…Experts prescribe bidirectional communication as opposed to a top-down approach
The business of government has changed dramatically in recent years. So it’s no surprise that the transformation of government operations, coupled with an unprecedented rise in citizen expectations have created extraordinary demands on government communicators.
The inaugural session of day 2 at the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2018) shed light on the issue at a panel discussion titled, ‘The Current State of Government Communication and How to Build Flexible Strategies’.
An illustrious line-up of speakers comprising Steve Wozniak, Co-founder, Apple Computer Inc., Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia, Inma Martinez, Artificial Intelligence pioneer and digital scientist, Thomas Koulopoulos, leading futurist and author; and moderator Laila Baroun, Business News Presenter, Sky News Arabia, came together to share their insights on the key qualities of flexible government strategies in an era of exponential change.
Highlighting how the top-down, one-way channel government communication needs to give way to a more bidirectional model, Koulopoulos remarked: “Our behaviour changes due to the technology we use. Let me take you back to 1966, when philosopher, Karl Popper, said that we were moving from clock problems to solving could problems. His point was that the clock is mechanical; it is easy to predict, understand and resolve its problems. Could problems on the other hand are constantly evolving and changing. We find ourselves today in an era of intense uncertainty were problems are constantly moving – they are not standing still long enough for us to make sense of them. Today, we have approximately 10 billion computers, and out of those about 7 billion are smart phones and other digital devices.
“By 2100, these numbers will escalate exponentially. In these circumstances, how will our behaviour change? What we need to focus on is the humanity of change not just the technology side of it. Part of what I see happening is that we will have to build an entirely new set of ways to facilitate bidirectional communication. Our generation was used to broadcast communication – as individuals, governments and organisations. However, I see artificial intelligence helping and augmenting us, and opening ways for humans to make communication more instant, integrated, intelligent in some ways and, most importantly, individualised. AI can help us scale successful models of bidirectional government communication.”
The discussion highlighted the significance of the information revolution driven by technology that the world has experienced in the past decade, and how that has loosened government control over it. The question on challenges in the field was taken up by Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales: “The challenges are enormous in various different places around the world. Governments by their nature are structured to be quite slow and bureaucratic. In Europe and the US, for instance, people who are elected to hold positions in their governments are by large not technology experts and so their understanding of it seems to be quite thin. This leads to regulatory efforts that are misguided and confused. To give one example, in the UK there was talk about banning encryption. It’s like saying let’s ban mathematics.”
“The idea that governments have control over information that citizens need access to has completely gone away, and that’s mostly a good thing. Wikipedia is blocked in China and in Turkey now for the past ten months – something we hope to resolve soon. We need to recognise that all these systems are dynamic and good governments are trying to adapt to these changes in a way to benefit their people, while some other governments who cannot control the flow of information to people are trying to mislead them with claims like ‘fake news’, etcetera. All of these things are still developing and that’s what makes this decade so interesting,” he added.
Wozniak shared his thoughts on the aspect of bidirectional communication between governments and their people, saying: “Governments should be inclusive, and communication should be shared. As far as technology goes, it allows a political contribution to override the real facts. Some of these big technological giants are massive storehouses of data that sometimes espouse certain values, which are more often than not linked with business profits. This influences people in ways that shouldn’t be done. It manipulates their minds in subtle ways that make up their minds about things in a way that lacks individuality. That is the opposite of being dynamic.”
Martinez shared her views on digitising public services and the role of AI in increasing the well-being and prosperity of the people. She said: “Originally, when governments went online, it was just to put their information out there – a passive approach. Eventually they moved into providing certain services. You go to a website; you can renew your driver’s license or register for the electorate, and so on. But because digitalisation today has taken an extremely individualised approach, marketing websites want to put shoe ads for me because yesterday I spent 5 minutes online searching some shoes!”
“The opportunity for governments is to become a platform because people increasingly want to transact online. They want to deal with the government in a more agile way. Culturally, governments have a responsibility to look into the future and become a guardian of the citizens. No one other than the government should look after your identity, because if they give us our birth certificates and passports, they should be the ones safeguarding our identity.”
IGCF, which is organised by the International Government Communications Centre and is being held at Expo Centre Sharjah, concludes today (May 29).
Since its launch in 2012, the IGCF has been successful in fostering government communication in the UAE and the wider Arab world, and developing communication channels between governments and the public. To achieve its goals, IGCF has hosted elite experts and influential speakers to share their expertise and visions on the best methods of upgrading government communication and increasing its efficiency in dealing with the challenges facing the world at the present time and in the future.