4. Developing more strategic use of key communication competencies in Jordan

The field of public communication is in constant evolution. Technological shifts and their impact on media ecosystems are constantly transforming the way governments reach and interact with citizens. At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating these transformations at an unprecedented speed and scale. Its profound implications have demonstrated just how critical equipping public institutions with the right communication capabilities can be to ensure the continuity of operations, share lifesaving information and mobilise a wide diversity of stakeholders.

As part of the analytical framework, the OECD recognises the effective deployment of core communication competencies as a precondition to foster a two-way dialogue with citizens. These include audience insights, digital communication as well as evaluation. When deployed strategically, they can aid public institutions in generating buy-in around key reforms strengthening transparency, as well as opening up opportunities for stakeholders to participate in the policy cycle.

Recognising these benefits, initial efforts in Jordan are underway to strengthen such competencies across the public administration in the framework of the ongoing restructuring process. While progress has been achieved to date, Figure 4.1 illustrates how a majority of ministries continue to face challenges in terms of effectively deploying campaigns, producing strategies, and reaching audiences through digital channels. OECD survey results also reveal that most respondents attribute these challenges to a lack of or insufficiency of skilled staff (53% on average), financial resources (46%), and co-ordination issues (23%).

Against this backdrop, the following section will analyse these challenges in greater depth and explore avenues for the Government to strengthen these key competencies.

Insight gathering is understood as the conducting of research into different segments of the population to gain a deeper understanding of their motivations, impeding factors, fears, media consumption habits, and levels of understanding on a particular subject (OECD, 2020[1]). Notably, it can aid in the delivery of personalised messaging to raise awareness of key reforms and change behaviours.

As in several OECD countries, the Government of Jordan is at the early stages of establishing the practice of gathering and using audience insights systematically. While this function is not currently institutionalised, MoSMA notes that it regularly interacts with behavioural insight experts from academia, civil society, and international organisations for the design of communication material. At the level of ministries, these practices are slowly emerging, with a focus on the use of limited external data, and where they exist, OECD survey data reveals they are conducted on an occasional (7 out of 14) or a rare to very rare basis (2 out of 14). Furthermore, and as Figure 4.2 illustrates, only 36% of public institutions in Jordan draw on such data to identify key messages and preferred means of communication. OECD survey data also underlines room to tailor communications to the needs, expectations and habits of traditionally underrepresented groups,1 as close to one-fourth of ministries do not yet do so.

A first step to professionalising the competency of audience insights across government will require dedicating financial resources and building internal capabilities for its consistent application through trainings and guidelines. These efforts could be complemented with the creation of a central hub within the PMO to monitor and collect behavioural data across different policy areas to in turn inform the selection of channels, messages and objectives of communication (see Box 4.1 for an example).

The digital transformation of the public sector is “propelling more participatory, innovative and agile forms of governance targeting goals beyond efficiency and productivity” (OECD, 2020[1]). At the same time, citizens are more connected than ever before and have higher expectations from governments with regards to the delivery of services. Unlike traditional channels, digital technologies (which go beyond social media alone) are providing meaningful ways to communicate and engage with stakeholders in the design and delivery of policies. These benefits are prompting a gradual shift from unilateral sharing of information to a more citizen-driven communication (Murphy, 2019[3]).

In Jordan, digital channels have become one of the primary means for the Government to communicate with the public. This trend has become more prominent in recent months as activities have migrated to the online sphere following the COVID-19 pandemic. At the central level, MoSMA makes use of an official government website (http://www.pm.gov.jo/), dedicated campaign microsites (https://your.gov.jo/ & https://corona.moh.gov.jo/ar), in addition to social media platforms and online advertisements to communicate. A similar trend can be observed at the level of ministries, where most institutions have begun consolidating an online presence through various channels (see Table 4.1).

