What does available evidence tell us about the role of communication initiatives in government capability, accountability, transparency and responsiveness? This paper analyses the positive and negative contributions of communication to governance. In theory, effective communication can help to promote good governance; however, a solid evidence base is lacking and a positive correlation should not be assumed. Existing studies suggest that it is not enough to create the means of communication; enabling factors must be in place so that voices can be heard and citizens can hold government to account.
If good governance requires an inclusive public space based on informed dialogue and debate, a positive relationship between communication and governance seems plausible. However, communication can further poor governance (when used to protect the state rather than serve as a voice for the people, for example, or when subject to elite capture). In addition, it is difficult to establish a clear evidence base to support positive connections between communication and governance. There are also challenges relating to causality where the link between communication and governance is thought to be reciprocal; for example, communication may help to promote good governance, but freer government may also promote participation and communication.
This paper analyses the role of communication in governance using a range of evidence including empirical data and case studies. Contributions to government capability, accountability and transparency are considered by analysing the effect of communication strategies on corruption. Contributions to government responsiveness are considered by analysing whether formal citizen feedback mechanisms lead to improved service delivery.
- Empirical analysis comparing a number of countries reveals a clear link between better flows of information and the quality of governance.
- In Bosnia, the use of media tools helped to generate public pressure against corruption in state-owned enterprises. This led to a series of legislative reforms, which helped to fight corruption and improve government capacity, accountability and transparency.
- E-government initiatives – such as the E-Procurement Marketplace in Andra Pradesh, India – can help both to reduce corruption and improve state capacity.
- The use of citizen score cards as a formal means of communication led to significant improvements in governance and public service delivery in Bangalore. Enabling factors also played a role, including the willingness of citizens to take part in civic activism, the engagement of local authorities and the avoidance of elite capture.
- The role of communication in helping citizens to make demands on their governments and to influence decision-making can be seen especially clearly in public financial management and budget expenditure. Consultations in national PRSPs, civil society budget monitoring and analysis, and civil society advocacy can enable citizens to participate in deciding where money should be allocated, in checking that the money reaches its intended target and in holding government accountable and demanding change.
The benefit of communication is most evident when the basic preconditions for democracy and/or good governance exist – when there are established mechanisms for holding government to account, for example, and when the government is prepared to listen. Findings also suggest that donors need to:
- Vary communication programmes according to the existing level of communication in society and the form of governance. This may involve using the internet in repressive environments or formal citizen feedback systems in more open environments.
- Use a mix of communication strategies. For example, the differentiated approach suggested by Silvio Waisbord (2003) involves using: mass media to reach large populations; social marketing to target specific groups; social mobilisation to bolster participation; media advocacy to gain support from governments and donors; and popular folk media to generate dialogue and activate information networks.
- Recognise the challenges in identifying and using sound empirical data. These include difficulties in quantifying communication inputs and governance outputs, in attributing impact, and in identifying and measuring the impact of communication programmes subsumed in wider governance activities.
- Note that establishing a sound evidence base for policy on development communication and governance requires the use of both empirical evidence (for objectively variable trends and correlations) and qualitative evidence (to identify causal links and enabling factors).