2. Communicating for a more open government in Jordan

The last decade has witnessed a steep decline in trust in government and disengagement of citizens from public life. After sinking to a historic low of 37% in 2013, trust in government within OECD countries has only recently returned to pre-financial crisis levels of 45% only in 2019 (OECD, 2019[1]). At the same time, international observers have noted a “retreat” of democratic governance around the world. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index (2019[2]) recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom where, between 2005 and 2018, the share of “Not Free” countries rose to 26%, while the share of “Free” countries declined to 44%. These trends are likewise recognised by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), where the 2019 Democracy Index noted the worst average global score since the index was first produced in 2006. Broadly, these poor scores were due to declining turnout in elections, decreasing trust in institutions, and diminishing civil liberties such as free speech (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2018[3]).

This challenge is particularly pertinent in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where trust in government institutions has remained low since the Arab Spring. As noted by the (2020[4]) Arab Barometer, trust in government in the region is considerably below the OECD average, including in Jordan (38%), Lebanon (19%), Morocco (29%) and Tunisia (20%). At the same time, regional instability and political turmoil, have underlined key governance challenges, which are necessary to address in rebuilding trust between the citizens and the state.

At the same time, rapid changes in the media and information sector have intensified – and sometimes helped cause – governance challenges by changing how the public consumes, communicates and shares information. These changes have affected who and what sources of information citizens trust, while the rise of social media platforms, in particular, has facilitated polarisation, as well as the spread of disinformation and of speech that promotes violence. According to the (2020[5]) Edelman Trust Barometer, 57% of respondents believe that the media is contaminated with untrustworthy information and 76% worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon. Adding to this picture is the rise in new civic movements (e.g. climate walkouts, women’s marches, protests against reduced economic opportunities, etc.), which show that citizens around the world are mobilising to demand to be heard and to participate in decision-making processes. Pre-existing challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where capacity gaps, coupled with high levels of citizen distrust and of mis- and dis-information, are posing threats to the effectiveness of response and recovery measures.

Many OECD countries have begun to leverage open government reforms to address these critical governance challenges. In doing so, countries seek to facilitate “a culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth (OECD, 2017[6]).” However, beyond the intrinsic value of the open government principles, the implementation of related strategies and initiatives can serve as a means to improve processes and outcomes across the full spectrum of public policy. As countries around the world face the unprecedented health crisis of COVID-19, the importance of government transparency and accountability has never been more apparent (OECD, 2020[7]). In responding to the crisis, it has become ever more fundamental for citizens to be informed about government decisions and to hold politicians and policy makers to account for their actions through consistent and reliable flows of information and transparent decision-making processes.

One critical avenue to facilitate these open government principles is through the use of effective public communication and government engagement with media and information enabling environment. However, the role of public communication and the media remains under-explored as a catalyst for reinforcing the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation. Indeed, the OECD has found that in a majority of countries, communications and open government objectives are not connected overtly. For instance, while a 2017 OECD Centre of Government (CoG) survey identified the important role that CoGs attribute to public communication, data also shows that less than 10% of surveyed CoGs list promoting transparency or stakeholder participation as one of the key objectives of their communication strategy (OECD, 2017[8]). Additionally, less than 2% of Open Government Partnership action plans include commitments related to communication or the media.1

Nevertheless, effective public communication and resilient media are important enablers of the success of open government reforms while also reinforcing the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability, and stakeholder participation. Although MENA countries have strengthened their communication efforts and demonstrated improved competencies over the past years, this current context calls for a greater capacity and strategic deployment of communications. It is against this background that this report seeks to explore the role of communication and media as levers for more open governments, inclusive policy making, and improved service design and delivery, which can ultimately help restore trust and facilitate inclusive growth.

