Close to 30 government officials from seven Asian countries* recently participated in CommGAP’s workshop on communication and governance reform. Entitled People, Politics, and Change, the workshop was held in Manila, Philippines from April 20 to 23. The participant pool included a few high level officials, both cabinet ministers and national parliamentarians. Also in the group were governance specialists from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the World Bank’s newly established regional governance hub in Bangkok. Observers included representatives from the Asian Institute of Management and the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.
Similar to previous deliveries of the workshop in Washington, D.C. and Africa, the curriculum focused on recurring issues that reform managers face when implementing change efforts in the real world. These challenges include the need to secure political will among policy elites, garner bureaucratic/middle manager support, blunt the threat of vested interests, and build public support for reform efforts. These efforts that revolve around changing people’s hearts and minds have been dubbed “adaptive challenges” by Ron Heifetz, leadership professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Adaptive challenges do not have obvious solutions and can be clearly differentiated from technical challenges, which usually have clear-cut, policy-based solutions.
In the Manila workshop, we discussed how adaptive challenges are amenable to communication-based interventions. Examples include the skillful framing of reform issues to genuinely reflect the interests of one’s advocacy group; coalition building and interpersonal negotiation skills to help navigate difficult multistakeholder environments; and working effectively with the media to build public support.
Participants and observers validated the issues tackled over four days, easily mapping governance reform challenges and experiences from their own country contexts onto the framework of the workshop. Dave Llorito, a participant from the Philippines, remarked that “... we came out of it learning a lot from the real dynamics of negotiations, the use of timing when and how messages are conveyed, the framing of issues, among others. That was a great learning experience.”
For me, one of the highlights came on the first day, during the keynote address of former Philippine Civil Service Commission Chairperson Karina Constantino-David. Reflecting on her distinguished careers in government, civil society, media, and the academe, she posited that successful reformers require the judicious use of “facipulation” -- a combination of “facilitating” feedback, dialogue, and deliberation, and “manipulating” outcomes, when necessary. “Facipulation”, to my mind, captures with a prudential mix of idealism and realism, the ways in which reform managers might successfully deal with adaptive challenges and the complex interplay of people, politics, and change.
* Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Philippines, Vietnam