Those are not my words; they belong to the editorial board of The National, Dubai, United Arab Emirate (UAE). The editorial is quoted in full below. It is a comment on a development: the Cabinet of the UAE has just approved the setting up of a Government Communication Office as part of its modernization agenda. The editorial points out why this is a major development. I draw attention to the editorial because it is an eloquent statement about one of the under-appreciated issues in the governance reform agenda...the vital importance of a government's ability to engage in two-way communication with its own citizens, and why this is one of the reasons why the nature of the public sphere in a country has consequences for the governance outcomes that we seek. About all this, more later. Here is The National:
The 2008 presidential election in the United States has been touted as an epic battle over many things – over whether and how to continue US military involvement in Iraq, over whether and how to boost private companies’ efforts to dig their way out of a global financial markets crisis, over whether and how to change the overarching course of the country from the trajectory it has been on for the past eight years. These contours of th
Like Sina, I too was recently in Cape Town as part of a team of trainers delivering a course titled 'People, Politics and Change: Communication Approaches for Governance Reform'. The participants were 29 senior government officials from 10 different African countries.
I was in Cape Town, South Africa, last week as part of a team of trainers. We were delivering a course titled 'People, Politics and Change: Communication Approaches for Governance Reform'. The participants were 29 senior government officials from 10 different African countries, each one being responsible for a specific governance reform initiative.
As one of our trainers explained it, the idea of a 'learning laboratory' is an adult-learning moment where three-way learning occurs: the participants learn from the trainers, the participants learn one from the other, and the trainers learn from the participants. And that is what happened over those four days in Cape Town.
The reason I chose such a title is due to the difficulty of mainstreaming (i.e., understanding and institutionalizing) the emerging conception of communication in development required to support and address the challenges in the current process of democratization, especially when dealing with governance issues.
In last week’s blog I argued that to ensure survival on a crowded planet, technical solutions and their economic viability are important – but that changing governance at many levels is a key hinge for enabling societies across the globe to take the necessary decisions and to make the major adjustments that are needed. This week’s blog looks further at possible solutions.
An important domain for experimenting with better governance are cities. About 50 per cent of the world’s population is now living in cities, and 70 per cent are expected to do so by 2050. Air and water pollution are often concentrated in and around large urban centres. Improving governance of cities could make a huge contribution to addressing the challenges of a crowded planet.
I need to explain how this came about. I was in London recently and I wanted a fabulous example of English prose style to read on the flight back to Washington. I have always believed that the golden age of English prose style is somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries. So I went to Waterstones, the booksellers, and bought a copy of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay's (1800-1859) magisterial History of England, specifically the condensed Penguin Classics version of it. As a masterpiece of English prose style it has not disappointed me. The work itself tells the story of how James II, King of England in the late 17th century, lost public support and William of Orange was able to come over from Holland to replace him, almost without firing a shot in anger. The revolution is known as the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and it more or less resulted in the constitutional system that is still the basis of government in the United Kingdom today.
In March, Jeffrey Sachs published his latest book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet – an urgent plea for societies across the globe to reduce and better manage their impact on the earth’s ecosystems if we want to survive and prosper in an ever more crowded world.
As Sachs warns, continuing ‘business as usual’ will make life on our planet increasingly unsustainable. Air pollution and global warming present the biggest risks. But as humans have come to use almost any natural resource intensively, there are also major risks related to the availability of water and of fertile top-soil. At the same time, Sachs argues that we have the technical tools and the economic means to save the planet and to accommodate a rising global population – as well as increasing global wealth and rising consumption in today’s poorer countries.
If one were to believe all these surveys that ask people about their media use, then people who are found to be “in the know” regarding public affairs are usually those who read newspapers and, to a lesser degree, watch the news. People who primarily consume or self-report a preference for entertainment usually score lower on these political knowledge questions (themselves controversial) than news junkies.
In both the developed and developing world, I've come across people in varying positions of power either hinting or stating in no uncertain terms that I would not receive a government service without "greasing the wheel." Despite wide disparities between low- and high- income country contexts, these experiences left the same bad taste in my mouth. But corrupt practices, including bribery, aren't equal and, in a larger sense, understanding the differences among them puts us in better stead in the global fight against corruption. In a previous post, CommGAP requested feedback on an anti-corruption learning event jointly organized with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One of the themes of the event will be the role of communication in shifting social norms toward condemning corrupt everyday practices.