Using the Internet for Strategic Communications
By Dave Conley
Presented at Aquaculture Europe 2001, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
My presentation is divided into 3 parts:
- What is the current situation regarding aquaculture and public perception,
- Why has this happened, and
- What we can do to change the current situation using the technology of the Internet.
Given that you have invested a considerable amount of your time, effort and money to develop your expertise in aquaculture or a related field, how do you feel about being portrayed as irresponsible?
If you believe what you read in the newspapers, hear on the radio or see on the TV, then you can only conclude that aquaculture is an activity conducted by irresponsible people.
Because, according to critics, aquaculture:
- pollutes aquatic environments
- spreads disease and parasites to other freshwater & marine species
- contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant disease worldwide
- hastens the extinction of fragile wild stocks, and
- is inefficient as a means of providing protein for a hungry world
For you to consciously participate in aquaculture, knowing the consequences of your actions as itemized above, you must be some sort of reckless person that society should be protected from.
Does this mesh with your perception of what you do? Certainly not!
So what is happening?
Quite simply, you have failed to communicate.
You have failed to communicate what you do, how you do it, and why you do it, to the public at large.
Your voice has been silent, while other voices, those of your critics, have been loud and shrill.
Why did you let this happen?
There are numerous reasons, but the short list is this:
- You are a producer that needs to focus on growing your fish/shellfish, deal with authorities and financial institutions, hire and train staff, and take care of a hundred other duties if you want to stay in business.
- You are a supplier of goods and services to the industry and are seeking to increase sales by adapting research findings and new technologies to develop new products and services.
- You are a researcher that needs to write proposals to get funding for your projects, publish your findings, train students, and keep up with developments in your area of expertise.
- You are an association executive director or support staff that is trying to deal effectively with the concerns of your members, meet with government policy-makers and regulators, secure increased funding, provide more member services, and manage a variety of member-driven projects.
- You suffer from a shortage of time, energy and funding.
- You have many more immediate crises to deal with, or so you think.
There are several differences between you and your critics:
- You have many things to deal with.
- Your critics have a few things to deal with.
- You have no communications, public relations, and media training.
- Your critics specialize in communications, public relations and media manipulation.
- You are in the business of producing food to feed a growing population.
- Your critics are in the business of lobbying government, influencing public policy, and fundraising.
- You are losing, they are winning.
The aquaculture industry is paying the price for not developing a communications strategy, setting objectives, selecting priorities, developing initiatives, and committing funding to implement them. The aquaculture industry up until now has not taken communications seriously.
Instead of developing your communications agenda, you are responding to that of your critics.
Responding to critics’ attacks gives them power over you. More importantly, responding consumes your scarce resources of skilled people, time, and money.
You are not achieving your goals because you are helping them to achieve theirs.
And that’s why you are in the situation you are today.
What are you going to do about it?
Before I discuss using the Internet for strategic communications, I would like you to consider these points:
Your critics do not work in the aquaculture industry and thus do not have any first-hand experience and knowledge about aquaculture.
Your critics do not make frequent visits to aquaculture sites to see what is being done there.
Your critics do not regularly attend aquaculture conferences, seminars, symposia and trade shows to learn about the latest developments in the industry.
Your critics do not identify problems and then commit skilled and knowledgeable people and financial resources to find practical and affordable solutions.
Your critics do not invest their time, effort and money to become qualified in aquaculture science and technology.
Your critics do not support the rational, scientific method of forming a hypothesis and testing it by controlled experiments and data analysis.
Your critics, in many cases, do not know what they are talking about.
I want you to think about and remember this - nobody knows as much about aquaculture as you do!
Now I would like to turn to the focus of my presentation - Using the Internet for strategic communication.
- Aquaculture is a global industry
- The issues and concerns that are affecting the development of aquaculture throughout the world are common.
Currently we have numerous aquaculture producer, supplier and research organizations working in isolation, each with its own executive director and staff focused on its own agenda.
For example, we have in Canada:
- Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance
- BC Salmon Farmers Assn., BC Shellfish Growers Assn., New Brunswick Salmon Growers Assn., Ontario Aquaculture Association, etc.
- Aquaculture Association of Canada
In the United States, we have:
- National Aquaculture Association
- U.S. Trout Farmers Assn.
- Catfish Farmers of America
- World Aquaculture Society
- Global Aquaculture Alliance
In Europe, we have:
- European Aquaculture Society
- Federation of European Aquaculture Producers
- Norwegian Fish Farmers Association
And this is only a few, I am sure you can add many more.
The point is:
- We have scarce resources of skilled people, time and money.
