5 min read
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. Leaders in all walks of life, but especially in government, have to perform a range of functions for the people. They have to provide national and economic security, keep a semblance of order and protect basic human rights. To do any of these things well, those who lead have to connect to those they govern and figure out what the people want in terms of policy and support. This is no easy task when you consider that the government regulates hundreds of millions of people, all with different backgrounds and experiences. Yet, some key principles and strategies can guide those in power to truly effective leadership and results.
As the old saying goes, assuming makes a you-know-what out of you and me. So, any government action needs to be based on more than just gut and preconception. A government at any level needs real data driving what they do, which means they must spend resources to do general social listening and get consistent feedback.
Gathering insights from constituents about key policy issues can be done with traditional surveys, interviews, town halls, or other strategies done in an omnichannel way. And what might work best can depend on multiple factors, such as demographics. But today, social media listening is especially important.
Social media listening doesn’t mean just occasionally putting communications on sites like Twitter. Rather, it involves continuously monitoring the discourse that’s always happening online about various topics in a broad, macro view. Once you have good insights, the next step is to take the feedback and actually apply it in terms of ongoing policy changes and development.
As a good example of how this can be effective, consider the Covid-19 crisis. In many countries, such as Italy, governments have been monitoring social media accounts to figure out if and when to lockdown and reopen as well as to monitor how well people are abiding by quarantine.
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Just as technology can be a powerful part of a government’s feedback infrastructure, it also can allow people to participate in government and tap government services more easily. For instance, electronic systems can help people file claims or registrations or even vote from the comfort of their home, eliminating hurdles like a lack of transportation. But the digital divide is a real problem, and many communities still don’t have the resources that ensure “last mile” connectivity. Thus, fixing this gap is fundamental to the government being able to interact with people and provide in a fair way. Once that infrastructure is more equitable and access is more guaranteed, the focus can shift to digitizing current services to move toward government as a platform.
But it’s not enough for the digital service options to exist — they also have to be flexible and transparent enough to meet the wide-ranging needs of the community and build trust, responsiveness, and accountability. For example, governments have to consider whether someone with visual or other impairments can use the site or whether people can choose to download documents in one file format or another. And in a transparent model, people not only have information laid out clearly so they can understand and use it, but they can also submit and review grievances, which aren’t easy to bury when in digital form. As a main component of the larger feedback infrastructure, these simple sections where people can communicate their concerns can ensure that the government stays in tune with what the people want.
Members of government in a democracy are similar to an employee — they typically are “hired” (elected) by the people. And like any good boss, the people collectively want to know what their workers are doing with their time and to pay them for contributing to real results.
In this context, a freer flow of data means that the government and people can work together more efficiently and collaboratively, sharing and adapting ideas fast. It also means that people are more aware of government initiatives, which means that the people are in a better position to push back or offer support as needed. They can ensure that the government is spending in ways that maximize social impact. At the same time, free flow of data, including performance information, can reduce the social divides that happen strictly because people lack data access. This creates greater equity and encourages people from all backgrounds and circumstances to participate in policy development and change. That’s essential for eliminating governmental blind spots and ensuring that the government truly is meeting the needs of everyone as best they can.
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Most governments are going to oversee people who have very different circumstances. But with these three steps, they’ll be better able to hear the voices of those around them and build a trust-centered relationship that benefits the entire society.