatly increased public information about the Fund and its activities.4 They have also naturally gone a long way to repair the Fund’s former reputation of being an inordinately secretive organization. While the transparency policy has made a crucial contribution to improving the Fund’s external communications, it has also increased work in many Fund departments, not only to implement the transparency policy itself but also to explain Fund decisions and policies and respond to related inquiries from the press and public. The material being released under the transparency policy has become so voluminous that the Fund’s core messages may not be conveyed clearly unless they are deliberately highlighted, and unless the material is effectively summarized and explained.

  • Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs)/Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). In the latest PRSP review, Directors noted that the PRSP participatory process, which is designed and implemented country-by-country by the authorities concerned, needs to be strengthened by encouraging and broadening the systematic participation of stakeholders and partners in developing and monitoring PRSPs: specifically—besides government leaders and officials—parliaments, the business community, trade unions, and groups representing the poor.5 Directors observed that there is also scope for more openness and transparency in decisionmaking and in the dialogue among government, stakeholders, and their partners. The policy of encouraging and facilitating wide consultation in PRGF countries as part of the PRSP process, together with the Fund’s increased emphasis on national ownership of Fund-supported programs, has stimulated requests for in country briefings by Fund staff and for translation and publication of Fund materials in local languages and in formats accessible to a wide range of users.6

  • Other recent decisions and discussions that have involved and affected the Fund’s external communications include: (1) the review of Fund conditionality and adoption of new conditionality guidelines, which involved numerous outreach efforts and external consultations; (2) the establishment and operations of the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO); (3) the Fund’s work on standards and codes, especially the effort to disseminate related material widely throughout the Fund’s membership; (4) the 2002 biennial review of surveillance; and (5) the ongoing work on reform of the international financial system, notably the wide-ranging dialogue on a Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism (SDRM) and on collective action clauses (CACs).

5. This paper represents a stocktaking rather than a fundamental reconsideration of the Fund’s approach to external communications. It examines the progress made in recent years and steps that might be taken, essentially with current resources, to increase the effectiveness of the strategy.

II. A Forward-Looking External Communications Strategy

A. The Challenge

6. The Fund continues to face a long-standing external communications challenge despite the increase in the Fund’s openness in recent years and its greater responsiveness to concerns and criticism. Perhaps less because of the wide dissemination of the views of critics than because of the particular mandate of the IMF to safeguard the macroeconomic and monetary foundations of economic growth—which may appear to many to have less beneficial impact than the work of some other international organizations—the Fund’s public image appears to remain similar to what it was in 1998 relative to those of the World Bank, United Nations (UN), and Red Cross/Crescent. A recent survey indicates that the Fund’s image with the general public remains slightly less favorable than the World Bank’s, and both institutions received significantly less favorable ratings than did the UN, which is consistent with earlier surveys.

  • 1998—a survey of 500 opinion leaders commissioned by the Fund in 1998 found higher levels of “confidence” in the World Bank than in the Fund and that the “job favorability” of the UN and World Bank were both higher than that of the Fund (4.4 versus 4.1 on a 7-point scale). The Red Cross/Crescent came out ahead in the poll of “job favorability” by a wide margin.

  • 2000—an Ipsos-Reid poll of 20,000 people in 39 countries rated the UN higher than the World Bank, the Fund, World Trade Organization (WTO), and multinational companies in terms of respondents’ “confidence” that the institution could help to ameliorate economic problems—the UN held the confidence of 45 percent of respondents; the World Bank and the Fund trailed considerably, at 35 and 32 percent respectively.

  • 2002—a Gallup International/Environics International poll of 36,000 people for the World Economic Forum found that respondents to a question about “trust in institutions to operate in society’s best interests” rated the UN higher than either the World Bank or the Fund. The Bank and Fund each had 41 percent of respondents expressing “little or no trust” although 43 percent expressed “a lot or some trust” in the Bank versus 39 percent for the Fund. The UN received 34 percent negative and 55 percent positive on the same question.

7. The Fund’s visibility in the media has been highly variable, depending partly on global economic circumstances, although in recent months—late 2002—the Fund appears to have received as much media attention as at the height of the Asian crisis, following a dip in media attention in 2000-01 (See Figure 1). There are important national and regional differences, however. Coverage of the Fund in U.S. and other English-language publications has remained well below the peaks of 1997-99, which means that the recent rise in coverage has been almost entirely in non-U.S. publications and in languages other than English. During periods of low media interest in the Fund, as in the U.S. media recently, the need for defensive communication may be less but the challenge of communicating positively about the Fund’s work remains. Indeed it may become greater as high visibility generally makes it easier for the Fund to deliver its messages and deepen its external communications work. The current period may offer an opportunity to intensify implementation of the Fund’s external communications strategy, especially through non-English media in developing countries.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

References to the IMF in the Press (Publications), 1992-2002

Citation: Policy Papers 2003, 006; 10.5089/9781498329811.007.A001

Source: Factiva.com database.1/ Excludes republished news, market data, and calendars.2/ Search conducted in AP, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. The New York Times was available in the database since 1996.3/ The Financial Times and The New York Times were available in the database since 1995 and 1996 respectively.

ANNEX I

8. The Fund’s transparency policy has largely overcome past perceptions that the Fund was “secretive” about its surveillance and policy advice, including in the context of Fund-supported programs. The Fund is now much less often referred to in the media as secretive than it was just a few years ago (See Figure 2). The transparency policy, together with other elements of increased openness, has also benefited the Fund by making it more receptive and accountable to outside views and analysis. Although further advances in Fund openness may well occur—for example, given the potential for increases in the number of countries agreeing to the release of their respective staff reports—there are limits to how fully the Fund can satisfy calls for additional transparency. Some information must be kept confidential for a period because it is market-sensitive or to allow the authorities time to prepare appropriate responses. Moreover, greater transparency should not come at the expense of candor in the Fund’s dialogue with members.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

References to the IMF and the Word “Secretive” in English-Language Publications 1992-2002

(proximity of five words)

Citation: Policy Papers 2003, 006; 10.5089/9781498329811.007.A001

Source: Factiva database

9. Building on transparency to achieve effective—well understood and persuasive—communication is a major part of the current challenge for the Fund. The large volume and technical complexity of the material now made publicly available under the transparency policy risks obscuring key messages. Transparency increases the importance to the Fund of implementing a communications strategy that ensures that the material the Fund publishes presents, among other things, prominent, clear, coherent, and persuasive messages that promote understanding of, and support for, the Fund, its work, and its policies.

