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Facebook: A powerful tool to increase public access to government officials

Mohammad Amin's picture

Most of the attention on governance in developing countries is on developing efficient rules and regulations. That is, given the social and economic priorities of a country, rules and regulations should work towards achieving priorities in the least costly way. However, another dimension of governance that must be discussed is accessibility of government officials to the public. Arguably, better access would increase transparency and help citizens and businesses voice their ideas and concerns, thereby allowing for more effective implementation of laws. What are some innovative ways of improving accessibility to government officials?

I came across an interesting answer to this question by a high-ranking government official in the Kanpur district of northern India. He believes that the popular networking site, Facebook, could become a powerful tool for the public for accessing government officials. As quoted in a leading newspaper in India, this is what he had to say:

I have clearly conveyed my instructions to all the senior officials of the district administration to open an individual account at the earliest and then join the account that I have created in the name of Kanpur District Administration. … I believe the move will not only help the public, but will also serve as an efficient communication medium among officials of the government departments.

…On one hand, the public will get easy access to officials for airing their grievances, at the same time we would also be able to track the activities being undertaken by different government agencies so that the officials from various departments can co-ordinate to achieve the ultimate goal of serving the public. … From complaints related to poor roads, improper sanitation, garbage disposal and other civic problems, all can be posted on the account. Depending upon the nature of the complaints, they will be sorted and then forwarded to the department concerned.

…The officials of a particular department will also be required to update the district administration by sending alerts on the account of the Kanpur district administration. This would surely be liked by the public as they would also be able to track their complaints. In simpler terms, it would facilitate transparency in the functioning of government officials.

Perhaps in a few years we will have an idea of the benefits of the initiative above. Will it really reduce, for example, the number of days it takes to obtain a construction permit? And if yes, then by how many days? I encourage the relevant groups within the World Bank to set up similar Facebook experiments at the sub-national level to better answer these and related questions.

Comments

Submitted by hepzi leon soon on
I like this idea. Piloting this idea and sampling the Citizen's response will be very interesting. People are used to navigating between FB screens, so user friendliness will not be a critical factor in this initiative.

Submitted by Abubakar Muhammad Moki on
I like that and will sell the idea to my colleagues for the involvement of Ugandans, to effectively participate in East African Community regional cooperation and integration affairs. I am an Assistant Commissioner Economic Affairs in the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, Republic of Uganda. The Ministry is the focal point on East African Community Affairs in Uganda

Hi Mohammad, very interesting - thanks for sharing! You might be interested also in some examples along the same lines that I came across recently: China police use micro-blogs 'to connect with public' http://bbc.in/fV4Saw Microblogs help government stay in tune with public http://bit.ly/ijvt6L The Russian paper Vedeomosti recently published a lits of social tools used by regional governors http://bit.ly/gfo5K9 Kyrgyzstan's interim president also has a rather active Facebook and Twitter account http://twitter.com/otunbayeva Indeed, as you suggest, it would be good to start collecting these examples and build a series of case studies over time.

Submitted by Tom Minney on
It is interesting how fast many Africans are adopting technology, including facebook, especially via their mobile phones, including for stock exchange trading. However, many governments seem to be stuck into the 19th century. Improving the idea of government openness and transparency is great, power to countries such as Rwanda, and well known and familiar tools such as facebook are important.

I like the idea, though there are a few kinks to be ironed out – not the least of which is that my online identity is MINE, not my employers's, and it's not cool to order me to use my Facebook profile for work if I don't want to. But the real point here is: in the wake of the post-Wikileaks debate many people argued that government need secrecy (and they seemed to imply: secrecy by default) to be able to function. The Kanpur story seems to have the opposite implication: these guys are removing the lid and exposing the inner workings of government, with citizens knowing the name and face of the official who has received their complaint and has or has not acted upon it. So where do we stand? To me, the Kanpur officials are more in sync with the times. We humans had to redefine privacy when the social internet came around; governments will need to do the same.

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