Here are some fact and figures:
The business case for using social media in communications is clear: Social media is faster, often cheaper and, for the most part, offers a better way to connect. For communicators, social media is (or should be) an intrinsic part of every campaign or project.
The very same business case could also be made for policy makers. Using the right tools at the right points in the policy making process can be truly transformational, particularly as social media continues to grow and spread. So how does social media fit within the policy cycle? The first part of the answer lies in knowing your audience (more about this in my next blog). The second part of the answer is ensuring that the citizen feedback loop is properly managed so that those who have given feedback continue to remain involved and engaged.
The process for policy making looks something like this.
Clearly, the tasks at each part of the policy cycle could be done using social media tools. For example; developing a rationale for policy changes could be done via an online forum or crowd sourced on an open platform; public forums could be held on Facebook or using Google Hangouts; data analysis can be done via social media management tools. These are only some of the ways which social media tools can be used as part of the policy cycle. Depending on the age of the audience, location and mobile penetration, it might be only one specific type of social media tool, or might be a combination of any number of these tools.
In the last two years, we’ve seen countries like Tanzania and Ghana use social media tools and approaches to collect feedback on their constitutions. In 2012, Iceland took an even more inclusive approach in using social media as part of their policy cycle and used Facebook to crowdsource provisions to its new constitution.
So what should governments focus on when using social media within the policy cycle? The first step is ensuring that social media tools and mobile is embedded in government processes. As I wrote in my last post, this means that the focus must now move towards building capacity in digital engagement so that policy officials understand the opportunities and risks that these low cost tools offer and how they can work alongside more traditional approaches. Just as importantly, policy makers should also be able to confidently use these tools to make draft strategies and policies available for comment and discussion. The key point here is not every policy response needs to be a formal written one – what matters is that audiences can explore what the options are and indicate their support in whatever ways that suit them best.
Image courtesy of Vlado/FreeDigitalPhotos.net