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EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION OF PUBLIC POLICIES

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By Ronald Ng’eno

The recent plan by Nairobi City County to deny matatus access to the central business district (CBD) is an example of a public policy that was unsuccessfully communicated to key stakeholders. Public policies are guidelines given by a government body to the public on an issue of public importance. They affect the public directly and therefore public input is necessary.

However, public participation cannot be effective unless the public understand clearly the policy being presented to them. There is a need therefore, for effective communication of public policies so that the public can deeply comprehend a policy and consequently be able to offer well-informed suggestions. In addition, as part of effective communication, a feedback mechanism needs to be developed to allow for feedback from the public on public policies.

Nevertheless, communicating policy to the general public is challenging because of changing ways of communication. Technology has greatly changed the way people communicate and now video, pictures, SMS, social media are the main channels through which the public communicates. According to Michael Ahn in his 2012 article titled, “Effective public policy delivery system in the age of information overload”, the information and communication environment is changing and the public have adopted new modes of communication, while most government modes of communicating policies remain relatively unchanged.

There is, therefore, a need for government ministries, agencies and county governments to adapt their communication tools to match those used by their number one stakeholder: the public. Here are some general steps one may follow to improve communication with the public.

  1. Identify the goal of your message.

 What do you want the audience to do? Do you want them to give their feedback or is it for general information purposes? The goal of your communication will enable you to develop the best tool to use to pass it across.

For example, if it is for general information purposes, then you can use a channel that can be referred to in future such as a brochure or booklet. If you are seeking their opinion, then you need a channel that allows for feedback such as a radio programme where the audience can call in and make their suggestions or an online survey.

  1. Adapt the message to the audience.

In order for your audience to provide feedback, they need to understand the policy. Most policy documents are complex and full of technical jargon. There is a need to simplify policy papers so that the average citizen can understand. Remove jargon and speak in a plain language.

For example, translating the policy into the local language of the target audience can make it more easily understood. Furthermore, you may adapt the message further to the audience specifics. For example, if the policy affects the youth, you can use tools which young people can more easily access such as through social media.

  1. Capture the audience’s attention

Also, you need to capture the audience’s attention by explaining what is in it for them. How will they benefit directly or indirectly from the policy? This is likely to catch their attention and want to hear more.

It is important to keep the message brief to sustain audience attention. A good way is to ensure that one does not speak for over 15-30 minutes, depending on the audience, in order to sustain attentiveness.

There is also a need to present policy information in picture and video format. This will more easily capture audience interest. Michael Ahn, an Assistant Professor at McCormack Graduate School, suggests that visual communication is better than traditional text-based modes of communication because it reaches a larger number of citizens; more effectively inform them of the details of policy requirements; and emotionally appeals to citizens to participate and comply with a new policy.

For example, information about a proposed Nairobi City County’s policy to decongest Nairobi CBD by mandating buses and mini-buses to park outside the CBD can be better conveyed in pictorial format. The pictorial would indicate the new parking areas as well as the new means of reaching the CBD either through designated footpaths or large buses. The same information can also be conveyed through a video advertisement.

  1. Evaluate your message

Asking for feedback from your audience as you communicate is necessary to gauge whether the message you’re conveying is being received correctly and also to estimate audience interest. This will enable you to make any changes you may need to do to better fit audience needs.

In addition, at the conclusion of the communication process you need to check whether you communicated effectively by gauging whether what you communicated was received as intended. For example, you may carry out a survey of the target audience to check whether information was conveyed as intended. This, for example, can involve asking the audience to recap the main points they remember at the end of a speech.

Conclusion

Communication of government policies is very important and needs to be done effectively to elicit the required response in the public. Setting objectives for your message, keeping it simple and interesting, asking for feedback and carrying out evaluation are important steps that need to be followed to effectively communicate policies with the public.

 

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