“The way CTA operates has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and this is now reflected in the way we communicate,” says Thierry Doudet, Head of CTA’s Knowledge Management and Communication Programme. “We used to have a huge publishing operation, with most of the material being sent out as hard copies. Now, our publishing operation is predominantly electronic.”
In early 2017, CTA contacted all subscribers who received both print editions and e-versions of Spore, inviting them to keep just the e-version. “I received enthusiastic replies about the e-version, but some people still wanted to keep the printed version, particularly those who had difficulty accessing the internet,” explains Murielle Vandreck, CTA’s Programme Coordinator for Publications. A second email was sent later in the year to print subscribers who already had an email address, inviting them to switch to the e-version. Some declined, but many more accepted.
The exercise had a significant impact. In January 2017, there were 42,000 print subscriptions and 6,500 e-version subscriptions. By November, there were 20,000 print subscriptions and 18,000 e-version subscriptions. “This is a major cost saving,” says Vandreck, who aims to repeat the exercise in 2018 to further reduce costs. One of the attractions of the e-version is that it is richer in content than the printed version, with a bi-weekly newsletter, and it allows readers to archive information, as well as access and share it whenever they want.
A similar process is being followed for CTA’s other publications. Vast numbers of books used to be shipped out of warehouses to CTA’s clients and subscribers in ACP countries and the costs of printing, storage and shipping accounted for a significant slice of the communications budget. The aim now is to print on demand and make publications available to download for free from CTA’s website. In 2013, there were only 100,000 downloads from CTA’s website. By 2017, this number had risen to over 500,000. The ACP countries leading the way with the highest download rates include Cameroon, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Kenya and Burkina Faso.
At the same time, CTA has undergone a major exercise of website consolidation, a process which was nearing completion by the end of 2017. “Our online presence used to be very fragmented,” says Thierry Lewyllie, CTA’s Web Programme Coordinator. “In 2012, we had 118 websites. There was tremendous visual fragmentation and the whole operation was expensive to manage.” By 2016, Lewyllie had reduced the number of websites and social media accounts to 40 and by April 2018 there will be just one portal giving access to all resources.
Access to the internet is patchy in many developing countries and this is an important consideration for CTA. A connectivity survey of Spore readers found that 30% did not have regular internet access, with 42% of those without access saying they had no computer or smart phone and 20% stating that there was no internet connection in their area. Furthermore, the reliability and speed of the internet can vary greatly. It tends to be better in towns than in the countryside.
“The way people access information online has changed and the mobile landscape is extremely fragmented,” says Lewyllie. “We do not have any control over the size of screens or the input mechanism they use. Because of this, we have to separate our content from its layout, so it can adapt to different contexts and constraints. We want people to have a good user experience, even in countries where access is slow and data is expensive, and that’s influencing the way we design and build our websites.” This mobile transformation also forces CTA to develop a content strategy that treats all its platforms as equally important.