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#9 from 2013: Using Social Media for Good Governance

Jude Hanan's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on Jaunary 14, 2013


2011 was a year of turmoil. Internationally, economic meltdown deepened and continued, massive earthquakes struck New Zealand and a tsunami hit Japan. But 2011 will be also remembered for a different type of earthquake – the Arab Spring – an event that shook the Middle East, causing regimes across the region to totter and fall. Unlike other revolutions, this one used relatively new tools and technologies – networked or social media.

Much has already been written about the Arab Spring but what is already clear from the current body of work being produced is that it was the use of social media that acted as the catalyst for change in an already unpredictable environment. The use and availability of social media easily created connections between prominent thought leaders and activists to ordinary citizens, rapidly expanding the network of people willing to take action.

Although the true impact of the Arab Spring is still playing out in Egypt and beyond, the events of 2011 created a new paradigm shift that governments must now consider: That society is no longer dominated by government or the market, but by the power of communities and groups. The way in which social media works means that information is porous.  National borders, government structures or even languages are no longer relevant in this new environment.

The changes wrought by the use of social media in our daily lives have, for the most part, not been mirrored within government. Social media in these spaces remains more of a tentative relationship than an ideal marriage. An oft heard argument by officials is that benefits of using social media remain unclear. Yet there are obvious upsides to its use.

Using social media in government:

  • Creates the means to improve governance. Social media provides easy publication and rapid spread of information.  By doing so, it creates transparency that can strengthen citizen goodwill towards government.   For citizens, by embedding government information in social media provides hitherto unimagined access to government and the means to connect in real time. For government, it offers the ability to rapidly poll public opinion and perhaps more importantly, forecast broader, societal trends.
  • Opens up access to government and government officials and create new possibilities for community driven initiatives. It makes sense for government to enable and facilitate a partnership culture for this to occur.  (Does this perhaps, mean a new era of Public Private Partnerships?)
  • Saves time and money.  Providing information through social media channels offers real efficiencies in creating faster, easier and cheaper access to information, particularly to younger voters who tend use, read and operate in social media spaces.
  • Creates new ways of working. Online collaboration across government departments and with citizens could force change on the way government operates and develops policy.

 

These are only a few of the benefits that the use of social media offers to both governments and citizens. This is not to say social media is the only answer – obviously, it’s not.   As with every government activity, channel choice should be based on audience segmentation and research. For example, Linkedin, a professional networking social media channel, is clearly not the right social space to access or engage with teens. However, it is these user-centered and self-organizing networks that create value in our society, including public value. Governments should (must) consider the use of social media as part of the overall policy and communications mix.

The real challenge for government is behavioral change, opening up the culture within government structures and in the behavior of its officials. There is, of course, some risk operating in social media – messaging can’t be easily controlled, reputations need to be strongly managed and the right information needs to be provided at the right time. Every official should be prepared to work in these online spaces. However, the even greater risk to governments is not being involved in social media. And unless government understands the possibilities of social media, educates and allow their officials to use social media in their working environments, opportunities for real engagement, innovation, change and transparency may be lost.

Share your insights below. How does your government use social media? What has worked for you?
 

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Comments

Thanks for the post! Could not agree more on the potential of social media for good governance, I hear often from colleagues in the Arab region about the social media revolution and how these tools can promote democracy; but I think in many ways in the region where I work (Eastern Europe and the CIS) things have progressed faster in the analysis and concrete application of these tools for promoting good governance (I refer to developing contexts); looking at effectiveness and efficiency of the public administration for example or at the fight against corruption. A study that we produced in 2011 on social media for anti corruption (http://bit.ly/W4D2GA) kick started a wealth of UNDP activities in the region (and beyond I think).. What is next? to me your point 3 is particularly interesting (social media in government saves time and money). I am a bit skeptical about the engagement of citizens on the bases of universal values, especially in this region; governments that utilize social media becomes more effective in providing services and promoting economic development, this is true especially looking at some work done at the local level. We are looking at the intersection between social media and open data tools to promote good governance and economic development, maybe this is the way to go also for promoting the behavioral change you rightfully talk about..