10. Finally, while the Fund’s public image is important because it affects how receptive people are to the Fund’s messages and information, and because the credibility of the Fund’s policies helps to determine their success, expectations should be realistic regarding the extent to which the Fund’s image can be improved relative to other international organizations. As Directors have often pointed out, much of the Fund’s work is inherently controversial, not least because of the conditional nature of its financial support to countries with balance of payments problems and, in most cases, deteriorating economic and social conditions. Indeed, the Fund tends to be most visible during the negotiation of programs, which often occur in difficult circumstances. Countries must adopt credible economic policies aimed at the achievement of external viability as a condition for borrowing from the Fund, and those policies are sometimes perceived as an arbitrary imposition rather than a necessary adjustment made easier by the Fund’s support. And there continue to be cases in which governments unwilling to take responsibility for pursuing the necessary policies use the Fund as a scapegoat. Directors at the Board’s meeting in 2000 on external communications “recognized that the Fund’s mandate inevitably places limits on its popularity.” The fact that the Fund’s external communications challenge is deep-rooted in this way implies (1) that only a continuous, concentrated effort to improve understanding of and support for the Fund can succeed; (2) that improving understanding of the Fund’s work, respect for its competence, and the credibility of its policies may be more realistic and important objectives than increasing the Fund’s popularity; and (3) that success may well be incremental and modest, especially relative to international organizations providing humanitarian aid and financial assistance with little or no conditionality.

B. The Goal

11. As a center of competence for the stability of the international financial system, the Fund has an obligation to disseminate its data, research, and analysis. But the goal of the Fund’s external communications strategy is, of course, broader: it is to increase understanding of and support for the Fund’s work in each of its core functions: (1) conducting surveillance of member countries’ economic policies at the country, regional, and global levels, as well as of the international monetary system; (2) providing financial resources to support members’ efforts to resolve balance of payments problems through adjustment and reform; (3) delivering capacity-building services (training and technical assistance) to member countries; (4) setting standards and providing standardized information; and (5) research and policy development. To be effective the Fund’s external communications must: (1) go beyond transparency to establish effective two-way communication with its interlocutors; (2) adjust its outreach to the peaks and valleys of public attention; and (3) use the limited resources it can afford for external communications efficiently in order to increase awareness and understanding throughout the membership of the Fund’s mission, functions, policies, and performance. Two-way communication is especially important as the Fund continues to engage in self-assessment and reform; the Fund in recent years has been giving more attention to listening and learning by eliciting, considering, and responding to public comments and views on its policies and practices. This paper summarizes the Fund’s current external communications activities and output and suggests for discussion steps that might be taken by Fund management, Executive Directors, Governors, the External Relations Department (EXR), and other Fund staff to raise further the effectiveness of the external communications strategy. This paper assumes that nearly all the steps mentioned can be accomplished through departments and offices reprioritizing their activities within existing staffing levels and budgets. If there are any steps that cannot be accommodated in this way, departments and offices would need to raise them for consideration in the administrative budget process.

III. Increasing the Effectiveness of the Fund’s External Communications Strategy

12. Many of the ingredients of a more effective external communications strategy directed toward the above goal were already identified in earlier Board discussions as the need to (1) coordinate more effectively the Fund’s external communications and focus on a few main messages; (2) improve message delivery through the prompt dissemination of information while remaining consistent with the Fund’s mandate, and explain more clearly and simply what the Fund is doing and why; (3) engage proactively in dialogue with legislatures, the private financial sector, CSOs, and prominent critics; and (4) broaden the reach of the Fund’s communications to better encompass, directly or indirectly, in cost-effective ways, not only key organizations and groups but the general public in all member countries. This section considers these ingredients in turn.

A. Focusing and Coordinating the Fund’s Communications

13. One of the central recommendations of the 1999 Edelman report was that the Fund needed sharper focus and better coordination of its messages to achieve more positive results in the media and with other groups. The consultants recommended that the Fund’s external communications be more carefully planned and coordinated with priority to developing and delivering the right messages at the right time, in the right way, and to targeted audiences.

14. The first requirement is to select, and maintain focus on, one or a few key messages at a time instead of trying to address too many issues at the same time. The process of deciding on the near-term focus of the external communications strategy includes periodic discussions with management by the Director of the External Relations Department and other department heads, drawing upon the guidance provided by Governors through the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) and the priorities agreed by the Executive Board in the context of the work program. It is a task of Management to take the lead in highlighting the chosen messages through coordinated preparation and delivery of public speeches and media interviews, but Executive Directors might also do more in this regard, especially on points that they have supported strongly within the Board or that have been agreed at FMFC meetings. EXR’s role has been to advise management on appropriate messages and communications opportunities and to assist in planning and drafting management speeches and talking points. EXR is also charged by management to (1) ensure that the staff at large knows what the central messages and focus currently are; (2) provide staff with advice, training, and supportive material, which may include draft speeches, op-ed articles, Issues Briefs, pamphlets, and other items; and (3) arrange suitable opportunities for message delivery by senior staff as well as management, and in some cases by Executive Directors.

15. Effective internal communication about the Fund’s key policy issues and messages is needed to foster effective external communication.7 In addition to drafting material for publication or public use, EXR is responsible for reviewing draft speeches and articles prepared by staff in other departments, and often makes suggestions for modifications to put forward the Fund’s main messages more effectively. A more proactive approach, however, has been developed in recent years to convey continuously to staff the information they need in order to speak and write effectively about the Fund’s main themes. This is done by posting items on the Fund’s Intranet where staff, including staff overseas who give public presentations or speak with journalists, can readily turn when they need such information. (The Intranet is also accessible by Executive Directors and their offices.) EXR began posting in June 2001 Current Account, an electronic newsletter for staff covering key Fund policy developments; this now usually appears on a weekly basis. One of Current Accounts purposes is to help staff prepare to be ambassadors for the Fund, and to this end EXR hopes in 2003 to increase the newsletter’s coverage of Fund events and management activities. Also relevant for Fund staff who have contact with journalists is Headline Issues, which, also via the Intranet, presents questions about IMF policies and country operations raised by journalists and others, together with edited excerpts of the public responses and statements of IMF officials. The Intranet also carries the most recent media “briefing books” prepared for the Managing Director as well as background material used for other public appearances. For more general presentations, EXR can provide generic texts and slide presentations for staff, although they will generally need to be tailored for presentations to particular audiences.

16. Management, staff, and Executive Directors need to be well prepared for media interviews and press conferences. EXR staff is available to advise staff and Executive Directors on their interactions with the media; and there is a set of “Media Guidelines” prepared for staff that includes a special section for resident representatives. EXR has also worked with other departments and external consultants to develop a training course for staff on how to communicate effectively with journalists. This training, which has been positively received, is now mandatory for new mission chiefs and resident representatives. (According to a recent survey, a majority of resident representatives and mission chiefs have been quoted in the press in the past year: see Annex II). Executive Directors, and their alternates and advisors, might consider taking the course, or a version thereof.

17. “Op-eds” (articles that appears opposite a newspaper’s editorials) form a key vehicle for proactive and focused message delivery and for the explanation of Fund policies, to wide audiences, and have been used with increasing frequency. EXR proposes, drafts or edits, and helps to place op-eds on core Fund issues as well as more specialized topics. Op-eds signed by management, staff, and, on a few occasions, Executive Directors have appeared in newspapers worldwide in many languages (See Table 1). Op-eds are most frequently published around the Spring and Annual Meetings, but experience shows that there is considerable interest year-round in Fund-authored articles in newspapers and other periodicals, as long as they are clearly and engagingly written and focus on topics of interest to the relevant readership.

Table 1.