The OECD has identified three pillars of effective public communication that can serve as policy catalysts to bring about a set of desired medium- and long-term outcomes, while building on and reinforcing open government principles (see Figure 1.1). These include:

  • Institutional and Governance Arrangements: In order for public communication to effectively advance open government principles and serve as a tool to improve policy making and service design and delivery, it is necessary to ensure that certain institutional and governance prerequisites are in place. In particular, to ensure effective public communication across and between levels of government, it is necessary to introduce mechanisms to co-ordinate public communications functions, including horizontally (across sectors and ministries) and vertically (across levels of government). To facilitate this, results-based strategies and communications plans should be developed based on audience insights, strong M&E systems, and feedback loops to ensure an iterative approach that builds on both past success and failures alike. At the same time, a network of public communications actively engaged in the process is necessary to ensure co-ordination, exchange good practices, as well as to help professionalise the role of government communicators. Finally, the necessary human and financial resources should be in place to better support the public communications function across government.

  • Core Communications Competencies and Capacities: In addition to having the relevant governance mechanisms in place, it is vital to ensure the development of core communication competencies with an open government focus. This includes, among others, developing audience insights and channels; executing campaigns to achieve strategic objectives; engaging digital communications, including social media; as well as building capacities for crisis communication. These competencies, when applied well, can expand the use of public communication from an information dissemination tool, to a lever of stakeholder participation, policy implementation, as well as improved service design and delivery.

  • Robust Media and Information Enabling Environment: A final pillar to ensure effective public communication is the existence of a robust and well-functioning media and information enabling environment. To assess the potential role that media as well as the larger enabling environment can play in the public policy process, it is necessary to understand: (i) key structural and contextual dimensions, including historical, political, macroeconomic, and sociocultural issues that impact public communications and the media; (ii) key laws and institutions, including de jure/de facto legal frameworks, regulations, and institutional arrangements that impact public communication and the media; as well as (iii) key stakeholder dynamics of the actors involved in the media, including their incentives, financial resources, and human resource capacities, all of which can greatly impact the role of public communications and the media.

With these three catalytic pillars in place, this framework holds that a number of positive outcomes are possible, including better positioning by governments to ensure that public communication contributes to improved policies and services, more engaged stakeholders, and increased resilience to disinformation. In the longer term, this would help regain trust and channel these advances towards more inclusive growth (see Figure 1.1 in Chapter 1).

This section seeks to define public communication as well as what constitutes an enabling environment for the media in order to demonstrate their differentiated, yet complementary, roles in supporting policies and services, more engaged stakeholders, as well as trust in government more broadly. As will be discussed, public communications activities can equally support both: (i) internal efforts within and across the public sector as well as (ii) external initiatives to engage the public around critical policy priorities. For its part, an active and well-functioning media and information enabling environment can play an important enabling role in designing and implementing good policy design and service delivery objectives, including identifying agenda objectives, deciding among alternatives, evaluating and selecting options, implementing reforms, and monitoring and evaluating progress. With respect to the Open Government agenda more broadly, these functions can enhance government’s ability to facilitate transparency, integrity, accountability, and participation—all of which create positive feedback loops to improve democratic intuitions and trust in government.

Public communication is understood as “any communication activity or initiative led by public institutions for the public good,” and is distinct from political communication, “which is linked to the political debate or to elections (OECD, 2020[9]).” In the MENA region, there has been an increased recognition of the role of public communication in changing behaviours and strengthening transparency and participation. More particularly, in the context of the COVID-19 response, governments are consolidating existing crisis communication procedures, including horizontal and vertical co-ordination on communication, while progressively moving towards a more interactive use of social media. While related handbooks, guidelines, and “how-to” reports published by communications specialists from the public and private sectors have helped disseminate successful practices internationally, more efforts are needed to explore what, from a governance and public administration perspective, is needed to ensure public communications is more strategic and helps government to achieve specific policy and service delivery objectives.

From an internal perspective, public communication can support the inter-institutional dialogue, information sharing, and change management process within and across the public sector. First, it can be used to facilitate change management to ensure that public officials are aware of new public policy priorities and understand how it will affect their work. Such awareness can help to facilitate coalitions and strengthen commitment for this cause across the public sector, including among senior-level executives. Second, it can serve as a means to share knowledge—with officials becoming effective spokespeople for critical public policy priorities, including the open government agenda, within their departments and across government agencies. Finally, it can serve strategic goals, including identifying synergies between public communication officers and access to information (ATI) focal points to co-ordinate related activities horizontally and vertically across the government as well as to combat the challenges posed by mis- and dis-information.

