Use of Social Media in Governance


Social media have become new craze in Delhi Durbar.  Seems, someone has realized that it is going to be one of most influential medium in coming times. To stay in tune with public opinion, to build a competitive advantage (Considering the new youth generation is tech-savvy and constitute majority of peoples & voters), the new government has issued dictate to all the ministers to become active on social media. They informal guidelines have also instructed them to use social media widely in policy formulation.

Some of issues which need deeper analysis in this context are: Are these new norms going to fundamentally alter the way government function? How is it going to influence the efficiency and efficacy of government? Will it allow having greater say of ‘Mango Man’ in public policy formulation? What are positives and negatives of such a strategy? Can it be substitute for real discussion, deliberation and debate which were till now used in governments to handle the various issues by previous governments ? Can we reconcile old way of working with this new ‘Ginny’?

First let’s guess what are possible negative impacts expected. What are the negative externalities on government and nation? Some of possible pitfalls/Shortcomings are:

  1. It would most probably create another set of elites (Urban, Higher Educated, and Middle class & English speaking) who have predominated influence in policy making. Policy makers may take interest of this section of as real interest of people of India, which may not be entirely true. The social media users are not representative of microsm of India though it is much broader & closer to India’s microsm than traditional elites on whose opinion the policy makers have depended so far.  

 

Ok, wait a second, with new guidelines for use of Hindi in Social Media in Hindi by Ministry of Home Affairs to all the ministries and departments of GoI that could alter significantly. This has potential not only to reach a much wider audience but may also force companies (from social Media sites to phone makers to app builders) to alter their strategy by focusing more on vernacular languages rather than just being limited to English.

  1. Exclusive reliance (or over reliance) is just like putting all your eggs in a bucket which is not a good strategy.
  2. Social media is ‘Double edges sword’. The reputation can be fast damaged by unknown person hiding behind the veil of anonymity in cyber world. The focused groups with ulterior intentions (including the hostile countries & non-state actors) can influence (or distort) the opinion in social media.   
  3. Instant reaction, condemnation and criticism may have chilling impact on governance. Long term goals may be traded with instant glorification.  Such short term tactics may prove counter-productive to long term strategy and goals of nation. Nature of immediate response makes it harder to focus on tasks/decision which may have bitter reaction in short term.
  4. There is always temptation to play to gallery.
  5. Too much reliance on social media reduces the attention span. The governance focus may shift to short term goals and making immediately followers happy rather than focusing on long term strategies which in short term may be bitter in taste.
  6. Probabilities for backlash are even greater. The even a minor mistakes or goof-up got hyper-exaggerated response.
  7. Off course, it is too much time consuming. If ministers devout such a valuable time in formulating policies to tackle the diverse problems facing the country, it would be more wise and prudent use of time.
  8. It doesn’t need highlighting that social media is one of non-productive use of new technology. It doesn’t add to output, production or people’s in earning bucks to make their life comfortable. On other hand, people waste (Am I not doing the same by writing this blog!!!) a great deal of time in social network which could be put to more productive use to improve the standard of living. It is fast becoming a type of new addiction with negative externalities for both individual and society.
  9. Many Ministers may not be fully acquainted with this new technology. Even if they are aware of how to use, they may not be fully aware of how to make best use it. They may not be able to differentiate between official and personal matters in absence of clear set of guidelines.

After highlighting the possible negative impacts of use of social media in governance, let’s also appreciate the fact that it has potential to change the rules of games. It can make governance more accessible, approachable, transparent and participative. It could be transformative in establishing new norms of governance where ministers are accountable to people not just in every five year but every second. They are even responding to a query or grievance from ‘Mango man’ (two political parties have already claimed and in some extent maligned the Hindi word ‘Aam Aadmi’ so it’s better to stick to Mango Man). If properly utilized it could become potent tool to engage directly with citizenry and reduce the influence of traditional inter mediatory/brokers like TV Journalists.

Most of Ministers in new Cabinet are technology savvy with substantial active engagement in social media. So far they have shown openness to ideas and suggestion and some even providing proper medium for such ideas (HRD minister has created the specific email Id for suggestion and disseminated the same on social Media).

The guidelines on use of social media can be effectively used & their impact be enhanced if they are coupled with real intention to engage the Citizenry in governance by online as well as offline institutional mechanism.

It makes much more sense when social media is used as one of many mediums at disposal to government to make conversations with citizens. It would be productive when suggestions on social media are utilized to improve the working of system. The Happy Synergy between Offline and Online Engagement can make a long lasting marriage with both partners enjoying the benefits of married life. It adds values to both the partners (Government and Citizens).