Published Op-Eds and Letters to Editor, 2001-2002

article image
Source: Estimates generated by or in consultation with EXR’s Policy Communication Division. Resident Representatives and other staff have placed additional material directly with press in their country of assignment, though inconsistent reporting practices prevent a full tabulation.
1/

Because the practices of major newspaper syndicates do not permit the systematic tracking of secondary publication of op-eds and letters, these estimates are probably on the low side.

18. Looking forward, the challenge will be to identify and take advantage of more opportunities for publication of op-eds, which will require more authorship from area and functional departments, in particular, as well as management. Particular attention might be paid to the considerable untapped potential for communicating policy messages related to Fund advice and operations in individual countries. More mission chiefs and resident representatives might actively seek opportunities to place op-eds at important junctures—for instance, after the conclusion of an Article IV consultation or approval of a Fund arrangement. A number of country teams have already been quite successful in this regard— for example in Bulgaria and Korea, where Fund staff in collaboration with EXR have frequently contributed pieces to the media, which have responded in turn by inviting additional submissions. Fund staff has also contributed regularly to the media in Japan via press seminars, interviews, and articles. Executive Directors could also author more op-eds, especially to explain the Fund’s role and policies in countries within their constituencies.

19. Matching Fund speakers with appropriate speaking opportunities also contributes to well-coordinated external communications. The demand for the Managing Director and other senior officials to speak at unofficial events far exceeds their availability (38 speeches by Management were published in 2002). EXR provides advice on speaking invitations and matches opportunities with suitable speakers from the senior staff and, when appropriate, Executive Directors’ offices. EXR, in cooperation with other departments, maintains a list of public speakers on the senior staff of the Fund (a “Speakers’ Bureau”) who can address specialized or general topics when needed. EXR organized 123 briefings in 2002 for audiences totaling more than 4,000 people. About one-half of these briefings were done by staff from other departments. Additionally, EXR reviewed 140 drafts of presentations for delivery outside the Fund by non-EXR staff.

B. Improving the Availability and Accessibility of Fund Information and Messages

Availability

20. The Fund’s transparency policy has led to the release of a vastly increased volume of policy and country papers and summaries of Board discussions, with the Fund’s external website (www.imf.org) being the primary vehicle for dissemination. (This is apart from historical material provided by the Archives and Records Section of the Technology and General Services Department (TGS).) As reported to the Board and the IMFC in September 2002, over 60 percent of staff reports for Article IV consultations and over half of stand-alone reports on the use of Fund resources have recently been published.8 Nearly three-fourths of all completed Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSCs) modules have been published. Nearly all members have been giving consent to the publication of their policy intentions documents (letters of intent and memoranda of economic policies) when requesting Fund financial assistance, and Public Information Notices (PFNs) have recently been published following over 80 percent of Article IV Board discussions. Most papers on general policy issues discussed by the Executive Board are published, and the Board recently adopted the principle of “presumed publication” of policy papers and the associated PINs. All Board documents authorized to be released are posted on the Fund’s external website, and print copies of country papers can also be ordered from EXR’s Publication Services Section for a nominal charge (intended to cover printing and shipping costs). Most other Board documents become accessible under the Fund’s archives policy after five, ten, or twenty years, depending upon the type and classification of the document.

21. Comprehensive information on the Fund’s finances is now published on the external website. The “IMF Finances” section includes extensive data on members’ financial positions with the Fund, quarterly Fund financial statements, monthly data on financial resources and liquidity, and weekly data on financial transactions, all of which are kept up to date by the Treasurer’s Department. In addition, the public can access important policy papers on financial matters, such as the quota reviews and safeguards assessments, as well as background papers on the Fund’s financial structure and operations, written in accessible language. Outside observers have acknowledged that the IMF is now the leader among international institutions in financial transparency.

22. Fund research is being published in growing quantities not only by the Fund itself, but also by academic journals and commercial publishers.9 The World Economic Outlook (WEO), the Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR), and IMF Staff Papers (IMFSP) are among the main Fund publications based on staff research. The Working Paper series (WPs) provides a ready outlet for quick dissemination of the latest staff research via the external website and in print (copies may be ordered for a charge intended to cover average printing and postage costs). Policy Discussion Papers (PDPs), reviewed by the Fund’s Working Group on Research, do the same for short papers on policy issues.10 The quarterly IMF Research Bulletin, authored in the Research Department (RES) and made available in print and on the external website, highlights selected Fund analytical output. Finance & Development and the IMF Survey (both available on www.imf.org) showcase Fund research, and the Economic Counsellor and Director of the Research Department now contributes a column (“Straight Talk”) to Finance & Development. Manuscripts addressing particular topics may be published by the Fund as books or in the Occasional Papers series.

23. Publication by the Fund of statistical data in various formats, and providing links to data posted by authorities on their websites, is another important dimension of transparency. The Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board maintained by the Statistics Department (STA) is key to the sharing of statistical standards and data globally.11 The Fund’s main statistical data series (Balance of Payments Statistics (BOPS), Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS), Government Finance Statistics (GFS), and International Financial Statistics (IFS)), currently available by subscription in print versions and on CD-ROM, will also be made available on the Internet, as information technology (IT) projects are completed that are either already underway or planned in the Fund’s IT budget.12 International Financial Statistics (IFS) has recently been made available online for subscription at www.imfstatistics.org with a differentiated price structure designed to facilitate access by users in developing countries and academic institutions while, at the high end, market-based rates are charged to commercial users in industrial countries. (The practice of charging fees for access to major online databases is followed by most international organizations, including the World Bank, UN, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

24. The Fund’s increased transparency has been widely appreciated by the public, winning praise even from frequent critics. More could be done to increase the reach of the Fund’s current transparency, however.13 Two areas in which some Executive Directors have contributed are (1) arranging activities in their countries coordinated with the Fund’s release of country-related material so as to encourage greater media attention; and (2) encouraging their authorities to post on their official websites policy intention documents related to Fund-supported programs in domestic non-English languages, to which the Fund’s external website can provide links. More could be done in both cases. Coordinating and supporting the release of country material to promote media coverage requires early discussion in each case between EXR and the office of the Executive Director concerned. The Media Relations Division could provide journalists with advance access to the material under embargo for a short period; indeed, EXR is planning to establish an “extranet” for journalists that would facilitate such embargoed releases. The Executive Director or national authorities could arrange a media statement, interview, or press conference in conjunction with the release of the material by the Fund. The opportunity to facilitate public access to local language versions by establishing links from www.imf.org to non-English country policy intention documents on authorities’ websites was announced by the Director of EXR in a memorandum to Executive Directors on March 19, 2002. Each link will include a standard disclaimer to indicate that the Fund has not verified the accuracy of the non-English language texts.14

Accessibility—Making Fund Material More Available and User-Friendly

25. Merely releasing documents and data will not necessarily help to improve the public’s understanding of the Fund’s work, which is the key to the communications strategy. Most of the Fund’s output is prepared for the officials of member countries or for internal deliberation, often in specialist language, and the scale of the output adds to the difficulty that outsiders can face in trying to absorb it or draw the essence from it. Much of it needs to be summarized and explained for outside audiences. As the Fund’s transparency policy has prompted the release of more documents and data, this need for explanation has become larger and more urgent. Even journalists who specialize in monitoring the Fund say that the Fund’s policy advice and program conditions are often difficult to understand and, consequently, not reported as accurately or as widely as they might be. Users of Fund documents on the external website often ask the Fund to provide explanatory material in more accessible language, using less jargon, and giving background and context. Users of statistical data are requesting more “help desk” support than in the past, especially when using CD-ROMs and on-line versions.