From an external perspective, public communication can support the government’s efforts to raise the awareness of citizens on key areas of government reforms, especially those aimed at enhancing transparency, integrity, accountability or stakeholder participation, and engage them in such efforts. External outreach can help with sensitisation efforts for citizens and other relevant public stakeholders so that they can better understand why certain policies have been established and what they will deliver. Citizens who are more aware of such initiatives, and who understand them better are more likely to participate in such efforts (OECD/OGP, 2019[10]). In addition, external public communication can support knowledge sharing and raise awareness among citizens of the role that they can play in supporting policies as well as the opportunities available to engage in public life. Finally, from a strategic perspective, it can seek to bring policy makers and communicators more closely together, leveraging social media and other tools to engage citizens in the policy design process to facilitate transparency and a dialogue around government initiatives.

The media and information enabling environment is understood as “the combination of communication, media and internet governance structures (i.e. institutional, legal, policy and regulatory frameworks) as well as principal actors (i.e. governments, traditional and social media companies and citizen journalists) that affect how the public receives and shares news and information via media platforms, government sources, and social media platforms (OECD, 2020[9]).” As such, this includes the deeply interconnected roles played by traditional media actors—such as print, broadcast (e.g. radio and television)—as well as online outlets, public and private, and the journalists who work for them, both formal and informal (e.g. bloggers, activists, and citizen journalists). Likewise, it includes governmental and professional organisations that play roles in regulating, setting standards, or resolving disputes in the media sector. Finally, it includes the critical role played by media demand-side actors, such as CSOs, universities, think tanks, and research institutions—which function as key “info-mediaries”—as well as individuals, who are the end-consumers of media, whether of public interest, “info-tainment,” or strictly entertainment. Taken together, these actors and institutions seek to navigate emerging challenges posed by mis- and dis-information as well as support diverse media markets, media literacy, and access to information.

In the MENA region, media and information sector play an important role in intermediating the state-citizen interface. To be sure, satellite broadcasting has created a virtual pan-Arab media space, including 34.3 million Arabic-speaking, free-to-air, satellite TV homes in the region.2 Likewise, the use of social media over cell-phone-based platforms provides an example of how technology is enabling citizens to access information through different sources, bypassing a number of traditional hurdles (Grandvoinnet, Aslam and Raha, 2015[11]). While domestic sources are the most important in all regions, international radio and television also hold a degree of importance, particularly in the MENA, where nearly a quarter of respondents said international TV was their most important news source (Gallup, 2015[12]).

Given the vital importance to the MENA region, the role of media and information sector can function as an arena for debate of public policies whereby different groups of society can express their ideas and opinions in a public way. Illustrating this function, Camargo and Fortunato (2015[13]) have developed a useful framework through which they seek to illustrate the influence the media can exert on public policy throughout a six stage cycle (see Figure 2.2). First, media can help to set public policy agenda and bring to bear pressure on public policy agents on issues with greater popular appeal and salience. Subsequent in the cycle, media can help to identify, evaluate, and select policy options, giving space to dispute alternatives within the media channels, foster debate of disputed options in an open and transparent manner, and allow interest groups to indicate their choices within the presented options. Finally, media can play a crucial role in implementing policies and monitoring their effects, including proving coverage of the positive and negative impacts of implemented policies and disseminating their findings to a larger public audience to evaluate (World Bank, 2016[14]).

This section examines how public communication and a media enabling environment can specifically support the principles of Open Government, including transparency, accountability, integrity, and stakeholder participation. Drawing on the existing theoretical and empirical literature, it provides evidence of how these concepts can be supported by proactive public communication, both internally and externally, as well as by a thriving media and information sector. This section also seeks to explain how these concepts link to the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government (hereafter “the Recommendation”), the first internationally recognised legal instrument on Open Government. As demonstrated below, numerous provisions of the Recommendation provide a basis for support to improve public communications capacities as well as to support the conditions necessary for a thriving media.

