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Public Debate

When the Intellectual is a Thug

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As a rule, when intellectuals contribute to public debate on any issue of public concern in any country, it is an entirely wholesome development, and one deserving every encouragement. That is truer if the intellectuals involved know how to communicate even the most abstruse area of knowledge vividly, clearly, compellingly. For, when we say we desire ‘informed public opinion’, one of the best ways of bringing that about is by encouraging well-trained minds on any subject relevant to a public policy question of general concern to help their fellow-citizens by throwing a bright light on the subject. That is why news and current affairs editors everywhere try to maintain a roster of experts that can be called upon to comment on issues occasioning public controversy.

From One-Way to Two-Way Exchanges: Gearing Up to Use Communication in Support of Decentralization in Mongolia

Sunjidmaa Jamba's picture

Since Mongolia shifted to a multi-party political system and market economy in the early 1990s, it has become a young and vibrant democracy. Debates among politicians, policymakers, civil society organizations, political and social commentators, and other stakeholders are now an integral part of Mongolian society. These happen through local newspapers and on the TV channels, at citizens’ hall meetings, as well as during cultural events, particularly in rural areas as nomadic herders gather for such event and authorities take that opportunity to communicate with them.

However, these debates may not always be particularly effective in getting to a consensus. Indeed, the heritage of the socialist system can still often be felt: public authorities, particularly at the local level, see communication as a way to disseminate and diffuse information through a traditional media approach. There is much to do to transform communication from a one-way dissemination tool to an instrument for two-way engagement.  

Is Candor Terribly Overrated?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In both the professional life of the individual and in the operations of the public sphere, candid communication is reputed to be A Very Good Thing for two reasons. First, it is reputed to promote integrity, and, second, it is reputed to further the search for truth. In an ideal world, both things are probably true. Yet, when you think about some of the hard realities of these two domains, you wonder if candor is not overrated.

Let’s begin with professional life. In the workplace, candor has at least two great enemies. The first enemy is a truly formidable posse: the fragile egos of bosses. Dale Carnegie’s ubiquitous self-help manual, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has as one of its pragmatic lessons this one: To win an argument is to lose a friend. If that is true, what happens if you out-argue or puncture the fulsome intellectual balloons of your boss? Perhaps we should adapt Carnegie and say: ‘Candor kills a job –yours.’ Still, it is amazing how many meetings open with the boss saying: ‘I want everybody in this room to be frank. If I am the one messing up, let me know point blank’.

Right. It is no surprise that 360 degrees evaluations of bosses are usually made anonymous.

Quote of the Week: John Kay

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Public  opinion, well briefed and properly marshalled, is a decisive force in public policy. But since there are many issues in public debate, attention to any one is necessarily transient. The attention of vested interests to their own concerns, however, is permanent."

-- John Kay, Don’t listen to the lobbyists: they never go away, Financial Times, September 21, 2011

Blogging and the Flooded Brain

Sina Odugbemi's picture

What you are reading here is a technical blog. In the World Bank they are (pretentiously?) known as 'Expert Blogs'. I post these reflections once a week, for instance, and, as you would expect, I tend to think about them before I do so. But, as we all know, all over the world these days are bloggers of a very different kind. They blog not only everyday but several times a day.