26. The problem with documents could be addressed by employing more writers and editors to ‘translate’ official papers into publications in accessible language. But it is less costly and more practical to address the problem largely at the source, by recognizing that many documents are not as well-organized or well-written as they should be. EXR and other departments (principally the Human Resources Department (HRD) and the Secretary’s Department (SEC)) have been working with the main authoring departments to help staff write more clearly and develop self-editing skills. Staff have appreciated “The Guide to Clear Writing” produced by EXR and distributed Fund-wide in hard copy and placed on the Intranet. EXR and other departments are also considering adoption of a software package that will help Fund authors review and edit their own work and avoid some of the more common pitfalls in writing. The Fund’s online Redbook, spell check, and grammar check, as well as formal training offered through HRD in writing and editing skills, are all also intended to help to improve writing in the Fund.

27. Editing documents before presentation to the Board is a critical second step in rendering them suitable for later public distribution. Authoring departments are responsible for editing papers to be submitted to the Board. EXR does not have sufficient staff resources to edit such papers during the interdepartmental review process, with a few notable exceptions. The WEO and the GFSR, for example, are edited prior to the Board discussions in order for them to be printed and placed on the external website promptly afterward.

28. EXR has begun to work more closely with authoring departments to strengthen intradepartmental editing of material destined for publication. EXR and STA have collaborated on a common format and editing guidelines for STA manuals and guides. EXR and RES have together revised the guidelines for authors of IMFSP articles and streamlined the editing and production process. EXR and other departments have also made use of the Temporary Assignment Program (TAPs) to strengthen departmental editing.

29. The third stage—preparing clear summaries and other supplementary explanatory material for released documents—is also challenging, especially where Board decisions are concerned. Many decisions, Summings Up, and consequently sections of PINs, are complex, and written in legal language, with intricacies that can be difficult to explain to outside audiences seeking to understand what the Board is saying. Legal and technical expressions should be reduced to a minimum in statements intended for publication, and consideration might be given to the routine “translation” of legal language in decisions, etc., into language that could be more readily understood, without having to read between the lines. A degree or two of precision might be sacrificed in the interest of clarity, brevity, and the more effective delivery of messages to the press and general audiences. Fund management, staff, and Executive Directors should all be diligent in working to clarify and simplify documents—here executive summaries tailored more for public audiences would be helpful—Summings Up, and PINs.15 EXR will continue its efforts to make language clearer in the Fund’s press releases. (To eliminate confusion among journalists and the public arising from the variety of types of news releases published by the Fund, EXR at the beginning of 2003 discontinued the “News Briefs” series and special news releases, and consolidated all media releases into a single series, “Press Releases,” a name previously reserved for releases referring to Board decisions.)

30. The fourth stage—presenting and explaining Board actions and policy deliberations to the public through the media and the Fund’s external website— involves Fund management, and senior staff in EXR and other departments, as well as Executive Directors and, in some cases, Fund Governors.16 The Managing Director speaks for the Fund in his dual capacity as Chairman of the Executive Board and head of Fund staff but the time he can devote to speaking to the press and public is limited. The Deputy Managing Directors also use public speeches, press briefings, and interviews, plus occasional op-ed articles, to help deliver the Fund’s messages. The Director of EXR, as the chief media spokesperson, holds regular, usually biweekly, press briefings to help guide media coverage and interpretation of Fund actions and policies. The Director of EXR and other senior Fund staff, including those stationed in regional offices, also provide ad hoc media briefings and interviews, in line with a media strategy approved by management, when direct comment by management is not considered appropriate or necessary. Staff brief media at the conclusion of some Article IV consultations or missions, and this practice could be expanded. Executive Directors have also participated in press briefings and interviews, and authored op-ed articles and letters to the editor on various issues. There is scope for Executive Directors to take a more active role in explaining the work of the Board, and EXR is prepared to help them do so.

31. The fifth stage is preparing and disseminating information that explains and defends persuasively the work done by the Fund. EXR and other departments have increased their output of information products providing user-friendly explanations, but more is needed. The increased emphasis on such products responds, in part, to Directors’ comments supporting a recommendation in the Edelman report that the Fund shift its publishing efforts somewhat toward educational material from technical publications. EXR and other departments have prepared a large quantity of expository material in recent years for the print and electronic publications program, the video program, and as handouts for seminars and briefings including:

  • Pamphlets, such as “Fiscal Dimensions of Sustainable Development” prepared by the Fiscal Affairs Department (FAD) for the Johannesburg Summit, “A New Approach to Sovereign Debt Restructuring” by Ms. Krueger, and “Governance of the IMF” by the Fund’s former Secretary (a pamphlet on Fund conditionality, prepared by the Policy Development and Review Department (PDR) is in process);

  • the Economic Issues series—summaries of WPs and other Fund research on topical issues:

  • Issues Briefs—short discussions of key policy issues of interest for the Fund and its critics;

  • Factsheets—one-or two-page summaries of specific Fund policies and activities on which EXR receives frequent inquiries.

  • Videos on selected Fund issues have been prepared and distributed through educational and commercial television networks in a host of countries and through sales to educational institutions.

  • The IMF Survey and Finance & Development make a special effort to include articles and interviews that discuss key economic issues in layman’s language. Finance & Development introduced a new feature (“Picture This”) in 2002 that summarizes a key development message through charts and an artistic layout.

  • The IMF Center has developed and distributed on the Fund’s external website and in hard copy basic educational modules about the Fund in several languages. The material is designed for use in primary and secondary schools.

32. Accessibility also depends on effective distribution of communications products. Unfortunately, distribution not only through the Internet, but also of the print versions of explanatory material, including non-English versions, has been limited, especially in developing countries. Fund resident representatives, regional offices, and Executive Directors could assist EXR by identifying ways and opportunities to distribute such material. Resident representatives should also consider having short explanatory material prepared in local languages (languages that are not among those for which the Fund normally provides translations) and printed locally in low-cost formats in order to deliver information more widely and efficiently to priority audiences in their countries.17 To increase electronic distribution, resident representatives who have not so far used the Fund’s external website to distribute information are being encouraged to take up EXR’s offer to help create Resident Representative website segments on the Fund’s external website.