Thanks for this inspiring blog. I believe that the national and local authorities need to approach the development challenges with innovation and do their best to be more inclusive no matter of the geographical or societal determinants. Compared to central government, local government offers much more fertile ground for the successful introduction of measures to ensure direct participatory democracy. This is especially the case with the increased digitalization of society. A recent innovation in Macedonia provides an example of how to to increase transparency at local level by implementing accountable action. For the first time ever in country, citizens can now use a free phone-number and an interactive website to give their feedback on the work of local government. By calling the new phone-line at 0800 111 85, or by using the Get Involved and Give a Suggestion! Website (www.dajpredlog.mk), citizens can register their level of satisfaction with the essential services provided by their municipalities and report any shortfalls in the implementation of laws and policies at the level of local government. Since recently the platform can be followed on Facebook and Twitter. We are confident that our initial objective of increasing direct communication between the citizens and the Ministry of Local Self-Government has been advanced by this tool even in the first month of its operation when a total of 38 proposals were received with over 2,000 visitors (from 26 different countries!).

Submitted by Jude Hanan on
Thank you Toni for your comments. It's great to hear about such an innovative project in Macedonia. It would be interesting to hear more on what you intend to do with the feedback gathered from your website, particularly from those from other countries. How does the feedback gathered from the site impact on your Ministry's policy cycle?

Thank you very much for expressing further interest. In the first month only, the site had over 2,000 visitors and citizens already provided 38 proposals. Most of them generally concern issues of infrastructure such as public hygiene, disturbances in the drinking water supply, pollution from industry, as well as, municipal and cultural aspects of local services. The responsibility lies with the municipalities themselves and the Ministry directs citizens to the institution responsible for resolving the issue. There were also four proposals which fall under the competence of the State Inspectorate for Local Self-Government, suggesting solutions for procedural shortfalls regarding adoption of detailed urban plans, issuing construction permits and timely provision of requested information. The inspectorate responded to the proposals and let citizens know about what will happen next procedurally with their proposals. Also, the Ministry of Local Self Government holds regular meetings where they confirm that the proposal has reached the Ministry and issues a request for the mayors to follow up on the citizen’s proposal, while also providing guidance to both the citizen and the municipality on how to act further. Since the website has been jointly developed by the UNDP Office in Skopje and the Ministry of Local Self-Government, UNDP is using the data to help the further upgrading of the web site. For example, the platform will soon include dashboards to present key indicators related to local self-government reforms and the ongoing decentralization process, to ensure that citizens have an immediate access to all relevant information and also a tool to provide feedback as some sort of a ‘permanent social audit’. We believe that such an inclusive approach will also support national authorities in preparation of policies better and help them tap into additional resources for know-how and financing.

Submitted by Chris Decker on
In Kosovo, we too are looking at increasing transparency in government. And again picking up Jude’s third point about speed and efficiency, our purpose is two-fold; one to allow people better information about local service provides and by having price-lists for permits and other fees readily accessible, it should help prevent low level corruption. We are certainly not recreating the wheel. What we are hoping to do is to bring a bit of GOV.uk (https://www.gov.uk/) to Kosovo. What I love about this site is that with 3-4 clicks you have really in-depth information to solve your problem. You can find how much road tax you will need to pay on your car, cost of building permits, or the process of taking your employer to a tribunal. And the best part is that all the forms you need to make any application are all online. The one drawback at the moment is that it does not appear to have a smartphone app, which its predecessor Directgov had. In Kosovo we hope that by increasing the citizens’ access to this sort of information, people will not be milling around municipal buildings and with fees already known there is less likelihood that government employees can ask for money to give out the forms or inflate the fee to pocket some for themselves.

Submitted by Jude Hanan on
We'd love to hear more about your work in Kosovo on building information and transactional services. You rightly point out that access to information is an important step towards a fair and open society. Gov.uk is certainly one of the forerunners in this space - particularly in the delivery of clearly defined transactional services. You're also right to also point out that a smart phone app would be helpful to building a wider audience, particularly as mobile penetration in the UK is relatively high. Are you able to share more about your work in Kosovo and how you're measuring success? In a number of ways, websites are only one (and very crucial) step towards delivering access to information. Governments do need to engage more on social media as these types of tools, when matched with more traditional digital approaches, can support anti-corruption measures and encourage better delivery of government services. The networked nature of social media offers a way for both citizens and government to validate the performance of government services or even government officials. As always, any social media activity should be based on audience requirements - a subject I will cover in my next blog.

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