The Information Society Commission (ISC) is a bit like that other more famous commission in Brussels – people have heard of it but generally don’t have a clue what it does. Not surprising then that the ISC recently issued a request for tender for a PR agency to manage its profile and to get its name, and more importantly its achievements, into the media.
Organisations usually hire PR agencies either when they have something to say or something to hide. In the ISC’s case, it is about “opening the channels of communication” with its various target audiences, which include government, media, business, social partners and educationalists, says communications director Mike Neary.
“We are anxious to have a programme of engagement with stakeholders,” he explains. “We want to drive awareness of the commission and gain comment and feedback from relevant organisations and individuals.”
As part of this, he reports, the ISC is shortly to relaunch its clean but passive website (www.isc.ie) and introduce a lot more interactivity.
The original ISC (1997-2000) was set up by the Taoiseach with a three-pronged remit: advising the government on information society matters; benchmarking Ireland’s competitiveness internationally as a digital economy; and encouraging external links. The remit of the second ISC, which was established at the end of November last year and will run until 2004, is similar, according to Neary.
“The terms of reference of the ISC are still the same. The only difference is that the first commission, headed up by Vivienne Jupp, had in its brief raising awareness of information and communications technology (ICT) and the uses to which it could be put. We feel that this has been achieved to a significant degree and, therefore, it is not a key aspect of the current commission’s work,” he says.
There is one major difference between the two organisations, however. Since the establishment of the second ISC, a Government Minister with specific responsibility for the information society, Mary Hanafin TD, has been appointed to co-ordinate activities in that arena.
“When the commission was established there was no e-minister, but one has now been appointed and we welcome that,” says Neary. He makes it clear, however, that the appointment will not change the role of the commission or interrupt its existing reporting lines.
“We are not reporting to the Minister; we continue to report to the office of the Taoiseach of which Minister Hanafin is a part,” says Neary. “But, we will interact with the Minister on a range of matters.”
As Ireland’s first e-minister, Hanafin has vowed to push the information society agenda using the government’s New Connections document published last April as her policy template. In order to promote the various elements of the e-enabled society, she will need the very best and up-to-date information to work from. One valuable source of information is likely to be the research and recommendations emanating from the ISC.
Last April, the ISC chairman Danny O’Hare announced seven working groups on key ICT issues facing Irish business and society. The group members are volunteers drawn from public and private sector organisations. The groups are soon to present proposals to the commission that will be considered for recommendation to Government. The seven areas being researched are: telecoms infrastructure, lifelong learning, e-inclusion, e-government, legal issues, e-business and futures.
The commission is understood to be at an advanced stage of preparing a report to Government based on the findings of the working groups, but Neary would not be drawn on the timing of the report’s launch except to say that “we hope to have available in the near future”.
He does, however, offer this synopsis of its contents: “It will look at Ireland’s efforts of how we are doing in terms of broadband, internet penetration, e-business adoption and delivery of e-government. The key messages will be significance of knowledge society, what we have do to make it happen and what sort of policy cohesion is required. It will then look at the three major challenges _ broadband, innovation and skills.”
Lamenting how the complex question of how to move to the knowledge economy has coalesced around a single issue _ broadband _ Neary believes that the ISC report will help expand the debate into areas such as Ireland’s R&D capability. “We need to look at issues such as where are the sources of sustainable competitiveness going to come from and Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for R&D,” Neary says.
He praises the efforts of organisations such as MediaLab Europe to develop new applications for technology, such as the recently and widely publicised real-time information system on bus arrival times based on GPS (global positioning system) and SMS (short message service) technology.
A report due out soon, a PR agency to be appointed in the near future, a website revamp in the offing … it is all happening at the ISC _ or about to. A suitable motto for the organisation? “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”