For 4 days (24 October – 27 October), 20 staff of the Benin’s Republican Police and 2 local staff from Enabel – the Belgian Development Agency – benefited from a EUCTI Crisis Communication training organized by the Egmont Institute.
This first EUCTI training organized by the Egmont Institute focused on Crisis Communication. Reinforcement of capacities in that field was requested by the Benin’s Republican Police with the objective to strengthen the skills and aptitudes of its Directorate for Training and Sports and those of its Centre for Prevention and Crisis Management. Delivering a training in that field was considered as highly relevant as it was complementing existing support in particular the one provided through the Enabel’s Projet d’Appui à l’Opérationnalisation de la Police Républicaine Béninoise (PAOP) and its EU-funded component related to Crisis Management (PAOP-CRI).
Crisis Communication in practice
The training was delivered as planned. All aspects of crisis communication were covered with a specific focus on police-related mandate on crisis communication. It included the use of traditional communication tools such as interviews, press briefings, press conferences but also the use of social media and the use of tools to identify mis/dis-information.
A critical aspect of the training related to improving existing Benin’s Republican Police level of collaboration with journalists and how they should be used as allies in order to communicate effectively to the public instead of as friends or enemies. Another key aspect of the training was to help the participants to make an effective use of the “golden hour” following an incident and the risks associated with not preparing for an effective use of it.
The methodology used was highly effective (i.e. balance theory and practice, active recalls, used of local expertise, simulations under stress etc.). Worth to note was the highly effective combination of national and international experts who had several preparatory meetings ahead of the training. The use of local expertise added value not only for the preparation of context-related simulation exercises but also to facilitate mutual understanding. The fact that the team of international trainers was gender-balanced also contributed to the active participation of both male and female participants.
Crisis Communication – feedback and future needs
During the training, participants demonstrated rapid progress in their understanding of theorical aspects and of the risks associated with ineffective communication such as communication vacuum, incoherent communication, untimely communication etc. In parallel, some participants demonstrated high communication skills (both women and men) and the social media skills of more junior participants was put into good use to sensitize senior ones on some aspects. Oral feedback received so far from the participants and the trainers themselves was excellent. Their level of participation and interaction was high both for women and men independently of their level of experience, age or rank in the police force.
The training benefited from the support from the Belgian Federal Police which put at Egmont’s disposal one of its high-ranking staff specialized in Crisis Communication. From Egmont Institute’s perspective, the implementation of this EUCTI third-country activity was a success. If it were to organize a follow-up training, it would consider a recommendation to include a selected number of journalists, and governors for some parts of the training in addition to the Police Officers. This recommendation reflects the desire to promote collaboration and mutual understanding between these key stakeholders in crisis communication.