How can the use of more strategic communication help developing countries reach the Millennium Development Goals? How can national ownership and participation in Poverty Reduction Strategies be created? This paper produced by the UK Department for International Development and The World Bank provides guidance on best practice for policymakers. It concludes that PRSs are not implemented in isolation and factors such as the underlying political culture can be decisive.
Recent reviews of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) approach highlight the need for more support for civil society engagement and participation in policy dialogue. Strategic communication actively seeks the perspectives and contributions of citizens to help shape policy. It can contribute to the effectiveness of PRSs through open and inclusive national dialogue, managing public expectations, promoting transparency and accountability and maintaining momentum.
Challenges around strategic communication include the lack of available information, a lack of trust in the process, consultation rather than participation and poor communication. Communication often ends once the PRSP is finalised. The following structural factors are critical to whether or no genuine participation is achievable:
- The underlying political culture can be decisive. An authoritarian regime will believe that public policy is the responsibility of the government.
- The role and state of the media. Issues include whether laws allow an independent media, the level of access of communities and the degree of informed political information published.
- Access to official information. Participation of civil society is not possible unless relevant information is widely available.
- The number and capacity of civil society organisations in particular countries. The more organised local institutions are the more likely genuine participation will occur.
- Governments’ communication capacity. The low level of skills and capacity of the staff in many public institutions can have a significant affect on the implementation of the PRS.
This has implications for the implementation of PRSPs. There needs to be a distinction between consultation and participation. Furthermore:
- Strategic communication is planned and long term, rather than ad-hoc or reactive.
- Communication strategies should promote ownership through an open and inclusive national political dialogue. Specific mechanisms must be institutionalised to ensure a free flow of information between policymakers and civil society.
- Increase civil society resources and seek to engage them (particularly the opinion leaders in the community).
- Government capacity should be built to improve communication. It is important that communication functions two-ways. The mass media should be encouraged to engage in the process of open and inclusive national dialogue. PRSPs can challenge the economic literacy of journalists.
- Strategic communication should be integrated at both macro and specific sectoral and thematic areas prioritised by each PRS.