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September 2010

Leading Public Opinion: The Challenge of Persuasion at Mass Scale

Antonio Lambino's picture

In yesterday’s OP-ED page of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman suggests characteristics of what non-extremist factions of the American polity want in a leader.  I was struck by the high levels of communication capacity these criteria demand.  According to Friedman, the following are among the required traits of desired leadership:  1) the ability to persuade constituents and 2) the ability to lead, not merely read, public opinion.  Not only do these two things require expertise, they are inextricably linked.

Sanumaya’s Tale

Sabina Panth's picture

Sanumaya lives with her five children and frailing mother-in-law in a rural village in Nepal.  Her husband, Gopal has left for United Arab Emirates as a labor migrant.  Last year, the hybrid seeds sold in the local market had led to crop failure, bringing the family to near bankruptcy.  To save his family from destitution, Gopal borrowed money from the local businessman and set off overseas.  In the meantime, Sanumaya joined a local women’s savings and credit group, from where she takes out loan money to do animal husbandry.  The meager income Sanumaya earns from her business is barely enough to sustain the family.  Gopal has not sent home any money yet.  He’s probably saving it to repay the local businessman.  Fortunately, the ancestral home that Sanumaya and Gopal inherited has a lush backyard, where Sanumaya grows vegetables and lets her goats roam about freely. She hopes to sell the goats someday and make some money.

You Are Not So Smart As Me

Naniette Coleman's picture

Haunting is supposed to be reserved for bad movies and Halloween, none-the-less I have been haunted for several weeks now. You have heard my rants about the importance of translating academic work for use by pragmatists and practitioners.You may have thought that I was finally putting this topic to rest. You thought wrong. I have yet another installment to share.

"If we miss the MDGs, who will punish us?"

Antonio Lambino's picture

You’ve probably heard that leaders from around the world have just completed a three day high-level summit  on the Millennium Development Goals in New York.  It’s been a decade since the international community signed up to the MDGs, and two thirds of the way to the 2015 deadline.

In a blog update posted from NY a couple of days ago, World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala cites statistics suggesting progress on various MDG priorities, such as gender parity in primary education, reducing maternal mortality, and access to safe drinking water.  But Ngozi calls for more action, less talk, and points out that behind the statistics are people who continue to suffer from lack of the most basic needs.  Among the various examples she provides, one in particular caught my attention: “Action is about saving lives – (e.g.) a Tanzanian woman who hears on the radio about bed nets at the local clinic.  ”

This example highlights a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition for attaining development outcomes:

SMS Gateways for Public Accountability

Sabina Panth's picture


Last week, I attended a presentation on Strengthening Good Local Governance in Indonesia: Lessons from a Demand-Driven Approach.  The $62 million 5-year USAID-funded program focused on both the supply (strengthening core competencies of local administration) and demand (strengthening institutions to ‘lobby’ for good governance) in the context of the recent “big bang” decentralization in Indonesia.  The presentation featured various tools and instruments for good governance.  I was particularly struck by ‘SMS gateways’ - a new e-governance tool that has been used to strengthen public accountability mechanisms in local governance.

Let's Get Loud: Mobilizing the Silent Majority

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Ideally, governments and other decision makers should consider public opinion and let it guide them in designing policies that benefit the general public. Problematically, sometimes the opinion of the public simply cannot be heard. Sometimes this happens when a very loud minority drowns out the voices of the silent majority. In such cases, the opinion climate in a society may seem to be more radical than it actually is.

Nixon famously used the term "silent majority" when he appealed for support to what he perceived as the majority of American voters who did not publicly oppose the Vietnam War. He saw this group outclamored by a small but noisy minority that did protest. This was actually a clever strategic argument on Nixon's part. Noelle Neumann's Spiral of Silence, which we have introduced here on this blog, posits that most people would follow the majority because they don't want to be isolated in society. If one opinion is heard more and more often, it may be perceived as majority opinion, even though it isn't. And then, if it's become almost ubiquitous, it might be perceived as majority opinion and people may change their own opinions to fit this "opinion climate." This way, over time and with a lot of help from the media, a minority opinion, for instance an extreme political opinion, may actually become the opinion of the majority.

More Connected: Reaching Outside Of Academia to the “Real World”

Naniette Coleman's picture

Content aside, “Connected” is an interesting book. No, I am not talking about the artwork and nifty font choices on the cover, or the academic action photo on the dust jacket - complete with indecipherable brilliance on the dry erase board behind Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. Yes, these may be the calling cards of a good eye-catching best seller but what I am referring to is a bit more subtle.

 


Whilst discussing “Connected” with my supervisor and colleague, Sina Odugbemi, we noted the wide-ranging appeal of their endeavor as indexed by a write up in the back.  Beneath the academic action photo of the authors is something peculiar for an “academic” text, mention of their popular media chops. Although some within the academe might look down on Christakis (Harvard) and Fowler (UC San Diego) for mentioning that their research has been “featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, the Today show, and The Colbert Report, and on the front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today” the mention of these largely non-academic news outlets raise interesting questions about public service oriented research and how it might be better introduced to the “real” world. Is it possible that in order to gain relevance with larger audiences that researchers need to (gasp) translate and market their work to audiences whose primary sources of information are not, well, primary sources? Is it possible that translating academic pieces for use by popular magazine, newspaper or popular TV show will get the writer a step closer to solving the problems about which they are writing? 

