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Connecting Social Media to the Policy Cycle

Jude Hanan's picture

Here are some fact and figures:

- 62% (that’s six in ten) of online citizens now use social media.

- Facebook has 1 billion registered users and is still growing, mostly in developing countries.

- China has the most people online – 456 million (only 34% of population).

- And nearly 1 in every 5 minutes spent online is now spent on social networking sites.

The business case for using social media in communications is clear: Social media is faster, often cheaper and, for the most part, offers a better way to connect. For communicators, social media is (or should be) an intrinsic part of every campaign or project.

The very same business case could also be made for policy makers. Using the right tools at the right points in the policy making process can be truly transformational, particularly as social media continues to grow and spread. So how does social media fit within the policy cycle? The first part of the answer lies in knowing your audience (more about this in my next blog). The second part of the answer is ensuring that the citizen feedback loop is properly managed so that those who have given feedback continue to remain involved and engaged. 

The process for policy making looks something like this.

(Source: www.parliament.uk)

Clearly, the tasks at each part of the policy cycle could be done using social media tools. For example; developing a rationale for policy changes could be done via an online forum or crowd sourced on an open platform; public forums could be held on Facebook or using Google Hangouts; data analysis can be done via social media management tools. These are only some of the ways which social media tools can be used as part of the policy cycle. Depending on the age of the audience, location and mobile penetration, it might be only one specific type of social media tool, or might be a combination of any number of these tools. 

In the last two years, we’ve seen countries like Tanzania and Ghana use  social media tools and approaches to collect feedback on their constitutions.  In 2012, Iceland took an even more inclusive approach in using social media as part of their policy cycle and used Facebook to crowdsource provisions to its new constitution.  

So what should governments focus on when using social media within the policy cycle?  The first step is ensuring that social media tools and mobile is embedded in government processes.  As I wrote in my last post, this means that the focus must now move towards building capacity in digital engagement so that policy officials understand the opportunities and risks that these low cost tools offer and how they can work alongside more traditional approaches.  Just as importantly, policy makers should also be able to confidently use these tools to make draft strategies and policies available for comment and discussion.  The key point here is not every policy response needs to be a formal written one – what matters is that audiences can explore what the options  are and indicate their support  in whatever ways that suit them best.
 

Image courtesy of Vlado/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Comments

Submitted by Millie on
Dear Jude, Your post is great- you really shouldve been at the event in Venice last weekend that brought together policy makers and network analysts in one room to discuss how they can help each other be more effective (http://www.insiteproject.org/event/masters-of-networks/). One topic that was prominent is policy making in digital age (very much in line with your post) and to what extent understand the principles of networks can help policy makers be more efficient at capturing feedback, maintaining participation, and producing quick workable solutions/prototypes of policies. I wrote up a piece about my presentation here (http://europeandcis.undp.org/blog/2013/01/29/policy-makers-and-network-science-time-to-bridge-the-divide/) it may be of interest give this post. There were several issues that filtered up through the discussion that match nicely with the ones you raised in this post. Best @ElaMi5

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