C. Engaging Proactively in Outreach and Dialogue

Communicating with Legislatures, the Private Sector, and Civil Society Organizations

33. The purposes of the Fund’s engagement in outreach and dialogue beyond official circles include listening and learning as well as informing and persuading interlocutors on Fund-related matters. Inviting comments from the public on Fund policy proposals via the external website and in specially-convened meetings and conferences has become routine—some major recent examples include the PRSP and PRGF reviews, the development of the HIPC (debt reduction) policy, the review of Fund conditionality, the establishment and work program of the IEO, and the proposal for an SDRM. The Fund now, more actively than in the past, seeks to take into account the views of its critics as well as supporters in revising and improving Fund policies, practices and advice, especially in low-income countries through the PRSP process.18

34. Given its limited resources, the Fund, like other international organizations, has to be selective in expanding its outreach and dialogue with nonofficials, and may also need to strike a balance between outreach and improving its communications with the authorities of member countries. The Executive Board’s discussion of external communications in 1998 and 2000 indicated that Directors generally agreed that the Fund’s strengthened external communications effort should include more proactive engagement with national legislatures and important groups and organizations in the private sector and civil society. At the same time, however, Directors recognized the impossibility of the Fund’s carrying out face-to-face or even indirect communications and dialogue with more than a small fraction of groups and prominent persons who might welcome such interaction. Accordingly, Directors advised the Fund’s management and staff to be proactive but selective in initiating dialogue as well as in responding publicly to its critics. In fact, in some cases, enhancing the dialogue with governments beyond the Fund’s main counterparts (ministries of finance and central banks) to ministries responsible for social and sectoral policies and the judicial system, for example, may have higher priority than increasing the Fund’s interaction with the private sector and civil society. Moreover, the Fund might encourage some authorities to increase their own outreach and dialogue activities, and not only in PRSP countries where the authorities’ consultation mechanisms with all stakeholders are an important element of the process.

Legislatures

35. A common theme emerging from the 2002 biennial surveillance review and conditionality review was the need for the Fund to develop a dialogue with legislative bodies in member countries to promote better understanding of the Fund and the policies it supports. In PRSP countries, in particular, as legislative input in monitoring and implementing poverty reduction strategies has become more critical, the need for communication between the Fund and legislatures has grown.

36. The Fund has begun to increase its outreach to parliamentarians. In April 2000, Fund staff, working with the Zambian authorities, organized a seminar for parliamentarians, alongside one with civil society organizations, in Lusaka. In April 2002, Fund staff, together with the Kenyan authorities, organized a workshop for Kenyan parliamentarians. At both events, economic policy issues were actively debated and discussed. The Fund is also working jointly with the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank (an informal group of parliamentarians from both industrial and developing countries who are interested in development issues), including participating in visits by parliamentarians to PRSP countries. The Fund also provides training opportunities for legislators through its regional institutes; for example, over the past two years, six seminars on macroeconomic policy and structural reform issues were offered at the Joint Vienna Institute for parliamentarians from transition countries. In addition, management and staff have often met at Fund headquarters with visiting groups of legislators. The Managing Director has also spoken in capitals to members of national parliaments—for example, in 2001, the Deutsche Bundestag, and in 2002, the Treasury Select Committee of the UK House of Commons,19 members of the Dutch parliament, and the Chilean Senate. He also met with EU parliamentary committees of the European Union (EU) in Brussels in 2000. The Fund, in consideration of the role of the United States as host country and largest shareholder, has been highly responsive in communications with the U.S. Congress, in collaboration with the U.S. Executive Director.

37. Looking ahead, more sustained and systematic interaction with legislators could, over time, bring important benefits by improving understanding of the Fund among members of society who are not only important because they represent public opinion, but who are also influential in the policymaking process and in the formation of public opinion. Such interactions must, of course, always be arranged with the concurrence of the relevant authorities and tailored to the circumstances of the individual country. Outreach to legislators who are closely involved in policymaking in areas such as budgets, civil service reform, and financial sector reform is likely to be particularly productive. Regional seminars and individual country seminars for parliamentarians could be organized in collaboration with country authorities, resources permitting. In addition, it would be desirable for country teams/resident representatives to maintain contacts with key legislators and parliamentary committees. In a recent survey, about one-half of country teams and a quarter of resident representatives report having no recent contact with legislators. Of the rest, an overwhelming majority of the cases where staff meet legislators more than once per year (one-half of resident representatives and a quarter of country teams) are transition countries (see Annex II). Executive Directors can also play an important role by briefing legislators within their constituencies, especially in program countries. In some countries, the executive branch provides a periodic report to the legislature on relations between the Fund and the country—a practice that could be replicated in other countries. 20

Private Sector

38. The Fund’s interactions with the private business and financial sector at the country level often include meetings by its mission teams and resident representatives with employer associations, private companies, banks, and other financial institutions. Data have not been collected on such meetings, but a recent survey of country outreach (Annex II) indicates that country teams meet with business and trade associations (some of which might qualify as civil society organizations rather than strictly private sector entities—see next section) an average of twice per year, while resident representatives, on average, meet with such groups once every two months. As might be expected, there is a great deal of variation across the membership, as some resident representatives speak to such groups almost weekly, while some have little or no such contact. Globally, the International Capital Markets Department (ICM) maintains an extensive informal network of communications with private financial market participants. At the management level, the semiannual meetings of the Capital Market Consultative Group (CMCG) provide opportunities for informal discussion of key topics of mutual interest. Other Fund departments maintain contacts with the private financial sector to exchange information. A systematic communication effort by the Fund with the private financial sector on the SDRM proposal is underway.

Civil Society Organizations

39. The definition of civil society organizations (CSOs) used in the Fund focuses on voluntary, not-for-profit organizations, including labor organizations, business associations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), and academic and policy research institutions (“think tanks”). Officialdom, legislatures, the media, and private enterprises are not included under this definition of civil society.21

40. The IMF has significantly increased outreach and dialogue with CSOs in recent years. IMF staff and management now meet often with CSOs both at headquarters and in member countries. In low-income countries, the PRSP process has firmly established CSOs as participants in formulating and implementing better policies to fight poverty. In many Article IV consultation missions, efforts are made to consult with broad elements of civil society on the economic situation. The terms of reference for IMF offices abroad and resident representatives often include maintaining contact and dialogue with CSOs. In practice the extent and forms of in-country communication vary greatly from country to country. This diversity was documented in a survey of the outreach activities toward CSOs of mission teams and resident representatives (see Annex II).22 Many resident representatives and even some country teams reported dozens of contacts with media and CSOs. In general, the Fund’s dialogue with CSOs appears well-established in PRSP countries and in the transition countries of eastern Europe and central Asia. In other regions, however, contacts and dialogue are less extensive.

41. The Fund’s dialogue with CSOs covers a wide range of issues, including macroeconomic policy and other related policies, structural adjustment and the poor; debt relief and poverty reduction; trade and capital account liberalization; globalization and the governance of the global economy (including discussions on new rules for the global financial system); promoting good governance; and fighting corruption. CSOs have been especially effective in shaping public opinion in many countries in support of more debt relief for low-income countries and in promoting discussion of how to achieve better globalization. It is becoming increasingly apparent that interaction with CSOs is taking on a country focus, reflecting, among other things, the participatory process associated with PRSPs, and the increased emphasis on national ownership of policies. A planned priority in the period ahead is to compile a set of best practices and guidelines for Fund staff outreach to CSOs that pays particular attention to the issues arising in interaction with civil society that influence the Fund’s operational work. Some of the considerations that will arise in this context are reviewed in Annex III.

42. Staff contact with national labor unions in the context of Article IV or program discussions has become much more common in recent years, although not a universal practice. According to a recent survey conducted by the Policy Development and Review Department (PDR), 69 percent of Fund missions had contacts with labor unions or other labor representatives at least once in the previous two years, for the purposes of hearing the views of labor unions and explaining and discussing the Fund’s policy advice. Nearly all Fund missions considered the discussions useful.

