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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.

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