Good communication strategy is essential for good governance


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2010 post earthquake Haiti. Photo - Mercy Corps Mercy Corps
2010 post earthquake Haiti. Photo: Mercy Corps

When trust in governments around the world is at a historic low, and a myriad of challenges continue to overwhelm leaders, it’s imperative for government agencies to revamp their strategic communications approach.
Whether it is during a natural disaster or a policy consultation process, citizens expect honest and useful communications from their government agencies. This expectation isn’t misplaced, as they now live in a world where mobile phones and the Internet are ubiquitous.
Governments often succeed or fail because of the way they communicate their vision, mission and policy objectives with the wider citizenry. In a digital age, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that governments ought to be proactive  in the way they communicate and engage with citizens.
The decreasing price of technology such as mobile phones is leading to the rapid democratization of digital communicators. 
Recently, when the devastating earthquake hit Nepal, Nepalis inside and outside the country wanted actionable information as soon as possible. Many of them were talking about the devastation even before the government’s initial statement. Twitter and Facebook are popular in Nepal and people were using the platforms to talk about damage and rescue.
As a Nepali citizen, I know my government has yet to be digitally savvy. Thankfully, the government launched a Twitter account to share the latest devastation numbers and information about rescue operation. It was a strategic use of the tool in a time of crisis.

The lesson from this quick anecdote is that governments ought to be where citizens already are. 20 years ago, citizens mostly relied on newspapers, T.V. and radio. Many still do. But they also talk about challenges and opportunities, and their government's success and failures, on the web and social media. 
As governments around the world start to engage with citizens, listen to their concerns and promote their policies, here are a few things for them to keep in mind as a starting point:

  1. Listen: Traditionally, citizens voice their opinions and preferences through elections or protests. Now they use social media, almost on a daily basis. Government agencies ought to start listening.  It will not only inform policy makers, but probably help them to avoid policy blunders.
  2. Be digital first, especially mobile: People around the world are leapfrogging thanks to mobile . More than half of the world’s population has mobile subscriptions now. By the end of 2014, the world had 3.6 billion unique mobile subscribers. Mobile is where people do business and share their opinions. Governments ought to be there too, providing services and engaging with citizens. There are lessons to be learned from Estonia and the U.K.  
  3. Focus on being citizen-centric: If you ask a common citizen in any country, they are likely to tell you that government acts in its best interest rather than the people's interest. The fundamental shift in the way people communicate and expect services should persuade governments to be more citizen-centric. When governments are citizen-centric, it benefits everyone. 
  4. Prioritize and be impactful: When it comes to communicating policy objectives, governments should prioritize and target.  In an age where attention is scarce and people are bombarded with too much information, it pays off when you prioritize, customize information for people and make it useful for them.​
  5. Build a coalition, your ambassadors: Governments must engage not only with NGOs, but also with average citizens who can potentially help promote and accomplish core policy objectives in their communities.

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Join the Conversation

Sarah Zapata
August 21, 2015

I feel more identify with the point No 5. Reaching individual citizens is very important. To many people neglect to engage in Organizations, like Neighborhood, NGO and other. One of the reazons for thatisthe role of the leadership on those organization, thinking that, as soon as you belong to their organization, you are a property of them, and they have to give you permise to do anithing and they have the right to modify your opinion. Same situation happens with interoganization NGO, they want to much control on your organization. To many good ideas and projects remain unattended.

Salieu Taal
August 25, 2015

Excellent piece and I hope our governments take note. Communicating with the citizenry through all media forms particularly new media - mobile phones, Internet is the responsibility of every Government. The launch of websites that are not updated is not enough. Notwithstanding the fact the majority of our people don't have internet but mobile phone penetration is over 90% in most African countries.

August 13, 2015

Most Agreed.

August 13, 2015

Good content and beneficial to the reader.

Dhirendra Krishna
July 31, 2015

In India, section 4 of the Right To Information Act 2005 makes it compulsory for the public authorities to disclose and disseminate information, so that citizens need not file application for getting information needed by them. Although the law is about a decade old, section 4 has not been implemented in letter and spirit. After the advent of digital age and massive use of computers and cell phones, there is need for review of policy and practices.

Samiullah Naseri
August 22, 2015

Right to information in India is quite enough used by the local communities representatives, even those illiterate villagers who does not have access to technology directly, they ask for help for those citizens who has access and together they are solving their social problems through the budget specified by the government of India to rural people such cash for work.

Hairson Guibert
November 25, 2015

A few things I shall keep in mind in drafting ICT strategy and priority investment plan for IGAD countries.
Especially lessons learned from Estonia that I already shared with IOC countries a few months ago.

Rahul Deo
January 29, 2016

Another issue that affects good governance is that citizens are unable to communicate aptly with the government (government agencies and officials). Most of the people choose not to raise their grievance with the government only because they don't know what to say, how to say and to whom. They are so hopeless about the getting the issues resolved that they choose to just ignore it. Hence, a good communication from the end of the citizens is equally significant.