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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Developing A Public Relations Plan for the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre

Developing A Public Relations Plan for the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC)

1.0 Rationale for a Public Relations Plan for the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre
The Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) was established in November 1998. During the past five years, the general public has heard (mainly through local newspaper reports) about the work and achievements of SBC, These include a complex of biotechnology laboratories launched by the Chief Minister of Sarawak on 29 August 2006, pioneering work SBC in facilitating the documentation of traditional knowledge of indigenous communities, and school biodiversity-biotechnology awareness and appreciation programmes.

However, interviews with members of the public reveal that many people do not understand the functions and roles of SBC. Some have confused SBC with the Sarawak Forestry or Agriculture Departments, because SBC’s work sometimes seems to overlap with theirs.

In other to dispel this confusion, it was suggested that SBC should develop a Public Relations Plan to inform the public of its roles and functions.

1.1 Brief background on the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre
Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, contains immense biodiversity. Biological diversity or biodiversity means the range, genetic variability and variety of living organisms on earth and the varied characteristics of ecosystems. Scientists report that biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate, possibly fifty to a hundred times greater than previously in recorded history. Because the future of biodiversity signifies the future of mankind, humans must choose its pathways to restoration or destruction. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, over 180 countries agreed that something must be done to counteract the loss of biodiversity on planet Earth.

Malaysia signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993. The CBD emphasizes the conservation of biodiversity, its sustainable utilization, and fair and equitable benefit sharing from its usage.

In 1998, the State Government passed the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre Ordinance to establish the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC). Its main function is to initiate programmes for the conservation, utilization, protection and sustainable development of biodiversity in the State, including conducting biotechnology-related research and facilitating the documentation of fast-disappearing traditional knowledge on the utilization of biological resources for food and medicines.

2. 0 Developing the PR Campaign – Primary Research
SBC will carry out primary research to determine the desired attitudes of the target audience towards SBC as a result of the PR campaign, and subsequently the key messages that need to be disseminated during the campaign.
To gather the required information for the above, pre-trained SBC staff will conduct both structured and open ended interviews with respected community representatives and opinion leaders as well as with people from different strata of the public. SBC will use the information gathered to decide on the best approach or tactic to design the campaign.

2.1 Developing the PR Campaign – Secondary Research
SBC will carry out secondary research using the media, websites and advice from experts, and use the information gathered to develop the most effective strategy to communicate to its target audience. Secondary research will focus on ideas and suggestions that SBC can use to determine an appropriate timeline, a feasible campaign budget, the communication approach, key messages, and evaluation of the outcomes at the end of the campaign.

3.0 Situation analysis based on information provided by SBC and SWOT
Since SBC’s inception in 1998, it has taken active steps towards ensuring biodiversity conservation, including its commitment to reach out to the public through its ‘Biodiversity-Biotechnology Awareness & Appreciation Programme’.

SBC has been conducting lectures and field visits, for students on topics including reasons for biodiversity conservation, the value of biodiversity in today’s world, the role of biotechnology in biodiversity research, the value of traditional knowledge in the search for useful plants for further research, and career prospects in biodiversity-related fields.

SBC has also conducted seminars for researchers and members of the media to update them on developments in biodiversity conservation and research.

Though it has been 8 years since SBC was established, many members of the public are still either unaware of its existence or question why it is necessary. Many, including businessmen, policy makers and staff from other government departments, are still unclear on the term “biodiversity” or what it means.

The Sarawak Forestry and Agriculture Departments have existed since colonial days. Members of the public are often quite clear that Forestry deals with trees, timber and national parks while the Agriculture department deals with planting crops.

SBC’s functions are often less clear. SBC also deals with plants and animals. Before SBC was established, the Forestry Department and the Agriculture Department carried out some of the functions now assigned to SBC. The Forestry Department collects herbarium specimens, but these are mainly for identification. SBC uses its herbarium specimens for research. The Agriculture Department encourages planting food crops, whereas SBC encourages planting for conservation purposes. There are many more examples of such apparent overlap, but the specific roles differ among these three government agencies.

The PR campaign should, therefore, help members of the public distinguish among the roles of the different agencies. Once the publics are informed and understand, they will be more willing to support SBC’s activities.

SBC may need to review its current ‘Biodiversity Awareness & Appreciation Programme’ to engage not only school students, but also members of the wider public who require different types of information. To do this, SBC should carry out both primary and secondary research on this different target audience.

Tools for such research could include a questionnaire, structured, questionnaire-based interviews, and open-ended interviews with pertinent members of the public that SBC was to target.

