Appendix V. External Relations
- International Monetary Fund
- Published Date:
- September 1999
In 1998/99, the IMF continued to respond to rising demands for transparency in its activities and policies by stepping up considerably its publication of information—both in print and on its website—and liberalizing substantially its policy on access to IMF archives; through frequent public appearances and interviews by its management and staff; and by pressing its member countries to release more information on their economic conditions. In addition to disseminating more information, the IMF solicited public comment on draft standards and policy assessments in an ongoing effort to maintain a dialogue with outside audiences. The advances in IMF transparency during the financial year were part of the IMF’s broader efforts to strengthen the architecture of the international financial system (see Chapter 5).
Purposes, Audiences, and Instruments of External Communications
The IMF’s external communications activities are intended to support its core institutional work by:
- promoting understanding of the need for sound macroeconomic policies and best practices by disseminating widely staff analyses and research, and through consensus- building activities and advocacy;
- contributing to public understanding and support for the institution and its work by providing information on the IMF’s policies and activities; and
- helping influence economic policy in member countries by communicating IMF views in the context of bilateral surveillance and the provision of financial assistance.
In approaching external communication, the IMF focuses on certain audiences:
- the public policy community—government and central bank officials, parliamentarians, and influential public officials;
- the media—both print and broadcast;
- the academic community—universities as well as public policy institutes;
- financial markets and the business sector—to inform them of information released by member countries, as well as of policies and programs enacted with IMF advice and assistance;
- civil society—nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), labor and religious groups, and women’s groups; and
- kindred international organizations (see Appendix IV).
In carrying out external communications initiatives and conveying the institution’s messages to these varied audiences, the IMF makes use of several instruments:
- the IMF’s website http://www.imf.org)—the IMF resorted heavily to its Internet website in 1998/99 to make an increasing amount of information accessible to the public, thus serving the ends of enhancing the transparency of the IMF’s work (Box V.I);
- publications—reports, periodicals, statistical compilations, books, manuals, pamphlets, booklets, and working papers (see Table V.I for a list of publications released in 1998/99, as well as the IMF’s annual Publications Catalog (also on the IMF’s website));
- press releases and Public Information Notices (PINs)—press releases inform the public of Executive Board decisions; the News Brief series is used to make the public aware of management and senior staff views on topical matters; PINs, authorized for release by member countries, convey to the public a summary of the Board’s review of a country’s Article IV consultation and Board policy discussions, at the decision of Executive Directors;1
- op-ed articles and letters to the editor—these allow the IMF to state its case, and to correct serious misconceptions, directly to the public;2
- speeches, conferences, and seminars—from addresses by management to participation by staff in professional symposiums, such gatherings allow two-way interaction and enhance dialogue; and
- management and staff contacts with nonofficials, including the media—frequent public briefings and interviews, both at headquarters and abroad, inform the public of the IMF’s work and policies and provide the opportunity for the IMF to hear and consider alternate views and perceptions; resident representatives, staff of IMF regional offices, and heads of IMF missions to member countries increasingly participate in the institution’s outreach efforts, and a broader range of contacts—with the academic community, the corporate sector, and civil society—are being engaged.
Box V.I.New Features on the IMF’s Website
During 1998/99, the content of the IMF’s website (http://www.imf.org) was augmented substantially, with an improved search feature and an electronic mail notification service introduced.
Monthly usage of the website (“hits”) reached 2 million in April 1999 from 958,000 in May 1998.
Specific additions to the website included:
- Comprehensive and timely information on the IMF’s financial position, including a liquidity table, and summaries of countries’ accounts with the IMF and all outstanding loans (Financial Resources and Liquidity Position; Members’ Accounts in the IMF).
- New series on the IMF staffs regular (“Article IV”) consultations with national authorities (List of Recent Article IV Consultations and Concluding Remarks of Article IV Missions); these are in addition to the ongoing Public Information Notice (PIN) series summarizing the Board’s assessment following Article IV consultations.