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Final Day

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance' (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:

Information Gathering for Demand-led Initiatives

Sabina Panth's picture

Access to pertinent public data is crucial to inform and mobilize citizens in demanding better governance.  Experience shows, however, that the process involved in garnering public data is arduous and often confronted with strong resistance.  To begin with, the planning and execution of government programs and budget are seldom performed in a transparent manner and even when the information is made available, the technical use of the language and the procedures involved in the execution make it very difficult for a lay person to decipher and analyze them.  Problems are also encountered with incomplete or badly maintained records of public expenditures and service delivery.  In addition, the officials who are in charge of managing the programs are cautious in releasing the records for fear of consequences from the disclosed information.  In spite of these constraints, methods have been developed to promote transparency in the planning and implementation of public programs and budget through what has been a long process of information gathering and advocacy campaigns.

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Day Two

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The second day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance Programs', Cape Town, South Africa was marked by a sectoral turn. The substantive reflections and lesson-sharing of the day focused on the implementation of governance and anti-corruption programs at country level in sectors like health, education, transport, energy, and extractive industries. Now, these sectors are very different, but what is fascinating is that with regard to good governance the issues and challenges are amazingly similar. Let me explain.

Relative Priorities: a response to "Dissemination vs Public Engagement"

Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's comment to the blog post "Dissemination vs Public Engagement; in Other Words, Are You Serious?":

"Sina's point resonates well with my experience of working with researchers 
around the world. All of them want their research to become useful and used, 
and most of them would argue that communication is an important and necessary 
part of achieving this end.

But how important?

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Day One

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I am writing from Cape Town in South Africa, where about 90 governance specialists from around the World Bank are attending a workshop on the theme: "Implementing Effective Country Level Governance Programs". The aim of the workshop is to review the implementation of about 17 country level governance programs funded by the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF). The donors, also represented here are the governments of Great Britain, the Netherlands and Norway, through their development agencies.

Launch of Online Database of Research Accountability Tools

Brendan Whitty's picture

The One World Trust, with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), has created an interactive, online database of tools to help organisations conducting policy relevant research become more accountable.

Processes of innovation and research are fundamental to improvements in quality of life and to creating a better society. But to realise these benefits, the quality of research alone is not enough. Organisations engaged in policy-relevant research and innovation must continually take into account and balance the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders: from the intended research users, to their clients and donors, to the research community and the research participants. Responsiveness to all of these is crucial if they are to be legitimate and effective. In this, accountable processes are as important as high quality research products.

India's $35 Tablet Computer: A Pill for Poverty?

Antonio Lambino's picture

Recently featured in the news was a 35 USD version of Apple’s iPad that the Indian government hopes to mass produce by 2011.  India also hopes to bring the unit price down to around 10 USD.  If successful, this initiative could bring an affordable, mobile, multiple application device within reach of lower income families in poor countries.  CNN’s Fareed Zakaria expressed the opinion that a fully-functioning 10 USD computer “could change the world” similar to the way in which satellite dishes and mobile phones have in the past.  I think implicit in Zakaria’s point is the belief that information and communication revolutions have the potential to increase productivity and enhance human development.  But this potential rarely leads to an actual breakthrough.  Due to a host of factors in addition to price (see, for instance, Michael Trucano's post), what might perhaps be called “socio-technological epidemics” tend to be few and far between, especially in poor countries.  There is a difference, of course, between a predominantly commercial success and one that really contributes to development results.

The Empty Stomach and Citizen Demand

Sabina Panth's picture

 

In my blog posts, I have been introducing some tools and techniques that are being tried and tested to instigate citizen-led, demand-driven good governance practices. In this post, I wish to analyze the processes that are involved in working towards that goal.  In other words, what are the basic minimal requirements that need to be in place to initiate and realize demand-driven accountability? Where is the starting point? What are the constraints or opportunities that support or hinder the movement? The purpose of this analysis is to draw out ground realities to understand the effectiveness of the practice to make better policy and program decisions.

Beyond The Reign of Reason?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In liberal political and constitutional thought, the passions are feared and often decried. The constant appeal is to reason: rational thought, rational debate, and rational solutions to problems. Even in the work that we do in CommGAP, the ideas we are committed to include: 

1) Rational debate and discussion in the public sphere (inclusive and democratic) focusing on the leading challenges facing the political community; and

2) Informed public opinion arrived at through a process of open debate and discussion, where relevant information is available to citizens, and all sides to the issue are fully canvassed by proponents. In all that, the appeal is to reason. 

Important Lessons from the Landmine Campaign

Johanna Martinsson's picture

In reviewing effective strategies in global policy advocacy campaigns, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a prime example of an effective campaign.  The campaign’s efforts in creating and advocating for the norm of a complete ban on landmines led to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997, and the Nobel Peace Prize a few months later.  Don Hubert provides a thorough analysis of key factors that led up to the establishment of the Treaty, which reflects S. Neal MacFarlane’s argument that “the humanitarian imperative is best served not by avoiding the political process but by consciously engaging it” (p. 5).  The following are some of the factors Hubert, ICBL and MacFarlane identify as key to the campaign’s success:

Establishing Norms in Large Organizations (Or: How to Win the Turf War)

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Wharton Professor Galit Sarfaty just published a paper on changing norms in international institutions, using as an example the advance of the human rights agenda in the World Bank. The study describes the process of how new norms are adopted - or not - in large organizations and how different factions negotiate their positions. It's well worth a read and spells out the difficulties of reforming organizations and establishing new norms.

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Governance Reform

Naniette Coleman's picture

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” by Atul Gawande seems an unlikely place to find governance reform ideas and development inspiration but I found both therein last week.  The book was recommended by a dear colleague who knows of my interest in organizational change.   An accomplished non-fiction writer "Atul Gawande, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.”    He tackles the “universal struggle to perform well” through the eyes of a surgeon.  Along the way we are introduced to countless examples of organizational seizure, organizational change and the people at the center of these operations.