Based on the theoretical frameworks presented above, improved public communication and a well-functioning media and information sector can greatly support Open Government principles. In particular, by developing the capacities, processes, and procedures for robust internal and external public communications, governments can ensure that information flows both from and within government in a transparent manner that informs key constituencies of key priorities and policies. Making this information available and accessible in turn lays the foundations for the application of integrity standards, the functioning of accountability institutions, and two-way feedback loops between the state and citizens. Reinforcing this process, a well-functioning media and information sector can ensure that key policy issues are called to attention and publically debated, and that the implementation of government policies are properly monitored and evaluated.

Public communication, as supported by the proper strategies, plans, policies, co-ordination structures, and resources, can support transparency in a variety of manners. From an internal perspective, it can ensure that public institutions/officials are well informed about their obligations to adhere to Access to Information legislation and directives as well as Open Data policies and disclosure standards, which can facilitate the transparent flow of information related to the policies and performance of government institutions. Likewise, strong internal public communication can help to educate public institutions and officials about how to more effectively and proactively share information with “infomediaries” (e.g. CSOs, media, academia, and other institutions). From an external perspective, public communication can help to improve transparency by adequately presenting plans, policies, and reforms to the public to increase awareness of government priorities as well as communicating about Access to Information and Open Government Data for its use and re-use to improve policies and services. Finally, strong external public communication can increase the reach of such transparency initiatives by establishing the competencies and procedures for tailoring messages and using appropriate communication channels to reach different population segments.

Similarly, robust media and information enabling environment, as supported by the necessary legal, institutional, regulatory, and financial incentives, can likewise help to increase transparency. As such, the media—including the outlets and journalists developing content—can play a critical role in setting the agenda, timeline, and outcomes of planned or ongoing Access to Information or Open Government Data programmes, which are the cornerstones of enhanced government transparency. Once these and other transparency initiatives are underway, a strong media sector can help to inform citizens, CSOs, and other organisations of their rights (e.g. scope, timing, recourse, etc.) to access information about government performance vis-à-vis Access to Information as well as Open Government Data programmes. Through its investigatory and “watch-dog” role, media outlets can become key consumers of such programmes through filing Access to Information and Open Data requests as well as publicising the related information to the public on government performance. Throughout the implementation process, the media can play a critical role in evaluating and sharing the impact of such government transparency initiatives—including the reporting on government responsiveness and rejections of such requests—and making these results public.

Public communication, both internal and external, can play a pivotal role in supporting the implementation of critical public sector integrity policies, including their application both within government and in society more broadly. First, from an internal perspective, it can ensure that core integrity values, principles, and standards are effectively communicated, commonly understood, and applied throughout the public sector, including those related to impartiality, honesty, conflict of interest, lobbying, and influence in policy making, open organisational culture, whistle-blower protection, ethical value statements, as well as codes of ethics or conduct. Similarly, public communication supports the effective diffusion and implementation of tailored standards developed for specific functions such as in public procurement, border and customs management, police services, as well as those for political advisors, members of government, parliament, and government suppliers.3 Likewise, effective internal communication practices can support integrity measures, related to the use of behavioural insights,4 education and capacity-building for integrity, adverting political capture, and ensuring transparency in the financing of political parties and electoral campaigns, as well as risk management, internal control, and audit. As such, internal public communication can assist managers in identifying an “integrity agenda” and communicating public sector values and standards within public sector organisations. From an external public communication perspective, promoting a stronger culture of integrity can be targeted through communicating public sector values externally to the private sector, civil society, and individuals, as well as supporting and nudging these partners to respect those values and standards in their interactions with public officials (OECD/OGP, 2019[10]).

