“Public sentiment is everything, with public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed”.
Last week, the field of communication lost one of its most eminent figures, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, who died on March 25 at the age of 93. A German public opinion scholar, Noelle-Neumann has had a powerful influence on the study of public opinion and political communication worldwide. Her most notable contribution, the theory of the Spiral of Silence, has made a lasting impression on the field.
If there is one historical personage that all finance ministers – or treasury secretaries – need to know, he is Jacques Necker (1732-1804). He was the finance minister of France in the 1780s. He was credited with popularizing the phrase ‘public opinion’ (opinion publique). What was his central insight? He noticed that the attitude of the French public to the king of France determined whether or not they purchased the treasury bills issued from time to time by the king. It they had a favorable opinion of the king they bought his bills; if not, they did not buy his bills. In other words, the financial health of the kingdom and the power of the king depended on opinion publique.
Necker pointed out that the same was true of the finance minister. He was clear that the finance minister ‘stands in most need of the good opinion of the people.’ He pointed out that fiscal policies needed to be pursued with ‘frankness and publicity,’ and that the finance minister must ‘associate the nation’ with his plans, including the obstacles he had to surmount. Necker practiced what he preached, launching a systematic management of public opinion. In 1792, he declared:
A reader's response to the blog post “Open Government”: Open to Whom?:
"Excellent post! Investing in ICTs is fundamental to open and transparent governance.
I am particularly struck by the following lines, "For their part, government officials complained about the lack of recordkeeping and archiving, particularly of the digital variety. Even with the best of intentions, officials may not be able to make information available amid weak information management systems; some of the interviewees pointed out that information about existing programs goes missing, and with it lessons learned -- along with the public’s opportunity to hold agencies accountable."
As part of the AudienceScapes project, InterMedia has been conducting quantitative and qualitative research in Africa, to better understand how people gather, share and shape news and public interest information. In Kenya, InterMedia conducted in-depth interviews with 15 senior members of the policy-making community.
"Voicing the opposite opinion, or acting in public accordingly, incurs the danger of isolation. In other words, public opinion can be described as the dominating opinion which compels compliance of attitude and behavior in that it threatens the dissenting individual with isolation, the politician with loss of popular support. Thus the active role of starting a process of public opinion formation is reserved to the one who does not allow himself to be threatened with isolation."
In Memoriam: Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916 - 2010)
Twaweza is a Swahili word that means “we can make it happen.” In Tanzania and Kenya, it is also the name of "a citizen-centered initiative, focusing on large-scale change in East Africa.” Earlier this week, at the Center for Global Development, Twaweza head and founder Rakesh R. Rajani delivered a presentation the title of which tickled my imagination: “Why Ownership and Capacity Building Don’t Work: Lessons from East Africa.”
As a salute to the historic passage of health care reform in the United States, a story that this blog has been tracking, I want to recall something that Senator Barack Obama ( as he then was) said in 2008. It was in the course of his epic battle with Senator Hillary Clinton (as she then was) for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. You will recall that the two of them debated health care reform interminably in those months. The issue was: was health care reform merely a problem of technical design?
Why don’t Finns worry about locking their bikes on a busy Helsinki Street? Why do Finnish skateboarders who advocate anarchy politely abide by traffic laws? Why indeed is Finland so uncorrupt? The answers to these questions are presented in a paper by Darren C. Zook called “The Curious Case of Finland’s Clean Politics,” which a colleague recently shared with me. Zook points out that, puzzlingly, most corruption literature today focuses on countries where corruption is rampant in order to document and examine incidents and causes of corruption. Instead of focusing on the bad news, he posits, why not learn from the “clean” countries? His paper examines Finland as a source of inspiration for a model of clean government.
In the last posting I discussed two key elements making change difficult to achieve; namely people’s inherent resistance to change and the tendency to design and deliver messages appealing to the rational side of people. This last point is often a cause of limited success in promoting change because it neglects to consider that human behaviours are not always guided by rational considerations, at least in a strict scientific sense (see the still rather strong diffusion of smoking despite that its harm is almost universally acknowledged).Taking into account stakeholders’ perceptions, satisfaction, and cultural models can often be more effective than solutions-based innovations, especially if suggested by external agents of change.