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Building Will

Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's response to the blog post Media Strengthening: Taking Politics Seriously - 2:

"We've come across such problems helping the government of Trinidad and Tobago build concensus for sweeping reform of public services. Under the auspices of their ministry for public administration, we've their support to build an online forum as a first step in establishing public servant-led dialogue, that we hope can grow across government then into the world of consumers.

Starting online, it will need to attract more than the 25% of citizens now online, but it is a start. Once we get it going, the challenge will be (1) to get the administration to discuss HR issues (in particular) even if they have not formulated a position beforehand. Then (2) to ensure that forum comments and questions are responded to swiftly, so that the cynical workforce does not give up on dialogue.

We are also working with the fragmented and weak private sector, including civil society, to build a wholly private lobby for public service reform, chiefly an umbrella of appropriate membership organisations in total representing a big chunk of the population (among whom there is great demand for reform but deep cynicism). Gratifyingly, our stakeholder research has identified a lot of people, powerful or merely energetic, who want this to succeed and are willing to commit serious time and effort. together they can provide backbone and resolve to those reformers in government who might otherwise grow weak-kneed and flee the battlefield at the first whiff of cordite.

If it works, and we can help it form and find its feet, it will change the media dynamic here. Now, media has only the dialogue between opponents -- government and those out of power who oppose any government reform for any reason. If an independent body of citizens demands its rights, whether that means praising or chastising government, then the dynamic is ever altered and no longer need every media story treat service reform as merely another content-free political dogfight. a diagrammatic bipolar stick becomes a triangle.

I raise this because my colleagues in the senior civil service, recognising the strategic value herein, urged me to be blunt with their political masters, primarily to explain the virtues governmentally in risking 'tough love' from an organisational ally independent and outside of government, and the virtues politically to an elected figure who delivers real help to his long-suffering public.

Development communication is a strategic game won by ensuring that every stakeholder comes out ahead (or as many as possible). I've seen too many good programmes fail because development strategists forgot that the politician stakeholder deserves legitimate and legal incentives just as anyone else."

S. Masty

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