What it requires for long lasting two ways relationship is, not adhoc initiative, but a institutional set-up.  One possible way of institutionalizing the integrated online and offline engagement is arrangement where in Open Forum is organized by Ministers regularly in close association with Bureaucrats with specific pre-defined agenda on regular interval. This forum may have meeting open to public or to selected person who have previously shown interest in particular agenda/issue. This could serve as forum for interaction between diverse stakeholders like Common citizens, advocacy groups/think tanks, political parties and government can interact to discuss, deliberate and dialogues on various issues. This would help to better implantation of policies.

Tough I have not advocating completely disregarding the opinion of older stakeholders (like News papers columnist, few Civil Societ organizations, University professors of selected universities) but you can’t solve the problems with mindsets which created it. This age-old coterie was responsible for much of mess so you need to widen the base and involve the more and more youth. Dual strategy of online connect with offline conversation and dialogues can sustain the motivation on both sides and serve the beneficially to both sides. 

Scope for New Advocacy Groups in Public Policy


The new government is probably going to be most transparent and open government India has ever seen. As reflected in presidential address to parliament, they are keen to leverage the potential of technology including social media to make governance more participative.Increased participation could be seen in terms of

1. Soliciting the ideas about plans, policies & programmes to tackle the various socio-economic problems facing the country

2. Taking views & feedback on draft policies

3. Feedback on existing policies to improve their implementation, remove lacuna

4. Direct involvement of Youth in governance (Public Policy Design & implementation) through short term internship, fellowship and other type of association.

5. Communicating directly with citizens to inform about the various policy stances and reasons for such moves to remove any distortion of message, which is usually the case when lot of intermediaries are involved especially the Mass Media (i.e TV) which thrive on sensationalism, breaking news and opaque ‘sources’ for their reliability.

Present government seems very keen to leverage the technology including social media for variety of reasons ranging from reducing reliance on middle-man/broker, reducing the echoing and filtering in communication and feedback & their inherent comfort with new communication technologies.

The new regime at center is open to idea and it is now coming without any presuppositions and dispositions. They are open to genuine ideas from every quarter which can help in Nation Building. They are not only looking for fresh idea but also talents who can help them implement the ideas into practice. They are looking for talent who can help improve the delivery mechanism by giving a bit of their time in improving service delivery.

They are new to Delhi Durbar so their mind is still open. They don’t have any legacy to preserve, but eager to build one, along with making India a better place to live for future generation. They do want to leave their imprint behind. They are looking for long term- at least a decade- so they may not be tempted for short term electoral prospect.

This opportunity should be utilized by people interested in public policy. Those who were eager to contribute but there was no one in system that can hear their voice and implement their ideas. Someone who is interested in real development of nation, their constituencies, who want to share their novel thoughts, suggestion and ideas in their areas of interest – in area of their interest, expertise – whether based on their intellectual and academic experience or gained by common sense exposure by their life experience.

In this context, there is huge scope for a serious & genuine advocacy groups who promote/ advance the good ideas with rational scientific backing on different policy issue. I think would be ample opportunity for genuine advocacy groups to engage effectively to provide fresh, innovative perspective to tackle the tremendous challenge of development in front of country. So far we have lacked the critical mass of genuine advocacy groups as there were few avenues for political engagement at level of policy making except for Business lobbies and some favorable coteries or kitchen cabinets like National Advisory Council (NAC).

If you have look at spectrum of economy and social sector, except of few handful of Industrial lobby groups like FICCI, CII, ASSHOCHAM, NASSCOM, Sector specific lobby groups like GSM Operators Lobby, CDMA Operators Lobby , there was no serious advocacy groups for Agriculture, Small and Marginal Farmers, Service Sector, Small and Medium Industries, Students (Students organization like NSUI, ABVP , SFI are more busy in demonstration rather than engaging in any public policy engagement for improving the standard of education) and off course no one is there for primary education , for improving the public health or for that matter important issues like Urbanization , Urban Planning and Local Self Government.

Beside the above mentioned uncovered sectors of economy, there is serious opportunity to tap the innovative spaces in areas of Digital Technologies, Skill Development , Area Development (local, specific plans for each state, region , District etc), Smart Infrastructure, Financial Sector, Integrated Urban and Rural Development (RURBAN), Good Governance practices , E- Governance , Public Services Delivery , Manufacturing and Defense Sector. The underserved areas where there is huge scope for improving the qualities includes Public Sector Undertakings, Performance of Government Employees and assessing competitive advantage of country in global supply chain. The same applies to areas where government need to engage constantly with other countries or International Institutes such as Climate Change and Trade Negotiations, Defence procurements and Indigenization, Energy Supplies(or Security), New Technology Acquisition and Development, R&D and Development Assistance to other countries.

