National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Issues Communications RFP
With funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Power Africa, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) will provide technical assistance through a Consultant to develop an updated Communications Strategy for the Energy Regulation Board of Zambia (ERB) and provide related capacity building assistance. This project will take place within the scope of the bilateral Zambia Energy Regulatory Partnership. The Consultant will update the existing ERB Communications Strategy document prepared for the 2018-2021 period.
International Department National Association of Regulatory
According to the ERB, the primary objectives of renewing their Communications Strategy are to further clarify and promote the role of the regulator in ensuring provision of safe, reliable, affordable electricity and encouraging economic development through energy sector investments, to generate a positive public perception of the ERB as a trusted agency, and to define the key approaches to be used when communicating with difference audiences. The ERB conducted a “perception survey” in 2015 and the results revealed a rather negative perception by stakeholders, finding an approval rate in some areas averaging between 37-42%. However, although the report was accepted, questions about the overall conduct of the study were raised. Key questions related to the sampling approach, study instrument used (questionnaire) and data analysis techniques.
Furthermore, fuel prices and electricity tariffs have experienced sharp increases in recent years. In 2017, Zesco, the state-owned utility, submitted a tariff application requesting an increase averaging over 200%. This was not approved; rather, the ERB approved a 75% increment broken into two steps to cushion consumers (50% in May 2017, then 25% in September 2017). In 2019, Zesco submitted a new tariff application requesting an average increase of 113%. This request resulted in public outcry on the basis that Zesco had already been granted a 75% increase in 2017. In response, the Government of Zambia issued a directive to suspend the review process for this latest application. In October 2019, this suspension was lifted in an announcement by the Minister of Energy. In December 2019, the ERB approved the tariff increase.1 While the public response was similar, the higher rates remain in place as of March 2020.
Public perception of the ERB is generally influenced by key developments in the sector, especially as relate to fuel pricing and tariff setting at any one given time. The ERB will need to justify its decisions to increase tariffs and fuel prices through an updated/improved strategy to help them engage with different consumers in an effective manner. Tariff-related communications will therefore be a key area of focus within the improved communications strategy.
The proposed revised communications strategy would retain key elements of the existing strategy, but would also incorporate local and international best practices, guidance on in-house policies governing media relations (e.g. with regard to the role and requirements of a spokesperson), and a more thorough assessment of the ERB’s existing internal and external communication channels. The Consultant would also redesign the structure and layout of the original document developed by MLemba and Associates in 2018.
In terms of communication, the challenges faced by the ERB can primarily be attributed to misperceptions and mistrust by some stakeholders. Largely, some stakeholders may believe that the key regulatory decisions are influenced by other unstated considerations besides the justifications made to the public. Addressing these issues requires both strategy and action. Therefore, the Communications Strategy Document would also include an action plan and a monitoring and evaluation proposal.
The action plan will provide ways and methods to organize steps that would lead to the fulfillment of the Communication Strategy’s objectives by achieving timely and interactive internal and external communications, so as to create an understanding of ERB’s critical role in ensuring the provision of efficient, affordable and reliable energy services and products. The monitoring and evaluation proposal will aim to provide methods for assessment of implementation measures carried out and the means of communication used
Scope of Work:
With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission in Zambia and Power Africa, the Consultant will provide targeted technical assistance to the ERB to develop an improved communications strategy.
The Consultant is expected to complete the below tasks in close coordination with NARUC, and, as appropriate, USAID, organized and monitored by NARUC. All deliverables are to be completed and submitted by the Consultant.
The Consultant, in accordance with high standards of professionalism and expertise, shall assist NARUC in carrying out its responsibilities under the Agreement by undertaking the technical assignments planned for the duration of this agreement, which is outlined below:
TASK 1 – INTRODUCTORY CONFERENCE CALLS AND OUTREACH; PREPARE ERB COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY GUIDELINE AND OUTLINE 1.a. Participate in Introductory Conference Calls with NARUC & ERB
NARUC will organize an introductory call (estimated one hour) with the relevant NARUC staff and the Consultant to discuss project expectations, roles and responsibilities, logistics, and other activity-related items.
NARUC will organize a second conference call with ERB leadership to gather additional context and updates related to the tasks outlined below.
Prior to the call, the Consultant will review documents sent by NARUC, including, but not limited to, the existing ERB Communications Strategy. 1b. Conduct Preliminary Research
The Consultant will conduct preliminary research (via document review, phone/email/video conference interviews/exchanges, etc.) to determine the essential components to be included in the Communication Strategy.
The Consultant will base these determinations on international best practices, and may choose to conduct outreach to U.S. and international energy regulatory commissions, as well as other Zambian or regional institutions, to ensure the recommended strategy is tailored to the Zambian context. The Consultant may also rely on experience promoting the use of effective public communication and stakeholder engagement tools and techniques in other developing countries, utilizing international best practices as well as country-specific lessons learned, as applicable.
