IGCF: Transitioning into a global forum for change

August 28, 2021 / 2:53 PM
Tariq Saeed Allay, Director of the Sharjah Government Media Bureau
Sharjah 24: The International Government Communication Forum (IGCF) started 10 years ago as an ambitious idea devoted to our common interests in the UAE, as well as the interests of societies worldwide – the reason it received the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.
The idea not only received support from public and private entities in the UAE and the region but also sparked the interest of experts and professionals. Thanks to planning and perseverance, IGCF has grown into the most prominent international platform to address the relationship between entities, governments and the public through government communication, said Tariq Saeed Allay, Director of the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB) reprising the historic decade-long journey of IGCF. 

Describing how IGCF navigated the challenges it has faced since inception, Allay pointed out that even though the idea of the forum was new to the region, it succeeded because it came as a response to two key questions: 
1. The future of the relationship between government entities and communities, and 
2. The model Sharjah should present in highlighting the role of partnerships in achieving inclusive sustainable development.

Underscoring what to expect from the 10th edition of the Forum, slated to take place on 26 – 27 September, at Expo Centre Sharjah under the theme ‘Historic Lessons, Future Ambitions’, Allay revealed that it has been designed as an outcome of the recommendations and results of IGCF’s previous nine editions, and will bring together top officials, decision-makers and experts from all over the world to share their experiences and views on how effective government communication can tackle unprecedented global events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reformulating communication objectives
Allay noted that the organiser, SGMB, has always ensured that the two-day event addresses pressing questions and highlights contemporary topics of strategic importance, responding directly to the challenges communication teams across government establishments face.

“Launched in 2012, the first edition coincided with several local and global events. The world was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, and the Arab region, and the UAE in particular, was beginning to witness a new era of government communications. This was reflected in a healthier relationship between government entities and general public and a deeper involvement of community members in the local and national development processes,” said Allay.

“A precise analysis of the needs and challenges of this new era led SGMB to choose the theme ‘The Role of Government Communication in Managing the Development Process’. In 20212, IGCF made a strong recommendation to turn government communication entities into partners in the development process,” he added.

One vision, one mission
The theme of the second edition in 2013, ‘Effective Communication, Unified Vision’, Allay said, responded to the most radical challenges that faced the official development journey by presenting a unified development vision to the public by consolidating key messages and engaging the society and the government alike. With this, the second edition established the forum’s importance as a reliable regional and global platform, committed to fulfilling people’s needs and ambitions. 

More communicative and responsive governments
The theme of the third edition, ‘Different Roles, Mutual Respect’, built on the previous two editions. It discussed the significance of diversification in government communication while remaining committed to a unified vision. He stressed that the public is not a single unit as it comprises groups with varied interests, education, attitudes and professions, and therefore, requires an understanding of each group to select the right platforms and mechanisms by government communication teams and entities.

Onward to more specialisation
Allay explained that the fourth edition signalled a natural progression in the forum’s role. Themed ‘Specific Actions, Better Results’, IGCF 2015 focused on providing hands-on scientific workshops, invested in case studies, global models and experiences in the government communication field, including that of the European Union, and ensured the participation of leaders in the field. 

Social dimension of global growth
The SGMB Director spoke of the global conditions that coincided with the 5th edition of IGCF in 2016, held under the theme ‘Citizens for Prosperity’. He noted that the year witnessed socioeconomic recovery, which was the reason the forum emphasised the important role of government communication in harnessing and enhancing socio-economic, as well as in improving quality of life.

He explained that the key message of the forum was: “Elevating community is a collective responsibility, and the role of government communication is to promote a culture of positivity across all community groups, turning it daily practices that accelerate the fulfilment of common ambitions.”

Sustainable development starts with solid awareness
Allay pointed out that the UAE was one of the first countries to sign UN’s Millennium Development Goals (SDGs) in 2000, and connected it to the 6th edition of IGCF held in 2017 under the theme ‘Societal Participation and Comprehensive Development’. The forum focused on how communications could be leveraged to translate the UAE’s vision to contribute to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Digital transformation and future of government communication
Speaking about ongoing evolution of IGCF’s role, the Director of SGMB said: “IGCF had to adapt scientifically and professionally to digital developments in communication, and leverage them to serve its goals. Themed ‘The Digital Millennium.. Where to?’, the 7th edition held in 2018 convened communication technology experts and communication teams on one platform.”

“Being up-to-date with modern technology is crucial to government communication experts, not only because it provides them with modern methods to reach out to the audience, but also because it helps them understand the factors that affect public opinion. This contributes to managing  campaigns more effectively and accurately,” he added.

A culture, not genes
The 8th edition IGCF addressed individual and collective  behaviour. Themed ‘Behavioural Change Towards Human Development’, the forum underlined that individual practices are defined not by genes but culture. Allay explained that the edition focused on the importance of diversifying the specialisations of government communication teams and entities, and asserted that this could be achieved by engaging sociologists, experts of individual and collective behaviour, data collection, analysis as well as archiving specialists in the field. In addition, engaging people to take up responsibility in behavioural change initiatives was also highlighted.

From one theme to multiple pillars
Speaking about the uniqueness of the 9th edition, Allay stated that the IGCF replaced the one theme format with multiple pillars to increase the number of participants and optimise the forum’s recommendations. 

For instance, the pillar ‘Technology as a community enabler’ stressed that modern technology should be harnessed to achieve the ‘Holistic well-being’ pillar, while the ‘Communication through culture’ pillar emphasises the role of arts, literature, sciences, and behavioural manifestations of societies in building their identity, added Allay. 

Crisis lessons and future communication 
Allay stated that the 2020 edition of IGCF preceded the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UAE, and for SGMB, it was a year of invaluable lessons in crisis management via constant communication with the public.

“The crisis last year witnessed a paradigm shift in government communications, inspiring us to answer fundamental questions such as how government communication teams can handle future challenges, and how effective preparation strategies can be created in readiness for what is to come,” he added.

What’s in-store for government communications? 
The IGCF is gearing up for its 10th edition, and will raise a number of pertinent points on its essential role in enabling governments around the world to keep pace with future government communication developments. It will also discuss the anticipated role of government communication in facilitating the realisation of a government’s plans, and the role of media as partner in achieving sustainable and inclusive development.

This year’s edition, coming at a time when government communication has been put to the test in the wake of a global crisis, will emphasise the importance of governments' ability to communicate effectively with the public. It will also attempt to build perceptions about the future of communication in general and review the historical experience of government communication, discuss its current realities and envision its future.
August 28, 2021 / 2:53 PM

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