As with public communication, media and information can have a large role to play with respect to integrity and anti-corruption work in countries around the world. First, the media can play a key role in bringing ideas to the table, prioritising the most pressing challenges, and putting forth solutions to improve integrity and combat corruption. Such work would include the engagement of spokespeople from “watchdog” organisations, citizens groups, labour unions, and independent media. If and when the case allows, media can suggest and foster debate across the most pertinent topics related to integrity and anti-corruption, including among others, legislation on conflicts of interest, lobbying and political finance, public procurement, internal control and audit, as well as whistle-blower protections. In a subsequent step, the media can help foster debate to evaluate the applicability and necessity of additional integrity and anti-corruption measures, determine which measures are most relevant, and pressure policy makers to adopt key measures in the public discourse. Finally, the media has a great opportunity to oversee the implementation, monitoring, and reporting on the effectiveness of existing integrity and anti-corruption measures. As such, reporting on the de facto implementation of existing legislation can provide a critical means to ensure improved integrity, reduced corruption, and more robust rule of law.

Public communication has an essential role to play in reinforcing accountability relationships, processes, and institutions. From an internal perspective, it can support the mandates of government accountability institutions, including the Office Auditor General, Supreme Audit Intuition, Ombudsman’s office, or other related institutional mechanism. In doing so, it can inform public sector employees about the various venues and mechanisms to ensure that government performance is supervised in a manner to ensure both effectiveness and efficiency. From an external perspective, it can likewise support demand-side actors in accessing and interfacing with accountability institutions, both formal and informal, as well as the public information necessary for CSOs to adequately monitor government performance. With respect to the former, this would include informing citizens of the existing oversight and control institutions, mechanisms, and processes, including the role of the Ombudsman’s office, the supreme audit institution, and other Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs). With respect to the latter, this would include informing citizens of existing social accountability mechanisms, including citizen report cards, social audits, participatory budgeting, etc.

Likewise, a robust media and information enabling environment can ensure that accountability mechanisms and processes are applied in a fair and equitable manner in accordance with law. As such, media can play a key role in setting and maintaining the public policy agenda to focus on both horizontal and vertical accountability measures that are in place. This includes following and reporting on the findings of Supreme Audit Institutions, Legislative oversight committees, and Ombudsman’s office on issues of public importance. Likewise, this could include publicity and advocacy for vertical accountability institutions, including informing the public what social accountability mechanisms exist for citizens, CSOs, and other organisations as well as what other good practices exist in other countries. Finally, the media can play a role in monitoring the use of existing social accountability mechanisms, evaluating their impacts, and using their findings to hold public officials to account.

Finally, public communication has an essential role in ensuring the effective interface between the state and citizen, including the establishment of two-way engagement mechanisms. Internally, it is necessary to sensitise public sector employees of the existing laws and directives related to stakeholder participation, which may vary across departments, ministries, and agencies. Equally important, internal public communication needs to ensure that the proper guidelines, standards, and procedures are disseminated to public officials in conducting these consultations. This can involve the types of mechanisms used, the statutory period allowed for review and comment, and the standards related to follow-up and reporting. Externally, public communication’s role is even larger in ensuring effective stakeholder participation. As such, an effective campaign or strategy would involve, inter alia: (i) informing the public about the existence of participatory mechanisms and digital platforms for dialogue; (ii) mobilising stakeholders to partake in consultations and innovative citizen participation practices; (iii) providing stakeholders with the necessary information to contribute to public decision making; (iv) establishing sanctioned fora for the public (e.g. CSO, citizens, private sector) to express their opinions; and (v) providing information on how public consultations were recorded and followed-up on. All of these efforts should be undertaken with a view to reach different segments of the population—including marginalised and under-represented groups—to broaden the scope of participating stakeholders, beyond those traditionally in possession of access and influence.

Finally, media and information can help to facilitate stakeholder participation practices across levels of government. First, media can provide information and publicise existing participation mechanisms, as well as ongoing consultation processes where the government is seeking feedback from citizens, CSOs, and other organisations. In this regard, the media can help to present the public with different options, highlight the merits of each, and provide recommendations and endorsements. Similarly, the media can play a watch-dog role whereby it can shine a spotlight on government decisions and processes that did not properly follow participation guidelines or allow adequate time for comment. Finally, the media can monitor and evaluate the impact of participatory processes, including reporting on how consultations were eventually incorporated into news laws and policies.

