Jul 9, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Social Media for governance

I have a question.

While preparing for a couple more training sessions with NGOs on media advocacy in Mozambique, I was asked by my CSO partners to include a module on social media. That is certainly a popular idea that can often achieve interesting results, but it obviously presents challenges in a place where connectivity is still low and difficult to obtain. Who will benefit and what can we actually do with social media in rural environments, particularly when the goal is promoting good governance?

Googling “social media advocacy”, one ends up with over 60 million results in less than half a second. We all remember the Kony 2012 campaign – incredibly successful in making the campaign known, not so much in achieving the expected results (so far anyway). And that was aimed for the american public primarily.  I have come across examples of good campaigns in the developing world as well, but I think that, to say the least, its effectiveness varies enormously depending on the intended audience and goals of each organization.

The ones I worked with in Beira, for example, hardly had internet in their offices, let alone time and resources to be tweeting and facebooking all the time. But in my very preliminary research I have seen good examples of social media use for promoting public health in Sub-Saharan Africa. And the use of social maps has grown intensely after the advantages it offered in, say, monitoring violence in elections in Kenya.

Here in Mozambique, is it about pressuring donors (who do have an online presence) so that they in turn pressure the government, or could it be about building online communities to work together on monitoring public officials? But how far could that go?

More on this to come soon.

Other

9 Comments

  • Technology is a tool for increasing advocacy, not a program. Where applicable, it can increase a programs effectiveness. It can’t be the program or more specifically can’t substitute for having a well-designed program to enhance participation and transparency.

  • Andrea,

    You are making a point which is obvious. Social media must never be an end in itself, and it is also common knowledge that Internet penetration degree in Mozambique is very low, and people have better to do than tweet/FB.

    The point however is that just like in (business parlance) purchasing funnel, so in information-related activism, the first step is (raising/spreading) awareness, be it via social media or community radion or whatnot. Surely informationactivism.org is not an unknown website.

    In this part of the world, there are mobile technologies (especially SMS based) that can be used for spreading awareness and that should be the primary media of those who aim to improve or impact social realities on ground.

  • Hayk, thanks for the comment. I agree with you in principle, but there is still demand for it here –so much so that I was invited to talk about it. The point is finding what can actually be useful for local CSOs. Creating large awareness campaigns that will reach no one obviously is not one of those things. And social media will never be the primary tool of any strategy here, not even one of the main ones. There is however positive things that can be achieved for the CSOs in immersing themselves in social media environments. They do not deal only inside Mozambique. There are lessons to learn and information to be shared.
    And (a sidenote) did you know that Facebook membership had an increase of 25% in Mozambique in the last 6 months, to 247k members? Sometimes its not about how many, but who is online.

  • Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for the response. It is good that you remain pragmatic as far as social media is concerned, and this is perhaps a good rule of thumb.

    To answer your questions in the original post, pressuring donors will result in little, if anything, in my view. Happened to work in UN system for 9 months and got to know quite well the internal kitchen of Mozambican UN agencies and NGOs – am quite skeptical. I am not even sure how could any entity pressure NGOs here. A bigger chance lies in building communities, not online but real, which can leverage technologies such as Internet and especially mobile for any type of activity/initiative.

    I lived in Egypt for 4 years and have seen how communities which didn’t even know what Internet was got mobilized and spearheaded the revolution… So never say never :)

  • Hi Hyak,
    That is very interesting, thank you. You might like to know that I do talk about SMS communications in the seminar as well ;)
    Out of curiosity, where are you nowadays? I’d love to hear more about your experiences sometime.
    Thanks again and keep participating!

  • Hi,

    Did your seminar take place already?

    I am in Maputo, till end of July at least, doing consultancy in innovation and strategy. We could go for a coffee or so if you are also here.

    I am also curious to hear about community radio experiences in Mozambique.

  • Wonderful. I did one seminar in Beira and have another one next week in Maputo – I am here now. I will write to you separately to see if we can arrange a coffee. Thanks!

  • Very good writing.
    I would like to ask on what are the reasons why government used social media and what is it’s benefits.
    What are the issues brought by social media in terms of good governance?

  • Andrea: You might have let Hayk off a bit too easily. One anecdotal experience does not disprove a valid hypothesis. The hypothesis in question is the idea that social media (or media in general) can be useful for CSOs and NGOs to communicate information to donors that they might not otherwise see, who then can pressure the government accordingly. Hayk says this doesn’t happen and, therefore, that it’s not where one should focus their efforts. Do you know of instances where it actually does happen or has happened?

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