Saturday, June 24, 2006


Thoughts about communications

What are we trying to achieve?

What does success look like?

What are the “gosh” statements we want to hear?

How far is all this away from where we are at present?

Where are the largest gaps – ie the most to do?

Where are the smallest gaps – low-hanging fruit?

What and who can scupper our plans?

Which of these can we directly influence and which are beyond our control?

How does all this link with the bigger Syria picture? Other initiatives, other comms programmes?

If we could do just ONE thing, what would it be?

If we could influence just ONE person, who would that be?

Is there a role model for part or parts of what we are doing?


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Developing a new name

We have been testing public responses to the name مسـار (Massar). Its given meanings include path, route, trend, current, method, tendency, course. As ever, we have been looking at name options which are meaningful, easy to say, catchy, short, positive and relevant.

We have asked public – teachers, parents and children mostly – what associations the word has for them and whether it has positive or negative connotations.

After a rather inconclusive early response, findings have become more interesting and definite. The more literal meaning of path or road is the most common single association and on its own could be seen as somewhat static. But two other associations, which describe attitude, tendency or trend, when taken together significantly outweigh the literal meaning. These give more animation to the word, and take it into abstract areas of personal choice and point of view.

It appears to have no negative connotations. It does not appear to be contentious, even if that means it lacks edginess.

No-one else appears to be using it in our field. There is a Palestinian website called Al-Massar which campaigns against the Israeli wall. A Palestinian consulting firm in sustainable development is using the name Massar

This all leads us to support Massar as a name. It carries both physical and abstract meanings relevant to our project and positive. We are inviting young people to take a path, to think about the course of their lives. Massar appears to be a safe option. It is easy to say and remember.

We have not developed any ideas on using the letters of Massar as initials in a descriptive phrase, as with FIRDOS.

As part of the thinking process gone through with Cultural Innovations we examined ways in which people interact with their world and live their lives. The project aims to foster three fundamental activities which enrich the human spirit – to Explore, Create and Share.

Not only does this provide part of the intellectual structure for content development, but the three words also potentially provide a powerful strapline for any title, and appear to work well with Massar. Together they form a powerful picture both of what our project offers and what we expect of people. A good combination.

The whiteboard after one of our early naming brainstorms


Monday, June 19, 2006


Thoughts on HE's communications

After reading through some pretty poor proposals from a well-known UK comms agency, there seem to me to be a number of characteristics that should shine through any communication to do with HE, her portfolio, Syria and its people. All of which the agency have missed: 

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Little and large

Over the last four weeks the project office in West Mezzeh has been beset by minor but exasperating infrastructure problems.  The addition of a new member of staff plus the need to replace a dead PC has involved us in upgrading the wireless network, which far from improving matters made them worse – after further tuning, email is still unreliable, and one shared printer is out of commission until it can be re-programmed.  The mains power has been giving constant problems (three separate circuits have been discovered), as also has the telephone circuitry. 

The car is still not clear of its tour of government offices awaiting final paperwork.  It appears that some clerical error at an earlier stage is requiring more administrative work now.  It has also suffered a bump while parked outside the office, and as insurance had not been taken out by FIRDOS while they reviewed suppliers, we have been obliged to pay for repairs.  Medical insurances for staff have lapsed for the same reason.

On a less prosaic scale, we are in something of a circular process at present.  Until our institutional status is resolved, the project cannot properly assume and manage its own budget.  It cannot, for example, contract legally with third parties.  There is therefore lack of clarity about how the non-CI-fee expenditure planned for the remainder of 2006 (investment in new offices, architectural selection process costs, engineering studies, production of fundraising materials, etc) should be commissioned and paid for.  Continuing to do this via FIRDOS seems clumsy, and will need this activity and budget to be agreed with them, but may be necessary.

Also awaiting resolution of the institutional status question are government funding and fundraising; neither of these can move towards completion without mechanisms of governance in place and practicalities like bank accounts and financial management system.

We are also working on the assumption that the Governor will require a formally established body with which to enter any contract for management of the redevelopment of the site.

There was some excitement in the recent meeting with HE Dr Dardari when he stated that he had seen a document allocating an area of 120,000m2 to this project – not on the OIF site.   We were unaware.  He has promised to send the relevant papers, but so far these have not been received.  Our suspicion is that it must be the OIF site as the area is exactly the same – to be confirmed.

Update as of 17 June: work in background progressing.  Nobles Palace may claim damages if removed, which should be at a time to suit project schedule.

The underground car park proposal remains to be clarified.  Mazen Azmeh’s view is that it would be better omitted from the site altogether.  As it throws up aesthetic, planning, management and logistical issues, we are ready to agree, but the potential of a revenue stream for the site from parking charges should be taken into account. He has also discounted the Terms of reference document produced for the previous Governor by Dr Youssef Diab.

Rental term on the current office expires in September, so Majed Hijazi has been scouting alternatives.  We have now confirmed to the agents that we will rent an apartment in Abou Roumani to use as offices from now onwards until 2009, with an option to extend for a year into 2010.  It is conveniently close to the OIF site.  We have looked at nine other possible premises, none as good as this one, and mostly more expensive.  This space is 380m2, so around twice the size of the current apartment, newly redecorated as a dwelling but very practical and usable as offices.  It needs nothing cosmetic done to it to make it habitable, unlike many we have visited, although we are discussing with the agents whether they will carry out work for telephones and IT network as part of their building work.  We are awaiting confirmation whether we should pay all three years’ rent in advance, which would gain us a small discount over the normal rate of $50,000 per annum.  As normal, there are limitations on what we can do to make permanent structural alterations and fixtures.Pro tem, we intend to make do with the furniture we already use.

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