To add the values in above sector and to constantly innovate in order to remain relevant would require different set of skills than being present in existing advocacy groups. The New groups need to tap the talent from diverse sector and socio-economic background to make effective contribution. They need to be technology savvy but at same time being connected with grassroots to ensure that they don’t provide their advices and suggestions just based on paper modeling but from real life experiences. They need to mix the policy advocacy with real experience in implementation (even at pilot levels) in many of sector like Ru-Urban Development. In terms of Improvement in Delivery they need to immerse themselves in best model operating in country and then try to replicate that in different regions with necessary contextualization and adaptation in collaboration with governments at various levels from national, state to local level.

Though in recent time there has been emergence of some serious advocacy groups in School Education after the implementation of RTE Act. Similarly entities like Jangarah are working in areas of Urbanization and Urban policy. Spurt of such advocacy groups on Budgeting (Budget Tracking, Budget Analysis etc) has also been observed but they are more of sister concerns of big think-tanks like Centre for Civil Society rather than being independent entity.

Off course Big Foreign groups like Brooking India, CFR & Europeans are making their present felt in country but their mass engagement is rather limited and they are more of elite gathering and interested in influencing the policies to suite their vested interest rather than focusing on public interest from perspective of citizens or masses. Some local influentials have also started promoting the Groups like TakshShila (with Big Contribution from Spouse of Mr. Nandan Nilekani), Gateway House (with big Contribution from Mrs. Meera Sanyal) etc.

While it’s difficult to match either the network or pockets of either Foreign International Foundations or Indian Philanthropist but there is scope of committed people with Deep Interest in Public Policy to emerge as viable Advocacy group.

Off course CAG (Centre for Accountable Governance) is going to play important role in all the above areas especially its proximity with power-centre is going to help both parties. CAG would be envy for such start-up advocacy groups but they can & should focus their attention in creating niche in specific areas.

Many others who are now not in mainstream may become mainstream in next few years. Possible contenders includes Vivekanand International Foundation (present NSA was key brain behind it- It has already become a hot darling of foreign dignitaries which have established contact with this new Idea shapers club in capital. I came to know about these visits after writing draft) , India Foundation (in areas of Border Management , Internal Security and Neighborhood policies as it have good talent pools with some amazing ground work in border areas).

There is need for advocacy group who advocate Public Interest not lobby for their self interest. Since indication so far suggest, corporate lobbyist and cronies are not getting their way so far, it’s time for real Indian Citizens to come forward and contribute their ideas and suggestion and be partner in progress. There is need to build groups based on areas of interest who can work collectively , brainstorm among them, analyze the best practices from global to local and put forward the same to government for implementation.

Hopefully, such synchronous working would be possible. I hope a real partnership can be build between such citizens who are eager to contribute and government which is eager to improve the condition of nation. Only time would tell how successful this is going to be. But my intuition is that it would be going to be game changer partnership which has potential to transform India – for Good.

Post Script : A short remark on funding pattern which new advocacy groups should strive to achieve should also be innovate which doesn’t compromise their operational autonomy. Like foreign funded NGOs, foreign based think tanks & advocacy groups have their own vested interest. Such quad pro qua are never in public mandate or public statement but they advance the agenda of their funders through implicit means. The involvement of Indians in their boards or directors or as their employees is not going to change that. The same applies to corporate funded advocacy groups. But there is need to distinguish between institutes funded by handful of corporate and institute receiving donation from corporate (with no single corporate making a big chunk of overall funding). For the new aspirant group, they need to focus on maintain their autonomy and intellectual integrity. This doesn’t mean that corporate funding be abandoned or it should become anathema but it financing should be diversified in source and ways (with mix of consulting fees, revenue generating activities, funding from individuals, government and corporate). The focus should be on making itself sustainable on its own in medium and long term.

Independence Day – Time for Introspect


Today we will be celebrating 65th Independence Day. Most of us will be greeting each other with message of “Happy Independence day “ but actually many are not happy with present situation of country. Governance is in state of disarray, no measure development work is being undertaken and above all Inflation has made life measurable for million of common man (Aam Aadmi).

The increased awakening about prevalent corruption in political and administrative system has created a feeling of self- guilty among many elites and middle class. Magnitude of loot by politicians and their cronies has increased many folded in recent past or may be earlier general public was not being able to track such huge loots.