While public entities in Jordan continue to work on establishing an online presence, challenges remain in terms of unequal levels of skills and lack of dedicated staff for the management of both institutional websites and social media pages. Interviews with stakeholders revealed that few ministries have dedicated units, whilst other entities conduct ad hoc digital communications managed primarily by the IT manager. Digital skills on interactive social media use, optimising web presence, media monitoring, and online plain language, therefore, tend to vary significantly across ministries. It was also noted that attempts to address talent gaps through the outsourcing of digital services also remains a challenge given the lack of a procurement framework to hire these services.

To this end, building internal capabilities will be critical to leverage the benefits of online platforms to communicate in more immediate and interactive ways with citizens. In addition to specialised trainings, OECD countries such as Canada are establishing communities of practitioners to align practices, encourage the adoption of innovative digital tools, and exchange knowledge (see Box 4.2).

In terms of the usage of websites, an in-depth analysis of those managed by all survey respondents identified potential avenues to improve their contribution to participation and transparency. While they are generally aligned and user-friendly, access to relevant information could be simplified, as it is often scattered. Building on the existing practice to publish progress reports with relevant statistics on projects, investments and policies, this information together with a calendar of events and other relevant documents, could be consolidated in a single section and updated regularly to promote accessibility. For websites to reap their full interactivity benefits, ministries could also dedicate a section on public consultations and use these platforms to crowdsource feedback on key policies.

With the growing adoption of social media as a tool for communication, the Government of Jordan could also benefit from using these platforms in a more strategic way. This is all the more important given the large internet (67%) and social media (56%) penetration rate in the country and even more so in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (Kemp, 2020[5]). As Figure 4.3 illustrates, the wide adoption of such platforms by public institutions in Jordan underlines the potential to go beyond solely sharing information to open spaces for citizens to engage on issues that matter most to them. Conversely, communication perceived as unresponsive may have the adverse effect of disengaging the public (OECD, 2020[6]).

OECD research indicates that despite the regular use of social media by the government, low levels of engagement remain due to often generic posts and insufficient engagement with public comments. As Table 4.2 illustrates, few institutions actively reply to or interact with citizens. Interestingly, high levels of reach (number of tweets retweeted) coincide with those from institutions with high reply rates or frequent publishing levels, suggesting that the transparent disclosure of information and a two-way communication can help reinforce trust and incentivise citizens to progressively engage. To this end, the Government of Jordan could follow similar recommendations from those above aimed at websites to enhance the participation aspect of these platforms.

Without a standardised framework or guidance, however, the use of social media will not harness its full potential as a means to promote engagement. MoSMA could consider formalising and sharing more widely the series of internal standard operating procedures outlining the do’s and don’ts it has developed (see Box 4.3 for examples of related guidelines). MoSMA could also encourage the inclusion of specific objectives and evaluation indicators in communication plans to regularly measure social media performance. Another means of encouraging an interactive use of social media is clarifying, harmonising and simplifying validation protocols for posting and responding on social media. The use of guidelines in this regard is a common practice in OECD countries to mitigate the risks presented by these platforms. For their success, future efforts should be co-ordinated as part of the country’s broader digital transformation agenda.

The Government of Jordan could also explore collaborations with influencers, civil society and the private sector to increase the reach of specific communication activities online. With the exception of partnerships with the media, OECD evidence suggests this is not a common practice across ministries (see Figure 4.4). Nonetheless, trends reveal that influencer content has significantly affected media consumption patterns in the country. According to the 2019 Media Use Report in the Middle East, more than 57% of Jordanians look at influencer posts, 18% tend to adopt their commercial recommendations, and 23% obtain news from these actors (Northwestern University, 2019[8]). In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, many countries including Finland and Switzerland for instance, collaborated with influencers to promote the adoption of emergency health measures(see Box 4.4).