- Material related to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, including a report on the Current Framework and Options for Change and a Supplement on Costing. In addition, the HIPC Debt Initiative Progress Report, Review and Outlook, Country Papers, the IMF’s Response to Critics of the Initiative, and a report on the HIPC consultative process, with a request for public comments, were posted.
- A Joint BIS-IMF-OECD-World Bank series of Statistics on External Debt. This quarterly release of external debt indicators and international reserve data for 176 developing and transition countries provides access for the first time to a single set of data previously compiled and published separately by the contributing institutions.
- A Guide to Progress in Strengthening the Architecture of the International Monetary System and a Statement and Report by the Managing Director on Progress in Strengthening the Architecture of the International Financial System, posted during the 1999 spring meeting of the Interim Committee. Earlier in the year, the website added the Declaration of Group of Seven (G-7) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, G-7 Leaders’ Statement on the World Economy, and a Memorandum on the Work Program on Strengthening the Architecture of the International Monetary System.
- A section on Transparency in Monetary and Financial Policies, including the Draft Code of Good Practices.
- A section on Fiscal Transparency—including the Code of Good Practices, a draft of the Manual on Fiscal Transparency, a questionnaire to review fiscal management practices, and an outline of a self-evaluation report.
- MULTIMOD, a modern dynamic multicountry macroeconometric model of the world economy, was released on the website in September 1998, along with model documentation and programs needed to run simulations.
- Major publications in full text, including editions of the World Economic Outlook, and International Capital Markets, and the Annual Report in English, French, German, and Spanish. In May 1999, the full text of Staff Papers was posted, along with underlying data sets. In addition, French and Spanish editions of Finance & Development, the IMF Survey, the Articles of Agreement, By-Laws, Rules, and Regulations, and What Is the IMF? were posted.
- The Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board site, the IMF Recruitment site, and the Finance & Development site—all of which can be accessed through the main IMF website—were redesigned to make them more easily accessible.
Board Review of External Communications
Given the continued high public interest in the activities of the IMF during 1998/99, its Executive Board reviewed, in July 1998, the IMF’s approach to external communications and discussed measures for improving its communications strategy. Directors endorsed the overall strategy for the IMF to be more proactive in communicating its message and noted the long-term, multilevel nature of the task, requiring greater involvement on the part of IMF staff, management, the Board, and country authorities. Preserving and enhancing the credibility of the IMF was seen as the most important objective of the strategy, but several Directors cautioned that greater transparency should not come at the expense of candor in the IMF’s dialogue with member countries. In this respect, it was important that press releases and news briefings set a balanced tone. External communications, the Board agreed, must be a genuine dialogue: the IMF should be open to suggestions and criticism by informed external parties and should take such feedback into account during its policy discussions.
In discussing specific suggestions of the staff, Directors expressed a range of views:
- PINs had proven a useful means of conveying the IMF’s views at the conclusion of Article IV consultations with member countries, and some Directors suggested hat this practice be extended to cover discussions of IMF programs.
- The Board generally favored encouraging members to release Letters of Intent, Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies, and Policy Framework Papers (analyses prepared jointly by IMF and World Bank staff), noting that several countries were already publishing these, and expressing the desirability of more countries doing so. (Subsequently, in April 1999, the Board established a presumption that member countries would release these documents.)
- Directors considered that it would also be useful to release the summings up of its discussions on key policy issues—perhaps on a case-by-case basis, and taking account of whether a discussion was ongoing or final. There was support in the Board for supplementing release of such policy discussions by including the executive summaries of the related staff papers. (The first policy PINs were released in March and April 1999.)
- To increase transparency with respect to the IMF’s annual work program, Directors broadly supported regular ex post briefings on the activities of the Board.
- Some Directors favored releasing Interim Committee documents in advance, recognizing, however, the practical constraints since these documents are produced under tight deadlines. Other Directors proposed publishing Interim Committee documents immediately after Committee meetings, and still others suggested previewing for the public, in a general manner, items on the Committee’s agenda.