In December 2017, the OECD Council adopted the Recommendation, the first internationally recognised legal instrument on Open Government. Its adoption originated in more than 15 years of evidence-based analysis of Open Government strategies and initiatives, the OECD's Report on Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward (2016[15])as well as a successful online public consultation. The Recommendation provides the substantive framework for all the work the OECD implements in this policy area and guides the work of the OECD Working Party on Open Government, which brings together OECD member and partner countries to discuss how to further advance open government reforms (OECD, 2017[6]). In this context, the OECD has recognised public communication and the media as a key tool for promoting open government, and included it in several provisions of its Recommendation (see Figure 2.3):

  • Provision 6 of the Recommendation reinforces the need to “actively communicate on open government strategies and initiatives, as well as on their outputs, outcomes and impacts, in order to ensure that they are well-known within and outside government, to favour their uptake, as well as to stimulate stakeholder buy-in” (OECD, 2017[6]). Accordingly, Provision 6 encourages countries to actively communicate about related strategies and initiatives, so that they are known by the larger public and not just a select group of civil society actors or engaged citizens. In maximising public communications, both internally and externally, a flourishing media can help by advancing the Open government agenda, developing and advocating new initiatives, and informing stakeholders about the current policies and ongoing reforms.

  • Provision 7 of the Recommendation reinforces the need to “proactively make available clear, complete, timely, reliable and relevant public sector data and information that is free of cost, available in an open and non-proprietary machine-readable format, easy to find, understand, use and reuse, and disseminated through a multi-channel approach, to be prioritised in consultation with stakeholders” (OECD, 2017[6]). Accordingly, Provision 7 underlines the importance of communicating about public sector data and information and making it easily available to stakeholders in a clear, complete, timely and reliable manner. The media can likewise amplify this role by publicising Access to Information websites, Open Data portals, and other public transparency efforts. As a public “watchdog” the media can also play a key role in filing ATI and Open Data requests, using this information to develop politically salient messaging for target audiences, and reporting where information requests have been refused.

  • Provision 8 of the Recommendation reinforces the need to “grant all stakeholders equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy-cycle and service design and delivery” (OECD, 2017[6]). This should be done with adequate time and at minimal cost, while avoiding duplication to minimise consultation fatigue. Further, specific efforts should be dedicated to reaching out to the most relevant, vulnerable, underrepresented, or marginalised groups in society, while avoiding undue influence and policy capture.” Accordingly, providing feedback to stakeholders on the outcomes of the participation process is at the core of the definition of “consultation,” and this requires effective public communication, both internally and externally. In this regard, the media can likewise highlight to public audiences key policy initiatives from which the government is currently soliciting feedback, monitoring the feedback process, and reporting how public consultations were eventually incorporated into the law.

  • Provision 10 of the Recommendation reinforces the need to “explore the potential of moving from the concept of open government toward that of open state” (OECD, 2017[6]). Accordingly, as part of Provision 10 on open state, the Recommendation recognises the role of other non-governmental actors, including that of media, to support relevant initiatives. Importantly, the media can assist with the Open State agenda by supporting agenda definition, debating on policy options, supervising, implementing, and reporting on results at the local level as well as across different branches of government, including the legislature and judiciary.

This section seeks to link the aforementioned benefits of public communication and a robust media enabling environment with ongoing government public communication efforts around key issues, including the COVID-19 response as well as Open Government reforms in Jordan, among others. In particular, this section seeks to provide a range of options for applying both internal and external public communication activities to these and other public policy areas. Likewise, this section will link the benefits of a well-functioning media and information sector in order to demonstrate how these messaging efforts can be supported and amplified in Jordan. Finally, this section will show how both public communications and an enabling media and information environment can support improved transparency, integrity, accountability, and participation.

