Richard Boeckel wrote in 1920 “the first requisite to being an elected President in this new age of publicity is to have a story of the kind that will appeal to the people, the second is to have the kind of a press organization that will get the story to them”.
One of the lessons we’ve learnt in governance consulting over the years is that people are calling for open leadership. They are tired of playing hide and seek with the government. From candidates running for office to Ministries, Department and Agencies and even advocacy groups, communication is now a two-way street. Just as governments need to hear from citizens, citizens also need to hear from their governments.
Here are a few things governments must note to enhance communications with the citizenry:
- Storytelling: Turning those policies, press statements, reforms and agenda into stories are a priority for any government hoping to sustain meaningful interactions with today’s electorate. Most often, it is the best story that wins. Hence, the role of storytelling is important –telling it and re-telling it to every citizen in the language they best understand is part of the communication wheel.
- Digital tools: Modern communication technologies have made it easier for citizens to speak directly to their leaders and vice versa. Elected representatives and appointed officials should establish an easy system for people to call or e-mail them directly, tweet at them, or leave comments on their Facebook pages. It’s not enough to open these channels, they should also have a foolproof response mechanism in place to encourage open feedback.
- Accessible data: Government, Ministries, Department and Agencies produce essential data on almost everything, from unemployment trends and security threats to progress of local road repairs. Translating those stacks of report to easily digestible communication materials is a necessity. Citizens need to understand and measure the outcomes of governance decisions through the supporting data that is verifiable and easy to assimilate.
- Crisis management: As with most complex situations governments have to manage, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating during turnarounds. A government caught amidst a crisis must simultaneously convey a sense of balance to the populace in explaining what went wrong and confidence that they know how to correct it.
- Monitoring and evaluation: It’s not just the constant flow of information that matters but ensuring communication activities achieve the intended outcomes. Here, government representatives must work closely with Communication Specialists to design structured, yet flexible M&E processes for reviewing the impact of the communication on the target audience.
Check out some interesting case studies on how StateCraft Inc. helps leaders at national and sub-national levels to develop healthy communication systems in different parts of the world.
Richard Boeckel, “The Man with the Best Story Wins: Which Explains Why Pitiless Publicity Looms So Large in the Presidential Campaign,” Independent, May 22, 1920, 244–245.