43. The Fund maintains a constructive dialogue with the international labor movement, represented mainly by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labor (WCL), through workshops, regional seminars, and leadership meetings held in Washington, D.C. jointly with the World Bank. The Fund and Bank have agreed with the ICFTU and WCL to hold such leadership meetings at intervals of 18 to 24 months (the most recent leadership meeting was held in October, 2002, and included 90 trade union representatives from 40 countries), with stafflevel meetings on particular issues to be interspersed between general leadership meetings. Fund staff preparations for such meetings have been led by EXR and PDR. This enhanced dialogue with the international trade union organizations is constructive without being excessively formalized.

44. Although the Fund does not have an NGO consultative group or grant permanent accreditation to NGOs as some international organizations do, it has increased its efforts at dialogue with NGOs engaged in research and policy advocacy on development, debt, environmental, and other related economic issues. The Fund’s practice is to respond positively, resources permitting, to all requests from NGOs interested in engaging in constructive dialogue but to concentrate upon communications with NGOs having a leadership role within the NGO community on issues directly related to the Fund’s work. During the Annual Meetings, for instance, NGOs are provided space and opportunities to discuss issues on the Meetings agenda with IMF and other officials, as well as to participate in the Program of Seminars. More than 160 NGO representatives were accredited at the September 2002 Annual Meetings.

45. At the international level, a number of major advocacy NGOs are in regular touch with Fund staff to discuss policies and programs. Numerous meetings on a variety of issues ranging from debt relief and PRSPs to transparency, governance, and the environment take place regularly in Washington and in Europe (about 310 meetings with NGOs and other civil society organizations were held at Fund headquarters in 2002). NGOs are also invited to participate actively in reviews of IMF policies—recent examples include their involvement in the conditionality, transparency, trade, and PRSP reviews—and are often invited to conferences organized around these reviews (EXR arranged NGO participation in the January 2002 PRSP conference, for example, and PDR arranged two roundtables on trade with NGOs/CSOs in Washington, two in Europe, and numerous individual meetings with NGO delegations at which the NGOs provided their views on Fund trade policy advice ahead of an internal review of this area). NGOs also always have the option of submitting views and comments via the Fund’s external website or through direct contact with NGO liaison staff in EXR.

46. The Fund is making a greater effort to increase its outreach to NGOs in developing countries (“Southern NGOs”) because of the important role they can play in the PRSP process and in contributing to consensus on economic policies, but also because even well-established Southern NGOs tend not to have good access to information about the Fund and economic policy analysis, and fewer resources for research than their Northern counterparts. To the extent that resources and other priorities allow, EXR organizes workshops and seminars for NGOs (especially in the South), often in collaboration with resident representatives and regional offices, to explain the Fund and the role it plays in the formulation of policies in program countries. Given their limited opportunities for face-to-face contact with Southern NGOs, EXR staff responsible for liaison with NGOs are in frequent contact with them by e-mail and telephone (the email address is “ngoliaison@imf.org“). EXR also prepares a quarterly newsletter to NGOs and other CSOs that is distributed by mail and e-mail to some 700-800 recipients around the world in English, French, Spanish, and Russian and published in all these languages except Russian on the Fund’s external website at http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/cs/eng/index.asp. The newsletter aims to keep CSOs up-to-date with developments at the Fund and to refer them to resources offered to them by the Fund. Resident Representatives are encouraged to distribute the letter to their CSO contacts, and those who have done so have received positive feedback.

47. The extent to which different faith-based organizations (FBOs), and religious leaders more generally, take an active part in advocacy of social and economic policies varies greatly. Some faiths take less interest in secular matters and do not seek dialogue with the Fund, but the Fund is at pains to avoid giving any appearance of favoring contact with one faith over another. The Christian organizations, both Catholic and Protestant, have been the most activist, and many Catholic and Protestant church leaders and lay persons have petitioned the Fund on various issues, but especially on debt relief and poverty reduction. The Jubilee 2000 movement was in large part a church-based movement, with clergy and congregations working together to build support for deeper debt reductions for low-income countries.

48. The Fund has had limited, sporadic communications and meetings with FBOs in the past, primarily with Christian organizations at their request at events held in Washington, D.C. and in Western Europe. These discussions have generally been cordial and constructive. There may be opportunities to expand the dialogue with FBOs somewhat. The World Council of Churches has shown renewed interest in dialogue with the Fund, and management has responded positively with suggestions for a combination of workshops and seminars designed to allow the two institutions to exchange information and views. Meetings and activities of the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the World Bank may also provide future opportunities to participate in dialogue with leaders of a range of faiths.23 Generally, there would seem to be considerable potential for FBOs to increase their support for good governance, increased aid and trade liberalization, as well as poverty reduction—all important parts of the Fund’s agenda as well.

49. Communication with academic researchers and policy research institutes (“think tanks”) around the world is mainly the responsibility of RES and the IMF Institute (INS) but supplemented significantly by the work of Fund offices and missions. European I Department, for example, reports that almost all missions maintain contacts with national academic and policy research communities, and the Offices in Europe and Asia have been active in communications with universities and research institutes, as well as in outreach to NGOs. Because of the prominence in recent years of public statements by some academics and policy researchers critical of the Fund, EXR has increased its collaboration with other Fund departments to initiate more Fund staff participation in policy seminars and discussions over the past two years, especially within the Washington, D.C. area but also elsewhere when resources permit. The purpose is to broaden and deepen the understanding among influential policy analysts of the Fund’s policies, as well as bringing outside views and expertise into the Fund. EXR initiated a series of pre-Spring/Annual Meetings briefings for university audiences in 2001 and a “Think Tank Briefing” at Fund headquarters in September 2002. Both feature presentations by senior staff on some of the key issues to be addressed at the Meetings. Greater participation by Fund management, senior staff, and Executive Directors would strengthen this outreach effort.

50. The Economic Forum series also serves to expand policy dialogue. EXR organizes 10 to 12 Economic Forums at IMF headquarters each year to promote informed discussion on issues confronting the Fund and the international community. These events, which have occasionally been covered by the local press and reported in the IMF Survey, bring together Fund senior staff, and occasionally Fund management and Executive Directors, with counterparts in the academic, think tank, and policymaking communities. Topics of recent Economic Forums have included the euro, IMF governance, direct foreign investment in China, social safety nets, capacity building, crisis early warning systems, and transparency. Transcripts and video replays of Economic Forums are made available on the external website.

Responding Rapidly to News and Views

51. In line with the Edelman Report’s recommendations, EXR has developed over the past few years a rapid-response approach to major news developments. Unbalanced or inaccurate stories can be damaging and are more difficult to counteract after they have been reported. Devising ways to ensure that the Fund’s side of the story is told, particularly when reporters do not initially approach Fund officials for comment, is a key element of EXR’s media relations work. This means responding quickly to the demands of reporters— and initiating contact in some cases before news reports appear—in order to ensure balanced coverage of Fund-related issues. After reports appear, misrepresentation of the Fund’s role or position often demands immediate response through direct feedback to reporters and/or letters to the editor. Because private sector and civil society organizations frequently serve as sources for journalists, rapid and direct responses to these are often needed as well.