Below are the findings of a SWOT analysis performed as part of the effort to develop a Public Relations Plan for SBC:

3.1 Strengths
• Recognition: SBC’s functions are in line with Malaysia’s commitment to manage its biodiversity prudently and therefore SBC, though a state body, receives recognition from the Federal Government.
• Funding: SBC receives its funding from the Sarawak State Government.
• Pioneering work: SBC was the first, and perhaps is still the only, specific-purpose biodiversity centre in the country. It has received recognition nationally and internationally for its accomplishments in conserving, and promoting sustainable use, of biodiversity.
• Staff: About 90% of its staff are below 40 years old. Being young, they are creative and very trainable in new technologies.
• Facilities: SBC’s research laboratories are new and are equipped with the latest technology.
• Medium-Sized Organization: SBC has a staff of less than 60 people. It is possible to ensure that every staff member fully understands the organization’s mission and contributes effectively to achieve it together.

3.2 Weaknesses
• Limited Interaction with the Public: SBC has spent the past years establishing its facilities and training its staff. As a result SBC has not yet invested sufficient time and effort in informing the public of its roles and responsibilities.
• Still at early stage of development: Because SBC is still in the process of gathering information on the status of Sarawak’s biodiversity and it has yet to finalize policies to ensure that this biodiversity is used prudently.
• Change in leadership: SBCs’ Chairman retired in January 2007, and its CEO and first director, with some pioneer staff, left SBC in January 2007. Her vision for the centre’s development may not be fully understood by her successor who is a new comer to SBC. Losing two important members of the management team is not that good for SBC, especially with regards institutional memory.
• Staff with limited expertise & experience: The staff of SBC is young and has limited experience and expertise.

3.3 Opportunities
• Awareness of biodiversity conservation: There is heightened awareness on the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity both globally and nationally.
• Already available data: Various government departments and agencies have collected various types of information on biodiversity in the state over the years. This information could be collated at SBC to make it more useful and retrievable..
• Availability of a bigger pool of researchers: There are more universities offering courses in biotechnology. These will provide a bigger pool of potential researchers for SBC.
• Sense of urgency: Biodiversity conservation has risen rapidly up the environmental and political agenda and now represents one of the most important challenges of the 21st century.
• More interest in biotechnology-related careers: Biotechnology courses are highly sought-after in higher education institutes.

3.4 Threats
• Public lack of information: Many people have mistaken SBC for the Sarawak Forestry or Agriculture Departments. Some people believe that it is similar to the Sarawak Forestry Department, and have therefore questioned the purpose of its existence.
• Lack of sufficient funding: Research using biotechnology is costly, and SBC may not get enough funding in future.
• Dependency on outside expertise: Research using biotechnology requires qualified researchers. There may not be enough such people in Sarawak and to recruit them from West Malaysia or overseas may be too expensive
• Limited local expertise: Not many of the students studying biotechnology in universities are from Sarawak or are willing to work there.
• Future leadership: The successes of many organizations depend to a great extent on the head of the organization. There is no guarantee that the new leadership will drive SBC as passionately as before.

4.0 Developing a Public Relations Campaign for SBC – Goal and Objectives
Based on the findings of the SWOT analysis and considering limitations of funding and in-house expertise, it was decided that the first Public Relations Campaign would be targeted at increasing public understanding of SBC’s role by engaging the public in current SBC activities.

4.1 Goal
Make Sarawak Biodiversity Centre better known to the general public clear up misconceptions and answer questions the public may have about SBC and its functions.

4.2 Objectives of PR campaign
• To launch the new image of SBC, after 8 years of pioneering activities, as an organization that involves public participation in its activities
• To inform the public of SBC’s role in supporting both the country’s commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and global efforts to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity for the benefit of mankind
• To inform various sectors of the public on SBC’s role in managing Sarawak’s biodiversity prudentially for future generations
• To motivate the private sector to support SBC’s effort and be partners in enhancing public awareness and understanding of the importance of conserving Sarawak’s rich biodiversity for posterity
• By engaging members of the public in discussion, give them a role in the global effort to protect our environment, including biodiversity.

5.0 Developing the PR Campaign – Target Audience
The following will be the target audience of SBC’s PR campaign:

5.1 Government. The policy makers including legislators should be encouraged to improve existing legislation or to enact new legislation to better regulate research on biological resources. The State Cabinet and relevant State departments dealing with SBC including The State Financial Office and the Planning Unit must fully understand and appreciate SBC activities, as these have great implications for the budget that will be approved for SBC functions, including this PR campaign. Staff of other government departments, including Forestry and Agriculture, must know and support SBC’s roles as they will also be in a position to inform the public. Scientists and researchers who work on biodiversity conservation should be encouraged to collaborate with SBC in its research programme rather than doing replicate studies.

5.2 Mass media e.g. newspapers, magazines, TV and radio are undoubtedly the most effective channel to disseminate awareness information on bio-prospecting programmes to their respective viewers. They can provide members of the public with accurate and up-to date information on biodiversity of Sarawak and on milestones achieved by SBC

5.3 Students in schools and in institutions of higher learning, who may be prospective SBC employees, should be encouraged to pursue further studies in the fields of conservation biology and biotechnology.