- Directors supported a review of the policy on access to the IMF’s archives, with a view to reducing considerably the waiting period for access. (In March 1999, the Board reduced the waiting period for access to Executive Board documents to 5 years from 30 years and for other archived documents to 20 years, effective September 8, 1999.)
In addition, Directors endorsed proposals to increase contacts among the media and the public at large on the part of IMF staff (including mission chiefs and resident representatives) and Executive Directors to help clarify the IMF’s role. Some cautioned that IMF staff should be well-trained in media relations, that the IMF should convey a consistent message, that broad guidelines should be established for public contacts, and that the participation of country authorities in such contacts should be left to the authorities’ discretion. Other avenues of communication currently in use could be further developed. For instance, the program of seminars with outside participants—including representatives of the media—could be expanded, as could the amount of country information—in addition to data now made available through the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board—posted on the IMF’s website. The Board would also discuss other related suggestions during the year, including the release of staff reports for Article IV consultations and the IMF’s liquidity position. (In October 1998, the IMF began to post regularly on its public website, its liquidity position and members’ accounts with the IMF; see Box 14.)
The Board expressed considerable support for expanding the IMF’s outreach program to include members of the public as well as members of civil society (Box V.2). This effort should include use of staff based at IMF headquarters as well as resident representatives abroad. Directors also endorsed providing more basic information about the IMF to nontechnical audiences and in local languages. Such efforts should contribute to greater ownership of economic reform programs by governments and the public generally.
The Board instructed the staff to report briefly during the 1999/2000 financial year on experience with implementing the steps discussed in July 1998. This staff report would be supplemented by the ongoing work of external consultants, who would offer further insights into the effectiveness of the IMF’s external communications and its public image.
Box V.2.IMF to Open New Public Outreach Center at IMF Headquarters
Recognizing the need for greater interaction with the media and the general public, the IMF will open a new center adjacent to IMF headquarters in the summer of 1999. The center’s goal is to heighten public understanding of today’s world economy and the IMF’s role in the evolving international monetary system. It will include permanent and special exhibitions, a bookstore with two IMF Internet-access computer kiosks, and a small theater featuring video presentations on the IMF. A 150-seat auditorium will serve as a meeting place for public discussions of international economic issues and trends, including the “Economic Forum Series”—a series of panels presented throughout the year by senior IMF staff and guest speakers. (The forums are open to the public and reservations are not needed.)
The new center nearly doubles the size of the former IMF Visitor’s Center, maintained during 1984–94, at which exhibits on financial and cultural topics, presentations on topical economic issues, and videos depicting the IMF’s work were offered regularly to the public.
External Consultants Assess IMF’s External Communications
The IMF, in December 1998, engaged Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, together with Wirthlin Worldwide, a leading survey research firm, to offer recommendations for improving the ways in which it communicates information about its work to the public.
In announcing the project, Shailendra J. Anjaria, Director of the External Relations Department, said: “We want to strengthen public understanding of the IMF’s mission and to this end are seeking the advice of outside specialists to learn how we might do more to explain ourselves better.” He added, “I see this project as reinforcing our ongoing effort to increase the IMF’s openness.”
The six-month project, to be completed in the summer of 1999, consists of two parts:
- A survey by the consultants to gauge perceptions and thinking about the IMF among policymakers, the media, academics, the corporate sector, and representatives of civil society (nongovernmental organizations, labor unions, religious groups) in a range of countries broadly representative of the IMF’s membership. The findings then form the basis for recommendations on how the IMF can enhance the information it provides the public.
- An evaluation by the consultants of the methods and instruments the IMF uses to explain its purposes, work, and processes, and recommendations on how these might be improved.
The study was conducted under the oversight of the IMF’s External Relations Department, which will draw on the main conclusions and recommendations to define options for improving the IMF’s external communications.
|Reports and Other Documents|
|Annual Report of the Executive Board for the Financial Tear Ended April 30, 1998*|
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Balance of Payments Statistics Yearbook
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