How does communication support good governance? What can be learned from the experience of the World Bank’s Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP)? This CommGAP briefing paper argues that communication contributes to good governance primarily in the area of influence. Skilful communication can increase stakeholders’ support for governance reform objectives, influencing opinion, attitude and behaviour change. Communication tools can also enhance citizen engagement in political systems. It is important to understand both communication processes and the framework for national dialogue in which these operate.
Good governance is defined as state capability and responsiveness (the ‘supply’ side of governance) and accountability (the ‘demand’ side of governance). Improving governance requires effective and sustainable public sector reform, and evidence suggests that communication activities can help to achieve reform.
At the process level, communication can foster support for governance reform by influencing opinion, attitude, and behaviour change among: (1) leaders and policymakers (political will); (2) mid-level bureaucrats (organisational will); and (3) citizens (public will). At the structural level, communication links citizens, civil society, the media, and government, forming a framework for national dialogue through which informed public opinion is shaped.
Communication processes can address both the supply and demand sides of governance, through targeted and combined approaches. They can:
- Secure political will through formal and informal public interest lobbying and persuasion: For example, the Bangalore-based Public Affairs Centre generated high-level commitment for a (subsequently successful) Citizen Report Card initiative through public interest lobbying.
- Build public will through participatory and deliberative approaches: There are indications (in China and Benin, for example) that consultation tools such as ‘deliberative polling’ can help to inform citizens and increase support for policies that benefit the many rather than the few. Such tools allow policy options to be explained and debated. Two factors are crucial to their success, however: citizens must be willing to invest time and effort in the political process and candidates must be willing to campaign on (empirically-supported) issue positions.
- Secure political will and build public support through framing and agenda setting: Framing involves emphasising elements of an issue and downplaying others in order to convey a particular perspective. Under certain conditions, framing can increase support for viable solutions to public problems. In agenda-setting, media coverage can influence public opinion, which in turn can arguably influence the policy agenda. These links can also work in the other direction: for example, communications from policy elites (and perhaps leaks from either disgruntled or ethically-motivated bureaucrats) can influence media coverage.
At the structural level, there are five entry points for communication strategies in governance reform. These relate to groups of stakeholders (between which strong accountability relationships are needed).
- Public sector management (central executive): Support reform coalitions, middle manager buy-in and national government communication capacity
- Formal oversight institutions (judiciary; parliaments): Support parliamentary coalitions, public reporting mechanisms and institutional legitimacy
- Political accountability (political party and business leaders; civil society elites): Support multi-stakeholder coalitions, policy dialogue, and deliberation and debate
- Local participation and community empowerment (local governments and communities): Support coalition-building, grassroots campaigns and local government communication capacity
- Civil society and the media/private sector interface (CSOâ€˜s; journalists and editors; private firms): Support the engagement and participation of multiple stakeholders.