Evaluation mechanisms are one of the main building blocks of a strategic public communication approach and refers to “the systematic and objective measurement of an ongoing or completed project, programme or policy, its design, implementation and results” (OECD, 2009[10]) (see Box 4.5). Evaluation can be a critical tool to ensure that initiatives (i.e. campaigns, social media posts, etc.) reach their desired goals, by linking messages, audiences and outcomes with changes in behaviour and broader policy objectives. This practice can also reinforce accountability and learning feedback loops for the deployment of more evidence-driven policies and their effective communication (OECD, 2020[11]).

Institutionalising evaluation enables central communication teams to measure performance in a consistent manner, as well as ensure the efficient allocation and use of resources. It “can contribute to improving the comparability and consistency of results across time, institutions, and disciplines, allowing the continuity of data interpretation (OECD, 2020[11])”. Doing so may underline the value of public communication and make the business case for further investments in this function, in addition to enabling accountability and learning to better inform future policy.

Nonetheless, the practice of evaluating public communication remains underutilised in a large share of countries (OECD, 2021[7]) Despite a wide diversity of contexts, Macnamara (2020[14]) argues that the difficulty of moving from theory to practice inhibits progress in this area, and experts have failed to achieve consensus on the best instruments and methods to evaluate public communication. Other challenges impeding the proper use of evaluations in this field range from those of an operational to a technical nature within Government (Macnamara, 2020[14]) (Luoma‐aho and Canel, 2020[15]).2

These challenges are no different in Jordan, where the lack of an institutionalised methodology has inhibited media units from fully leveraging the benefits of evaluating public communication. As Figure 4.5 illustrates, such initiatives are carried out on an ad hoc basis, if conducted at all, by two thirds of responding ministries. This is also the case for MoSMA, where there is no person or unit institutionally charged with this task. OECD data furthermore revealed that existing evaluations primarily focus on measuring the reach of digital communication through social media monitoring, which on its own is not sufficient to effectively inform policy.

For evaluations to reach their desired objectives, the Government of Jordan could consolidate existing practices by linking evaluation metrics with broader organisational and policy goals. OECD survey results revealed that a majority of ministries report the existence of evaluation metrics and key performance indicators for public communication activities. Nonetheless, findings from validation workshops note that such metrics are not always used, with staff often lacking skills for this purpose. Moreover, interviews with stakeholders revealed challenges in measuring the impact of public communication activities; for example, going beyond the measurement of outputs or outcomes. Measuring changes in stakeholder participation levels, behaviour change, and evolutions in the uptake of public services could be an important step in this regard.

To this end, the Government of Jordan could consider the creation of a central entity in charge of overseeing communication evaluations across government, given the technical nature of this task. As a first step to institutionalising procedures across public institutions, the impact evaluation guide from the Department of Institutional Development at the PMO could be customised to the needs of public communicators. To ensure successful implementation, the Government of Jordan could consider building technical capabilities within ministries to ground evaluations in user-driven and robust evidence-based approaches to showcase impact, as done in the Government of New South Wales in Australia (see Box 4.6).

This chapter identified avenues to strengthen core competencies within public institutions. It underlined the importance of leveraging audience insights, digital communication and impact evaluation in support of increased transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation through the work of communicators.

  • Ensure that the selection of key messages, channels and visual aids respond to the needs, habits, and expectations of different segments of the population, at both the national and local level. Special attention should be given to tailoring communication for vulnerable or marginalised segments of the population - such as women, youth, and refugees among others.

  • Continue the professionalisation efforts underway for the use of audience insights across ministries in Jordan by formally including it as a mandatory task for all media units and providing related training.

  • Consider the creation of a central hub within the PMO to monitor, collect insights from different audiences and share it across the administration.

  • Build internal capabilities to leverage the interactivity benefits of online platforms. This could take form of specialised trainings or the creation of dedicated communities of practice to share good practices on issues such as social media use, data analytics, web presence, etc.

  • Ensure institutional websites and Facebook pages are up to date, provide easy access to information and centralise relevant documents such as calendars of events, policy documents and other project statistics.