52. The Fund has also been responding to its critics more promptly and forcefully, especially to incorrect statements, but selectively not reflexively. Letters to the editor, op-ed articles, media interviews, and public speeches have all been employed to set the record straight and debate influential critics. Responses to criticism appearing in the media must always be prompt, brief, and focused. Delayed and detailed rejoinders are less likely to be accepted by publishers and broadcasters, and less likely to be effective even if they are accepted. When false charges are aired about the Fund’s work in a member country, Executive Directors and Governors could be especially effective respondents, particularly in their national media. See Box 1 on the Fund’s rapid response to charges regarding its alleged role in the Malawian food shortage.

Rapid Reaction: The Case of Malawi

Reports appearing in May-June 2002 accused the IMF of having contributed to food shortages in Malawi. Government officials and others were quoted as saying that the Fund had “forced” or “pressured” Malawi to sell off its grain reserves—in some cases supposedly to repay debts. The charges were reported by some mainstream news outlets in the U.S. and the UK, and in many cases these organizations did not seek the Fund’s side of the story before publishing. Fortunately, some news organizations did seek the full story, and where the Fund was able to provide the facts, the accusations about the Fund’s alleged role received little or no mention. However, the recirculation of the initial reports has required rapid response on a continuing basis, even following publication of a Malawi government enquiry into the sale of the grain reserves, which fully exonerated the Fund.

Negative press coverage, although recurrent, has been contained due in large part to EXR/AFR staff s persistence in responding to each occurrence with letters to the editor, which have been published in newspapers from Ireland to India. In addition, EXR has communicated directly with the main propagators of misinformation—especially UK-based NGOs—through letters and meetings in an attempt to explain the true sequence of events and to reduce the repetition of the unsupported allegations. This effort has caused some groups to moderate their criticism on this issue and has also served to open new lines of communication with groups that devote considerable attention to Fund-related issues.

The Malawi case also highlights, however, the handicaps that the Fund sometimes faces in responding rapidly and fully to false charges. Some senior Malawian officials were unwilling to confirm that the accusations were false, despite the findings of the enquiry, and one or two may even have repeated the charges after the enquiry. The Fund also felt constrained in what it could say about the role of other international organizations that had more direct responsibility for food policies in Malawi. To a large extent these organizations stayed silent initially, although they could have brought information to light that would have helped to refocus the spotlight on the true causes of the Malawian food shortages. Finally, some Northern NGOs and media commentators who are critical of almost all “structural adjustment policies,” including the elimination of agricultural subsidies, have sought to use false allegations about the Fund’s role in Malawi to discredit the Fund’s work throughout Africa. This has drawn the Fund into debate on general economic policy affecting agriculture—the proper domain of other international organizations. The World Food Program and the U.K. Secretary of State for International Development have recently made helpful statements correcting press reports in this regard. Executive Directors and Governors of the Fund might also consider stepping forward in such cases to help clarify roles and responsibilities.

D. Broadening the Reach of the Fund’s Communications

53. In previous Board discussions Directors have emphasized that the Fund’s external communications should serve all members and regions and reach the general public, at least indirectly, but do so cost-effectively. EXR and other Fund departments have been working to achieve this objective by (1) expanding material on the Fund’s external website and in print intended to reach audiences remote from Fund headquarters, and considering opportunities and costs of increasing the availability of both electronic and print material in non-English languages (see Annex I, the report of the Task Force on Publication Policy); (2) increasing in-country and regional external communications work by missions, Fund offices abroad, and Fund resident representatives, including through the creation and expansion of resident representatives’ websites;24 and (3) developing general educational material on the Fund and economic and financial issues for global distribution.

Expanding material on the Fund’s external website and in print

54. The Fund has consciously developed and designed its external website so that English-speaking audiences in developing countries have easy access. The focus of the website is content, not graphics or special effects, which would slow down access. In the past two years the website’s search feature has been improved, and links between related material have been substantially increased. Entry pages in French, German, and Spanish have been posted. In addition, more basic information has been added for non-specialist users. Features that require special software or may be difficult to open or download from slower Internet connections and older computers have been kept to a minimum. Improving access to and increasing the amount of material in non-English languages on the Fund’s website (or links to such material) is possible; however, a number of policy and budget considerations would need to be addressed (discussed in Annex I).

55. Further development of the external website might include further increases in the use of webcasts (of press briefings, the Economic Forum series, and other seminarstyle events, for example), and more Fund participation in online discussion forums on IMF policy issues. The Office in Europe, for example, could be used for real-time participation by European journalists in press conferences and briefings at Fund headquarters. Expanding the reach of the Fund’s website by offering live and taped audio and video webcasts in more than one format would have resource implications. Given that the demand from outside the Fund for such features still seems to be very limited compared with the interest in textual information, the cost of expanding the Fund’s webcasting capacity should be considered carefully and tradeoffs with other initiatives weighed.

56. A narrower application of technology would involve extranets (an extranet is a private network that uses the Internet protocol and the public telecommunication system to securely share part of an organization’s information or operations with others) for participation by selected groups through password-protected access. This is being done to a limited extent at present via an extranet for Executive Directors and authorities. EXR has proposed that an extranet be instituted in 2003 for journalists that would expand current ad hoc arrangements through which they can obtain advance copies of certain Fund publications under embargo.25 The goal is to establish a reliable system for selectively highlighting and disseminating accurate, timely information of special interest to media globally or in individual countries. By enabling the Fund to target the placement of important information in the media, the new extranet will indirectly enhance the Fund’s communications with the public and civil society organizations that rely on the media for information about the Fund and related issues. Fund staff and Executive Directors will be able to reach out to specific media audiences via real time webcasts, and additional cost-effective technology features can be introduced in future years to better serve media in all member countries. The extranet for journalists will also allow EXR to monitor consumption of press releases and other publications efficiently, and this enhanced feedback on media uptake will be taken into consideration in adapting the Fund’s external communications more closely to meet specific media goals.

57. Recognizing that many individuals and organizations, especially in low-income countries, will not have for many more years the reliable access and high-grade equipment needed to take advantage of material published on the Fund’s external website, the Fund should continue its print publication program and seek to improve the distribution of both complimentary and priced publications. One step underway has been the initiation of a depository library program (launched with the help of the Joint Library) to place copies of all Fund print publications in libraries where they will receive wide readership. Each library will be sent an initial inventory of IMF research and data, and receive copies of virtually everything the IMF publishes, including CD-ROM databases. Invitations to apply to this new program have already been sent to more than 150 libraries, research institutes, and information centers throughout the developing world. Formal agreements have been established in 58 locations. The goal is to expand the program over the next two years to 400 locations. Executive Directors are invited to nominate institutions to participate in this program.