Based on this preliminary research, the Consultant will develop and submit a list of key considerations that will be clearly articulated in the developed Communication Strategy Document. 1c. Prepare ERB Communications Strategy Guideline
The Consultant will prepare a Guideline for the development of the Communications Strategy Document. The Guideline will not only help to drive the update of the ERB’s Communications Strategy within the scope of this project, but also will serve to guide future ERB-led revisions. It is common practice for regulatory commissions to review and revise their communications strategies upon changes in leadership or at regular intervals (e.g. every five years). This document will provide an overview of key considerations and practical tools for preparing the Communication Strategy Document.
The Consultant will share the Guideline with the ERB and NARUC via email and incorporate feedback as necessary. 1d. Prepare ERB Communications Strategy Outline
The Consultant will prepare an initial 1-2 page outline of the content of the updated Communications Strategy. This outline will lay out the structure of the document with appropriate headings and sub-headings as needed and present a clear roadmap of the document’s key contents and focus areas.
The outline will be subject to NARUC technical review before proceeding to the development of a first draft.
TASK 2 – CONDUCT STAKEHOLDER CONSULTATIONS AND DRAFT UPDATED COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY DOCUMENT 2a. Conduct Stakeholder Consultations and Interviews
The consultant will conduct stakeholder consultations and interviews to gather additional context and best practices in communications within Zambia to inform the development of the draft Updated ERB Communications Strategy. The Consultant will present the Communications Strategy Outline to ERB staff for feedback before developing the first draft.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, the consultant should plan to hold all meetings remotely (via phone, Skype, Zoom, etc.). NARUC will support the coordination of phone calls and participate on some as needed.
NARUC estimates that the Consultant will conduct 5-6 1-hour calls with stakeholders. 2b. Develop First Draft of the Updated ERB Communications Strategy
The Consultant will develop a first draft of the document that will cover the essential components of a robust communications strategy that will enable the ERB to provide effective communication and stakeholder engagement. In particular, the Communications Strategy will address several pre-identified concerns, including promotion of the role and significance of the ERB within the Zambian energy sector, and communications related to rate changes. This will include but not be limited to, the identification of key stakeholders, the different strategies and tools of engagement tailored to each stakeholder, and the purpose of effective communication and stakeholder engagement in fostering trust, educating the public, and serving as a vital source of information. The document will also elaborate on the most preferred and effective methods based on best practices and the evolution of technology and social media, and will enable the ERB to better navigate the stakeholder engagement process in rate reviews and resolving customer complaints and disputes.
The Consultant will circulate the First Draft ERB Communications Strategy to NARUC for review, and revise the draft to incorporate feedback.
TASK 3 – PREPARE AND PARTICIPATE IN NARUC TECHNICAL WORKSHOP ON ENERGY REGULATORY COMMUNICATIONS; CONDUCT FINAL STAKEHOLDER MEETINGS; COMPLETE TRIP REPORT 3a. Prepare and Participate as Lead Technical Expert in NARUC Technical Workshop (to be scheduled once COVID-19 travel restrictions have been lifted)
The Consultant will work closely with NARUC staff to develop an agenda for a three-day Technical Workshop on Energy Regulatory Communications. The Technical Workshop will include relevant Zambian stakeholders and volunteer experts from the U.S. and/or thirdcountry energy regulatory commissions.
The Consultant will prepare 4-6 presentations and/or interactive exercises designed to provide capacity building for the ERB during the workshop. The Consultant will serve as lead technical expert during the workshop and present the Draft Communications Strategy for feedback from participants to be incorporated by the Consultant into the final Communications Strategy. The Consultant will be expected to attend and participate in the entirety of the activity and facilitate discussions following all presentations.
At the Technical Workshop, the Consultant and participants will work to draft an action plan and timeline for implementing the updated ERB Communications Strategy, noting major steps or milestones and approval processes necessary to achieve successful implementation.
The Consultant will submit draft presentations to NARUC for review prior to the workshop. Final presentations will incorporate NARUC feedback and be submitted to NARUC prior to the workshop. Each presentation will include material sufficient for a workshop presentation and question and answer sessions.
3b. Final Stakeholder Meetings
While in country, the Consultant will hold final meetings with the ERB and other stakeholders as relevant to obtain final feedback and buy-in before finalization of project deliverables.
Important notes about project deliverables:
The Consultant shall provide electronic copies of all preparatory (draft) and final reports, presentations and any other material to the NARUC Project Manager.
3c. Post-Activity Report
The Consultant will work with NARUC project staff to prepare a detailed report analyzing key takeaways from the Technical Workshop. The report should also include new needs identified and next steps.
TASK 4 – FINALIZATION OF DELIVERABLES AND PROJECT REPORTING 4a. Develop and Submit Final ERB Communications Strategy
The Consultant will finalize the ERB Communications Strategy in accordance with feedback received and additional insights gathered during the Technical Workshop. Subsequent to all revisions, the Consultant will submit the document to NARUC for final review and approval. The updated ERB Communications Strategy is intended to be a working document subject to future reviews and revisions by the ERB. 4b. Final Project Report
The Consultant will prepare a detailed Final Project Report (minimum 10 pages) summarizing all aspects of work performed under the Agreement, making note of important observation
April 21, 2020
International Department National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners 1101 Vermont Avenue NW, Suite 200 Washington, D.C. 20005www.naruc.org/international