6.0 Developing the PR Campaign – Strategy and Tactics.
Strategy 1
Providing an opportunity for the public to better understand SBC effort in biodiversity and sustainable use.

• SBC should enhance its biodiversity awareness programmes by targeting students, providing training and continuing education for teachers, and developing hands-on programs to provide contact with the environment

• SBC should provide the public with regular biodiversity status reports and updates on its research activities. Students and some members of the general public could benefit from "Did you know" fact-sheets or flyers distributed to schools and at public access points. Posters and Banners celebrating SBC contributions to biodiversity conservation could be put up at public events.

• Produce a 4-page A-size newsletter about SBC’s statutory role and its current activities. This newsletter will also contain information on on-going and future SBC activities. Summary of interactions between SBC and the target audience from the above proposed activities could be reported and shared with the wider public audience via news conferences and interviews through both the printed and broadcast media i.e. through phone in interviews, on-air interviews and letters to the editor of the SBC newsletter or local newspapers.

Strategy 2
Foster close ties with the media so it will be easier to disseminate information that the public are more likely to be exposed to.

• SBC could negotiate with print media for a regular column in local newspapers where news could be disseminated and public comments and questions answered.

• Create a press kit consisting a history & description of the organization, key facts & figures, photographs and two or three stories on current trends and issues.

• Develop a media list that includes radio, television, Web, and publications publications that are relevant to SBC and are more likely to have a feature about it in the future. That way it is easy to obtain media exposure and contacting them will be easy when SBC is holding press conferences and press releases.

• Search for publications such as magazines and newspapers that have guest editorial features and contact them for the possibility of having SBC’s senior researcher be featured.

Strategy 3
Encourage the public in sharing ideas on what SBC could do to carry out its functions more effectively.

• Organize three public forums on the importance of biodiversity conservation and the sustainable utilization of biological resources, to be held in Kuching, Sibu and Miri. Respected experts from relevant institutions, the media, civil society and SBC will be invited to speak.
• SBC should continue to participate in conferences and seminars organized by government departments, non-government organizations and local communities.

Strategy 4
Build goodwill between members of the public and SBC staff.

• SBC will provide its staff with a clear understanding and appreciation of its vision and missions so that they in turn can share it by facilitating activities planned for the public.

• SBC could form a committee to oversee this and the committee could consist of members from SBC staff and representatives from the public and the media.

7.0 Developing the PR Campaign – Timeline and budget
In line with SBC’s current work planning calendar for its Biodiversity-Biotechnology Awareness and Appreciation Programme, it is proposed that this PR Campaign will be carried within a six months period from July to December. Its performance and achievements will be assessed and evaluated before developing and launching a follow-up campaign in 2008. Seminars will be conducted every other month in Kuching. Seminars outside Kuching will be conducted once annually in June (Refer to Appendix 1).

However, this could be reconsidered based on information gathered from the primary and secondary research and approval from the Sarawak Biodiversity Council and State Financial Department (Refer to Appendix 2). SBC has the option of using its existing budget or requesting a new budget based on a proposal to be finalized following primary and secondary research.

8.0 Developing the PR Campaign – Evaluating the effectiveness of the campaign
As part of the development process for the PR campaign, SBC should design an appropriate tool to measure and evaluate campaign outcomes. Such an evaluation kit could answer questions such as “Did the method or approach support the PR campaign’s goal and objectives?” and “Did the PR campaign achieve its intended results?”

The evaluation kit could be used to prove the value of the PR campaign. To do this effectively, SBC will have to have measurable objectives and indicators to show that it has achieved, or failed to achieve, these objectives.

The evaluation kit should be used throughout the campaign to ensure, at each stage and for each activity, that the goals and objectives are being adequately met. It should be used to monitor the implementation of the campaign so that reviews can be made regularly and timely interventions made to meet changing needs.

SBC could use the following evaluation techniques among others:
• How much of the target audience participated in the activities organized during the campaign?
• How many and who responded with questions and comments? What did they ask or say?
• How many interviews were secured with designated community leaders, experts and members of the public?
• How many stories and reports were released in the media? How many people were reached? How many responded? What were some of the responses? How were the responses addressed?
• Were the key messages disseminated accurately? How did the target audience respond?
• Distribute a short and concise evaluation reply form for the participants after each activity. Participants should not have to spend too much time on it, or be discouraged from completing the form.

9.0 Materials
 Banners
 Newsletters
 Leaflets
 Brochures
 Flyers
 Frequently asked question document
 Facts sheets of SBC roles & activities
 Website updates & maintenance
 Media Kit
 Media List