Increasing In-Country and Regional Communications

58. EXR has established arrangements with each area department to increase the coordination of external communications done in-country. EXR media relations officers and other staff have been designated to advise each area department on media contacts and public outreach, and to monitor and follow up on external communications activities. The bilateral discussions between EXR and area departments include reaching understandings about the roles of mission chiefs and resident representatives in external communications in-country, especially in conjunction with missions. Mission teams have been asked by Fund management to consider in advance of each mission whether they should meet with legislators, labor representatives, NGOs, and others, and whether a press conference should be held or press interviews given, or other actions taken with the agreement of the authorities to increase public awareness and understanding of the Fund’s analysis and policy recommendations. EXR can often provide specific recommendations on what media and public outreach activities are most likely to be successful, drawing upon the experience of its staff, many of whom have extensive media and other contacts in the region. In addition, it should be noted that PDR and other departments will continue to organize regional PRSP learning events that combine outreach, capacity building, and opportunities for Fund input into the PRSP process.

59. The Edelman report recommended that the Fund make greater use of its field offices as outreach platforms. EXR responds to requests received regularly from resident representatives for advice and support in organizing outreach events in their countries. EXR also supports occasional travel by headquarters staff to participate in outreach events organized by resident representatives, with priority in recent years given to PRGF countries. Executive Directors could help national authorities to understand better the benefits of increased outreach in conjunction with Fund missions, especially in PRGF and other program countries where “national ownership” implies making policy choices more transparent and raising public understanding of the respective roles played by the Fund, the national authorities, and other institutions.

60. Particular regional issues need to be addressed consistently in communications throughout a region. Also, what works best in terms of in-country external communications tends to vary across regions. Accordingly, EXR and area departments have begun to develop regional external communications strategies that can be reviewed and updated as warranted but provide a framework for coordinating external communications work of the area department, EXR, resident representatives, and other staff who may visit the region. Suggestions from Executive Directors on regional external communications priorities and opportunities would be welcome, and Executive Directors might wish to meet informally with EXR and area department senior staff regularly to discuss external communications approaches for their region.

61. Although external communications are important in all regions and member countries, three regions would seem to warrant particular focus in 2003: Africa, because of the large number of PRGF and HIPC countries; Latin America, because of the special economic challenges facing several economies in the region; and the Middle East, because of the Annual Meetings to be held in Dubai in September.

  • The strategy for Africa is likely to focus on building basic knowledge of Fund policies through seminars and workshops, and on media and publications to support PRGF/HIPC and new initiatives in Africa; including investor councils and technical assistance centers and monitoring progress under NEPAD.

  • The strategy for communications in Latin America will necessarily focus on media relations related to the countries in the region having Fund programs. Contacts with journalists who report for Spanish and Portuguese language media in the region are likely to continue at the current high level of frequency and intensity. Publications and outreach will also have an important role to play. A report prepared by an internal task force tentatively entitled “Managing Financial Crises: Recent Experience and Lessons for Latin America” will be published in spring 2003.

  • The strategy for communications in the Middle East will be geared to preparations for the 2003 Annual Meetings and will include seminars and press briefings by staff from the Middle Eastern Department, EXR, and other departments in several locations in the region prior to the Meetings. The Program of Seminars at the Annual Meetings will focus partly on regional themes and seek keynote speakers from the region. EXR and MED will collaborate on efforts to disseminate Fund publications, especially material in Arabic describing the work of the Fund, and to increase publicity throughout the region in advance of the Meetings on the positive contributions of Fund work in the region.

Educating the General Public about the Fund

62. The prominence of the Fund in the media together with controversy over globalization and related economic issues has brought growing demand from the general public for basic information about the Fund. Much of the explanatory material published by the Fund, including pamphlets, Issues Briefs, Finance & Development, the IMF Survey, and videos, are widely used by students at the university level, including ones not majoring in economics. Teachers and students at the middle school and high school levels have also requested educational material that could be used in their classrooms. EXR has begun a very modest and low-cost effort to respond to these needs through special web postings of educational material in several languages (the material has been developed and tested by the IMF Center with the help of local educators).26 A book on the Fund for high school students (ages 14 to 17) is being developed for release in 2003. It will explain the work of the Fund in an engaging and thought-provoking way intended to make macroeconomics and globalization relevant for the students. EXR would be pleased to provide Executive Directors with sample folios or online demonstrations of this educational material. Looking ahead, the costs and benefits of developing short distance-learning courses on the website and CD-ROM on the work of the Fund for educational purposes for CSOs as well as students, customized for regions and produced in different languages, will be assessed.

63. The Fund also receives e-mail requests and comments from the public on specific issues—a very large number of messages was received in 2002 from Argentina, for example—although in many cases the communications reflect a lack of basic information about the Fund and how it works. In many cases, EXR responds through template-based e-mail messages that can be adapted to individual questions or to e-mail “campaigns” or “petitions.” (Hard-copy responses to letter and postcard campaigns are normally too costly to be considered.) EXR will continue to explore new software developments that may improve the efficiency of sorting and responding to incoming e-mail from the general public. Increasingly, however, EXR will need the assistance of other departments in crafting effective and timely responses that provide substantive answers to the growing volume of more technical and nuanced questions received from the public.

IV. Summary

64. The Fund’s external communications work has evolved rapidly over the past few years, and progress has been made in a number of areas, but there is still much room for improvement. External communications is now generally understood to be not just EXR’s job but to require a continuous, well-coordinated Fund-wide effort. Coordination of Fund message delivery has increased, primarily through better internal communication of policy developments, but achieving fully effective coordination remains a challenge. The Fund does a better job than it did five years ago of delivering focused messages to and through the media, in part because management and staff are better prepared for external communications, but senior staff in area and functional departments could be more actively involved in conveying messages publicly. Overall, the Fund has become a much more open institution over the past five years, not simply through the increasingly prompt and comprehensive release of documents and information but through reaching out to engage in dialogue—listening and responding to key groups and organizations including its critics— and providing explanatory material geared to specialized audiences and the general public.

Issues for Discussion

1. Are Directors satisfied with the general direction and scope of the Fund’s current external communications strategy, or would they wish to see significant modifications of the strategy or changes in priorities for implementing the strategy? For example:

  • Are there ways to increase internal coordination beyond those identified?

  • What more might be done, or done differently, with existing resources to improve the delivery of the Fund’s messages through the media?

  • Would Directors have suggestions for improving the accessibility (“user friendliness”) of the Fund’s documents and publications?

  • Do Directors agree with the finding of the Publications Policy Task Force that the costs of translating and publishing additional non-English language material would be substantial and that the benefits, while potentially significant, are of uncertain magnitude and would depend upon many variables, including effective dissemination of the material. Accordingly, do Directors agree that the scope for translating and publishing additional material in languages other than English should be determined within approved departmental administrative budgets.

  • Do Directors agree with the priorities and modalities for outreach to legislatures, the private sector, and civil society—in particular, the increased emphasis on in-country outreach by Fund missions and resident representatives?

2. With respect to roles and responsibilities, do Directors agree with the suggestions for enhanced participation in implementing the external communications strategy by:

  • Senior staff of area and functional departments;

  • Mission chiefs and resident representatives; and

  • Executive Directors, Governors, and Ministers?

A Review of the Fund's External Communications Strategy
Author: International Monetary Fund
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    References to the IMF in the Press (Publications), 1992-2002

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    References to the IMF and the Word “Secretive” in English-Language Publications 1992-2002

    (proximity of five words)