Inflation, corruption, black money, poor Governance has made life a miserable affair for both Aam Aadmi and Khas Aadmi. Aam Admi has been at receiving end in form of inflation & poor governance. The growing frustration with government and administration was channelized in form of protest, Candle Marches & heated TV Debates. The public support for Anna Hazare & Baba Ramdev is case in point. The successful mobilization of public anger & judicial activism has been able to make troubles for Khas Aadmi. This has created a state of panic among cronies (or Khas Aadmi). First times in independent India, the khas aadmi, were competing with each other for a birth in EXECUTIVE SUITE of TIHAR ASHARAM. Others also started to realize that their turn may be next. Suddenly the TIHAR ASHARAM becomes the hot destination for the Business honchos & political mavericks. The public anger and judicial activism was being able to put VIP (Khas Aadmi) behind the bars for time being. But it seems all is not well with this approach. It has been creating anarchy like situation than a ideal democratic state. People are being made scapegoats & real beneficiaries are still outside the Net. This all is just a stop gap arrangement rather than systematic reforms to address the root reasons for corruption.

All said , what can we do to improve this situation ? what can be our role in Nation Building ?

We, Citizens of country, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and region needs to adopt following things in habit in order to make India a better place to live:

1. Recognize responsibility as citizens before demanding any rights

2. Criticize but don’t blame – Be a constructive critic – propose the solution

3. Be vocal – express opinions freely without considering the political correctness

4. We have to be proactive not reactive if we want a prosperous nation in next 10 years

5. Be empathetic not sympathetic with underprivileged

6. Society is made up of individuals so don’t just blame others for wrong things happening in society. Accept the fact that we are part and parcel of problem.

7. Need to re-look and introspect “Chalta hai attitude”

8. Give preference to merit over connection/acquaints

9. Rational before emotion in decision making (day to day or political decision or Business decisions)

10. Be part of process of change

We as a nation need to introduce the following systematic reforms with urgency to ensure a prosperous future for our next generation:

1. Transparency in government decision making

– What is need of RTI if process itself is transparent?

– What is need of Ombudsman (or Lokpal) if big contracts are made in transparent manner and arbitrary discretion power to Ministers or Senior Officials are removed

Technology can be a leading factor in bringing transparency in government system.

2. Education reform – not just passing Right to Education bill – Need for Quality

Education is backbone of any society. We need quality education with universal access. Education creates the opportunity. it is the greatest equaliser for income disparity.

3. Focus on Basics

– More people have died in Rail Accidents than the terror strikes in current year. Yes we may not be able to stop all terror attack but can we stop every single rail accident?

4. Revival of Agriculture:

The One very important and crucial segment of our populations is Kisans. They provide the food to eat. Both these segments have been ignored by the leaders of country and the representative class. Farmer’s constituent more than 50 % of our population. We set the target of Agriculture growth to be 4 % while the overall growth target is in double digit. This way we are systematically creating a gap between Rich & Poor. This could be in future utilised by same political class for electoral gains as seen in case of Garibi Hatao & Inclusive growth slogans. Only few states like Gujrat have been able to put agricultural growth on par with overall growth rate. No fresh investment has been made in the agriculture sector. Even the irrigation projects are also put aside. There is an urgent need for second Green Revolution or “EVERGREEN” Revolution with increased focus on productivity with no harm to ecology.

5. Address the leadership vacuum

Leaders are called leaders because they are supposed to provide much needed direction and leadership to masses. “If leaders fail to lead, their followers will take over the leadership and lead instead.” It seems to perfectly suits in current situation of India. Political class has failed to provide the needed leadership to carry the country forward. There is need for youth who can provide the much needed leadership in this process of development. The emergence of a vocal and assertive voice against the political elite (dynasty) is essential for healthy democracy.

We need to avoid falling in trap of fake leaders. There is need for independent thinking for every individual before accepting anyone as our leader. We, the youth of Country, have stake in future and needs to take active involvement in day to day happening and take leadership roles otherwise usual cronies will continue to rule the country.

We always focus on problems without proposing any solution. I have tried to propose one solution for ending or reducing the corruption in public life.

Problem

– The main source of Corruption is political

– Politics have become a family business (irrespective of party line except a few)

– Big Mullah are spend on election – No retail contribution here only wholesale ( So you don’t have any right to ask for detailed funding and cost of political party as you rarely contribute )

Solution – Individual contribution from able citizens and Supporters

Why this will bring down corruption

1. Stakeholders will demand more transparency as their money is involved

2. Politicians will no longer be able to give silly arguments like money is needed to fight the next election

3. Capable, Honest candidates (without financial capability) will also be able to come to parliament

4. As a stakeholder we can ensure that our interest are protected – Concerned issues are raised by our party (No rant of serving only corporate India)

5. Last but not the least sense of participation will awaken the ordinary men making him more honest in day to day conduct.

All is not well with our country but this everything is also not bad. Growing anger and different voices are sign of change and its upon our hand to decide the future. Whether we are happy with status-quo or we want a better India- Its upon us to decide and make that happen.

We need to realize our potential and there is a big opportunity to make this nation a ideal place to live.

Jai Hind Jai Bharat!!!