In responding to the crisis, it has become even more fundamental for citizens to be informed about government decisions and to hold politicians and policy makers to account for their actions through consistent and reliable flows of information and transparent decision-making processes. Similar to many countries in the world, the COVID-19 crisis in Jordan has put pressure on the government and public administration to respond quickly to ensure the health and safety of citizens. In line with the country’s overarching principle, “prioritise human safety,” the government has mobilised a massive amount of resources to confront the pandemic head on, “investing in affordable and widespread testing, delivering food and necessary items to households, and lowering sales tax on key protective equipment,” according to the Minister of Finance (IMF, 2020[16]) . At the same time, the Social Security Investment Fund has also enacted a wide set of policies, including in-kind transfers and benefits for the unemployed and self-employed (Ibid).

Given both these challenges and the government’s response to the pandemic thus far, it is clear that public communication has a crucial role to play in the crisis response. From an internal perspective, public communications can help support knowledge sharing, the dissemination of strategic information, and change management practices within and across government in an effort to help design and deploy the most effective and responsive policies to counter the current crisis. Moreover, effective public communication by the centre of government is key in this pandemic to “ensure coherence of government messaging internally, so that various ministers, department, and agencies are able to respond with one voice as well as to pre and debunk mis- and dis-information” (OECD, 2020[7]). From an external perspective, public communication around the crisis responses can support sensitisation to new policies, knowledge sharing with public audiences around new policy measures, as well as to strategically engage vulnerable populates. The OECD has noted that behavioural communication campaigns have played an important role in facilitating the enforcement of regulations, by “nudging or instructing wide segments of the population to comply with required measures – from washing their hands, to respecting the provisions of lockdowns and social distancing” (OECD, 2020[7]). Public communication can also be mobilised as a key means to fight disinformation, which can “reduce compliance with the emergency measures being enacted, thereby threatening their efficacy and public trust in the response” (OECD, 2020[17]).

Likewise, such public communication efforts can be amplified by a robust media and information environment, especially in response to a quickly changing operating environment. As noted above, an effective media and information environment can help to set the public policy agenda; identify, evaluate, and select policy options; as well as to monitor the effects of policies that have been implemented. All of these functions are critically relevant to the COVID-19 response, especially as governments grapple with “large amounts of changing information, pressures to respond in a more effective and efficient manner, and face a surge in disinformation” (OECD, 2020[7]). Across the MENA region, countries have already begun to implement media outreach measures such as campaigns on TV, radio and social media to raise awareness among citizens about hygiene rules and preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 (OECD, 2020[18]). Likewise, governments also developed websites and used social media to respond to the most frequently asked questions, to avoid misinformation, and to provide tips to help prevent the spread of this pandemic (ibid).

In addition to responding to the most immediate public policy areas, including responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of public communication and a robust media and information sector can help to promote long-term public policy objectives that support government transparency, integrity, accountability, and stakeholder participation. Indeed, many of these are included as part of Jordan’s National Renaissance Plan (2019-20),5 which puts forth a vision for transformation based on combatting corruption and enhancing transparency and integrity as critical factors to strengthen institutions. Similar principles are captured by Jordan’s commitments to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which it joined in 2011 as the first Arab country in the initiative. To date, Jordan has submitted four national actions plans, and it is currently conducting a consultation to finalise its 5th National Action Plan, which promises to be the most ambitious, focused and participative to date. In this regard, Jordan is currently implementing 5 commitments from its 4th NAP (2018-20), for which public communications and the media can provide a great deal of support during the final implementation phase. These include the following:

  • Enhancing partnership and dialogue between the public sector and Civil Society.

  • Development and enhancement of the application of Government Open Data Policy.

  • Fostering national dialogue to achieve political reform.

  • Unification and development of the national Human Rights violations’ complaints mechanism.

  • Institutionalisation of the enforcement measures for the Access to Information Law.

