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Public Opinion is the Ultimate Test

Antonio Lambino's picture


The video posted above is third in a series featured on this blog.  The interview was conducted last June, during a learning event jointly organized by the World Bank Institute’s Governance Practice and CommGAP entitled “The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action.”  Featured in the video is Larry Cooley, president of Management Systems International, a firm that manages and implements development projects globally.  From years of experience working on governance reforms in various countries, Cooley stresses the centrality of public opinion in bringing about successful and sustainable change:

For me the ultimate test on these change strategies is the legitimacy that they enjoy with the population, locally.  And I think in most countries the days have gone when some narrow set of technical experts could simply decide something and expect the rest of the world to implement it… I think that puts the burden on people who would see themselves as technical experts to translate whatever it is they know into a language that can be generally understood.  If they can’t do that, they’re unlikely to sway public opinion and, frankly, from my point of view, they shouldn’t be swaying public opinion… (which is) the ultimate test.”

Cooley masterfully articulates a case to which this blog is obviously partial.  For the past few years, CommGAP has been advocating for the contribution that informed public opinion can make towards pro-poor political and social change.  From studying failed reform efforts in various countries, we have also learned that disregarding public opinion and attempting reform from “behind closed doors” can lead to spectacular embarrassment and failure. 

There is, of course, wide variation in the scope and applicability of approaches and techniques that seek to influence public opinion.  One size does not fit all.  Nonetheless, including public will in diagnosing reform environments as a potential area of engagement and intervention, via analytical activities such as political economy analyses, is a key takeaway from collective on-the-ground experience.  It is prudent to consider the public from the get go.

And, indeed, we have found that various types of operationally relevant political economy analyses can bring to light either technical problems, people-related issues or, oftentimes, a combination of both.  Another thing we have learned is that in situations where governance reform challenges are endemic, a recurring set of people-related challenges tend to crop up, which are amenable to the contribution of communication-based solutions.  Again, this drives at the heart of what we believe to be the potential contribution of communication and persuasion to the governance reform agenda. 

Drawing on decades of real-world experience, Larry Cooley puts it excellently:

… As important as it is to train or work with local analysts, it’s equally important to work with journalism schools, in terms of how things are covered, or to try and get politicians to go on to talk shows and really try and put their views forward to a larger public.  And if there’s going to be really an evidence-based discussion about things, give a forum for that evidence to be presented… and an expansion of that forum that allows it to be reviewed from a variety of different perspectives so that people can make their own decisions about what’s right for them.

Other posts in this series:


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