- We need to find a way to work smarter, not harder.
This is where we can utilize the technology of the Internet.
An Example – Linux
I would like to use an example of what can be achieved through the sharing of information for a common purpose – I would like to use the example of Linus Torvalds, who you may know as the originator of the Linux operating system for computers.
In 1991, Torvalds was at the University of Helsinki where he developed the core of the Linux operating system.
He then posted it on the Internet and encouraged others to download it and to make modifications and improvements to it, and then to post the results on the Internet for others to use and improve.
Word of his Linux operating system spread. People were seized by the concept of collaborating on its development. As a result, Linux improved and grew in sophistication and applications.
Within 3 years, Linux was one of the best versions of Unix ever created!
By engaging the creative talents and technical skills of a large number of people who shared a common objective and vision, Torvalds demonstrated the power of the Internet to change fundamentally the way work is done.
The aquaculture industry can learn from this example.
We need to stop working as if we are separate entities with different goals and start working collaboratively, sharing common goals and a vision of what we want this industry to become.
We need to begin removing the artificial barriers that isolate us from each other, to seek the common ground, and to use our knowledge, experience and skills to advance this industry.
We need to become one global aquaculture industry – and to speak with one voice.
How do we do this?
I was recently introduced to a web based application for knowledge management and collaborative research that I think has tremendous potential for use by the aquaculture industry. It is called Simplify (now Tomoye Communities).
How many of you are familiar with oneFish (http://www.onefish.org), the FAO sponsored collaborative Internet portal that brings together marine researchers from around the globe?
The software developers that created oneFish are the developers that created Simplify, a Canadian company by the name of Tomoye (http://www.tomoye.com).
Remember what I said earlier: nobody knows as much about aquaculture as you do.
So I think you will enjoy this quote:
“An immense and ever-increasing wealth of knowledge is scattered about the world today – knowledge that would probably suffice to solve all the mighty difficulties of our age – but it is dispersed and unorganized. We need a sort of mental clearinghouse for the mind: a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.” - H.G. Wells, 1940
The real power of Simplify is in its ability to facilitate contributions from people in the aquaculture industry from all over the globe. It would enable us to maximize the use of scarce resources - skilled people, time, and money.
Simplify is the framework within which each of us can deposit our knowledge and ideas, where we can sort, summarize, digest, clarify and compare them, across distance and time.
Simplify would allow us to rapidly and easily build and manage our own knowledge management platform that we could use for a wide variety of objectives and to develop a number of communication materials, such as:
- Fact sheets
- Issue statements and backgrounders
- Production and value statistics
- Socioeconomic information
- Photo galleries
- PowerPoint presentations
- Digital videos
- And a whole lot more…
Simplify would also allow us to have discussions on topics or themes and provide a searchable archive for future reference.
The advantage of Simplify is that you do not need a lot of computer skills to participate, anyone can use it.
Some applications that I see include:
- Compiling and centralizing information that currently resides on personal computers all over the world
- Supporting communications initiatives by producer organizations
- Distributing news and other timely information to people all over the world
- Notifying producers / suppliers / associations / researchers about important issues, news, trends, etc.
- A tool to develop priorities and objectives
- A means of identifying tasks and delegating responsibilities
- A tool to help plan and execute strategic communications initiatives
For those interested in learning more about Simplify (now Tomoye Communities), go to www.tomoye.com.
If you would like to discuss your thoughts and ideas with me, or to make suggestions and comments, please contact me.
Before closing, I would like to propose one last idea on funding.
Lack of funding has been a major impediment to implementing a strategic communications and public education initiative. However, if we are to change public perception we will have to be creative in developing the means to fund the necessary projects.
In his column in Fish Farming International (2001), John Dallimore proposed a levy on production to raise the money required for funding communications & public relations activities. I think this suggestion has merit.
Our communication projects should be self-financed to provide long-term stability and integrity.
My proposal is that the industry institutes a levy of €1/tonne of production and that this money be used strictly for communications initiatives.
To illustrate this option, the annual output of fish from aquaculture of the FEAP member associations, all species together, now exceeds 1.2 million tonnes (est. annual economic value = €3.6 billion).
1.2 million tonnes x €1/tonne = €1.2 million, or €0.001/kg
By including other producer groups, such as shrimp, a significant amount of money could be raised.
We have the knowledge, experience and skills within us to effectively communicate our perspectives to the general public.
What we need is the vehicle and collaborative relationships required to make it so. If we all contribute, then it will not be an insurmountable task.
I hope I have planted some ideas that you will remember and ponder.