A responsive Communications Strategy for Makana
By Mwazvita Machiri: Project strategist and evaluator
Effective communication is the key to improved service delivery.
We live in an era where new technologies are being created and realized everyday. More effective ways are being developed to address and potentially improve the lives of people who live in marginalized communities.
In Africa and South Africa specifically, mobile (cellphone) penetration has increased significantly and correspondingly social media usage has increased linking more people with more tools and platforms to the already impressive array of possible communications options available to people.
Taking center stage, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are merely some of the most widely known and used social media applications which both private and public institutions are using to communicate with their audiences. A good example would be the use of Facebook and Twitter by most businesses not only as advertising platforms, but as portals to connect with their customers.
Digital, mobile-driven citizen engagement initiatives, such as MobiSAM and others, have taken advantage of these emerging tools and media use trends. Drawing on existing patterns of use and communications networks MobiSAM’s methodology can be understood as an attempt to use these tools and networks to engage with and potentially enhance the communication channels which facilitate interaction between citizens, local government and the private sector.
In short; effective communication requires feedback.
In my experience of working with Makana Municipality it has become clear that due to the complex nature of existing communications networks and challenges, careful and sustained collaboration and innovation would be required to achieve the mutual goals of the Municipality and MobiSAM with regard to citizen engagement in local governance.
Fortunately the Makana Municipality and its newly elected Mayor and Council are happy to continue the increasingly productive working relationship to try and increase citizen engagement and in turn improve service delivery.
In order to achieve these goals, it is of the utmost importance that Municipalities develop a suitable and well-articulated communication strategy that:
- outlines the objectives,
- core functions,
- existing challenges
- key communicators
- key channels / networks
All to be considered in relation to aligning the process to strive toward more responsive institutional communication and citizen engagement.
Therefore the MobiSAM team is currently working with Makana Municipality on developing and deepening their communication strategy to be presented to residents of Makana on Thursday 1 September at 10am in the Grahamstown City Hall.
What has become evident to the MobiSAM team is that there is a decided shift in focus and approach regarding citizen engagement from the Municipality.
The strategy focuses on the channels to be used in communication with the various constituents in the Municipality and the stakeholders to target in spreading information across a wide area as possible. This strategy however, focuses more on communicating with the citizens and business whilst not taking into account the need to encourage feedback. Communication is a two-way street. As such there is a need for two-way communication as citizens can either supply information or provide feedback to the state and vice versa.
How can the municipality provide sufficient services for the community when they do not even know what the community needs?
Without feedback there will always be a gap to be filled between what the Municipality provides and what the citizens really need.
Therefore, the proposed Municipal Communications Strategy is aimed at aligning some aims and objectives with that of MobiSAM so as to yield the expected benefits to all stakeholders involved.
Using emerging technologies can assist the Municipality in improving service delivery and citizen engagement as long as the implementation of said strategies are responsive and incorporate the technologies whilst taking into account the complexities of social and economic context in which people conduct their daily lives.