Given the priorities enshrined by the National Renaissance plan as well as the 4th OGP National Action Plan, as well as the Indicative Executive Program (2021–2023) and the forthcoming Government Economic Recovery Priorities Plan, there is a great role that public communication can play in implementing these initiatives as well as supporting the larger principles behind them. For instance, from an internal perspective, public communication supports broader change management objectives within government to instil Open Government principles across the workstreams and professional competencies of various ministries, departments, and agencies. Similarly, internal communication can help to share knowledge about Open Government Partnership (OGP) reform objectives across government departments as well as to share strategic information, which can help contribute to the achievement of the 4th NAP priorities, many of which are cross-cutting and involve work by multiple government entities. From an external perspective, public communication can help support these key initiatives—namely the National Renaissance Plan and the 4th OGP NAP—by sensitising key audiences and emphasising the benefits of these reform areas. This can be done through public information campaigns, media and information literacy trainings, as well as by gathering audience insights to effectively target key audiences. By informing citizens of these and other on-going public policies, public communicators can increase buy-in and support for these reforms as well as better understand citizen needs in the reform process.

Likewise, the success of Jordan’s transparency, integrity, accountability and participation reforms depends on a robust and active media. In this regard, the media can play an important role in setting the policy agenda as part of the consultation process for future OPG National Action Plans in Jordan. As such, they can play a key role in publicising and reporting on the outcomes of the various National Dialogues, which are held around key Open Government themes. Likewise, the media play an essential role in the eventual selection of new Open Government initiatives by their ability to foster debate and dialogue around the benefits and consequences of such policies. Finally, as part of its “watchdog” functions, media can help to monitor the implementation of ongoing Open Government reforms, and highlight areas for improvement.

References

[4] Arab Barometer (2020), Arab Barometer Survey, https://www.arabbarometer.org/survey-data/.

[13] Camargo Penteado, C. and I. Fortunato (2015), “Mídia e políticas públicas: possíveis campos exploratórios”, Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais, Vol. 30/87, p. 129, http://dx.doi.org/10.17666/308705-17/2015.129-141.

[3] Economist Intelligence Unit (2018), Democracy Index 2017: Free speech under attack, http://pages.eiu.com/rs/753-RIQ-438/images/Democracy_Index_2017.pdf.

[5] Edelman (2020), 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, https://www.edelman.com/trust/2020-trust-barometer.

[2] Freedom House (2019), Freedom in the World 2019 Scores, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/scores.

[12] Gallup (2015), Gallup World Poll 2015: Most Important Media that Citizens Report Using for News by Region.

[11] Grandvoinnet, H., G. Aslam and S. Raha (2015), Opening the Black Box: The Contextual Drivers of Social Accountability, The World Bank, http://dx.doi.org/10.1596/978-1-4648-0481-6.

[16] IMF (2020), Inside Jordan’s Fight to Tackle COVID-19, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/07/16/na071620-inside-jordans-fight-to-tackle-covid19.

[17] OECD (2020), “Combatting COVID-19 disinformation on online platforms”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/d854ec48-en.

[18] OECD (2020), “COVID-19 crisis response in MENA countries”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/4b366396-en.

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

[7] OECD (2020), “Transparency, communication and trust: The role of public communication in responding to the wave of disinformation about the new Coronavirus”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/bef7ad6e-en.

[1] OECD (2019), Government at a Glance 2019, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/8ccf5c38-en.

[8] OECD (2017), Organisation and functions at the centre of government: Centre Stage II.

[6] OECD (2017), “Recommendation of the Council on Open Government”, OECD Legal Instruments, OECD-LEGAL-0438, OECD, Paris, https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0438.

[15] OECD (2016), Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en.

[10] OECD/OGP (2019), Communicating Open Government: A How-To Guide, Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/communicating-open-government-a-how-to-guide-oecd-ogp/.

[14] World Bank (2016), Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement, Washington, DC, http://dx.doi.org/10.1596/978-1-4648-0771-8.

Notes

← 1. Author’s own research, conducted in January 2019 through the OGP database.

← 2. Digital TV Research on the Middle East and North Africa (2015).

← 3. OECD, “Standards”, OECD Public Integrity Handbook, 2020.

← 4. For instance, this is used to define core integrity standards and values, to ensure select values and principles are actually fit for purpose in a given county.

← 5. Jordan Renaissance Plan (2019-20), https://your.gov.jo/.

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