  • Communicate regularly about available consultation opportunities and make use of digital platforms, beyond just social media, to crowdsource relevant contributions from the public and establish online spaces for dialogue on key policy issues.

  • Develop whole-of-government social media guidelines including for the management of institutional accounts, personal profiles of public officials and online stakeholder participation.

  • Encourage collaboration with influencers, civil society and businesses to expand the scale and reach of digital communication campaigns, in particular for younger segments of the population.

  • Institutionalise evaluations through a whole-of-government framework with clear processes, methods, metrics, timelines, and reporting mechanisms. Such a framework could build on the impact evaluation guide from the Department of Institutional Development at the PMO and be customised to the needs of media units. Specific output, outcome, and impact metrics can be identified in this framework, including for instance changes in behaviours, in levels of stakeholder participation or in the take up of public services.

  • Build technical capabilities within ministries to ground evaluations in user-driven and evidence-based approaches to inform future endeavours and policies.

  • Consider the creation of a central entity in charge of overseeing the evaluation of public communication, given the highly technical nature of this task and providing trainings when needed.

References

[4] Communications Community Office of Canada (2019), Annual Report (2019-2020), https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/communications-community-office/reports/annual-2019-2020.html#toc5.

[5] Kemp, S. (2020), Digital 2020: Jordan, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-jordan.

[15] Luoma‐aho, V. and M. Canel (eds.) (2020), The Handbook of Public Sector Communication, Wiley, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9781119263203.

[14] Macnamara, J. (2020), New Developments in Best Practice Evaluation, Wiley, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9781119263203.ch28.

[13] Macnamara, J. (2018), Evaluating Public Communication: Exploring new Models, Standards and Best Practice.

[3] Murphy, K. (2019), Government Communications in a Digital Age, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, http://dx.doi.org/10.5771/9783845298030.

[8] Northwestern University (2019), 2019 Media use in the Middle East, https://www.qatar.northwestern.edu/news/articles/NUQ_Media_Use_2019.pdf.

[9] OECD (2021), “Enhancing public trust in COVID-19 vaccination: The role of governments”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/eae0ec5a-en.

[7] OECD (2021), OECD Report on Public Communication: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/22f8031c-en.

[2] OECD (2020), Building resilience to the Covid-19 pandemic: the role of centres of government, http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/building-resilience-to-the-covid-19-pandemic-the-role-of-centres-of-government-883d2961/.

[6] OECD (2020), Engaging Citizens in Jordan’s Local Government Needs Assessment Process, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/c3bddbcb-en.

[11] OECD (2020), Improving Governance with Policy Evaluation: Lessons From Country Experiences, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/89b1577d-en.

[1] OECD (2020), OECD Centre of Government Survey 2020: Understanding Public Communication.

[10] OECD (2009), Guidelines for Project and Programme Evaluations, https://www.oecd.org/development/evaluation/dcdndep/47069197.pdf.

[12] OECD (2009), “OECD DAC Glossary”, in Guidelines for Project and Programme Evaluations, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/development/evaluation/dcdndep/47069197.pdf.

Notes

← 1. Vulnerable segments which public communication activities seek to target: Youth (aged 15 to 29) (57%); People with special needs or disabilities (43%); Women (43%); Middle-aged individuals (40 to 60 years) (36%); Ethnic minorities (36%); No specific groups targeted (21%); Low income groups (21%); The elderly (people aged 65+) (21%); Refugees (14%); Non-native language speakers (7%); Groups in specific regions of the country (7%).

← 2. On the one hand, operational limitations underline the lack of research, knowledge and skills, disciplinary siloes within public entities and conceptual misunderstanding between monitoring and evaluating activities (Macnamara, 2020[14]; Luoma‐aho and Canel, 2020[15]). On the other, a focus on output indicators, reliance on biases and assumptions, the measurement of intangibles and the lack of formative (ex-ante) evaluations are hindering the implementation of this function (ibid).

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