Executive summary

Public communication is a core pillar of open government reforms. It serves as an essential instrument of transparency and a vehicle for citizens’ engagement in policy making. Given the challenging socio-economic context, Lebanon is facing and the importance of urgent governance reforms to address public grievances, communication between institutions and citizens will be an important aspect of restoring trust and establishing a constructive dialogue on solving the country’s challenges.

This Review presents analysis and recommendations to promote more effective public communication in Lebanon, and to use it to improve policy making and support a more open government. The recommendations build on the OECD’s longstanding engagement with the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) in support of its work towards open government reforms. As part of this engagement, they respond to a request from the Lebanese government for policy guidance on making institutions more effective and responsive to citizens.

Eight institutions participated in this report: the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, OMSAR, and the Ministries of Education, Environment, Finance, Information, and Public Health.

While several institutions demonstrate examples of good practices and recognize the urgency of moving towards the institutionalisation and professionalisation of the communications function, in general, communications are primarily ad hoc and hampered by underlying structural challenges. Indeed, a majority of institutions surveyed have insufficient human and financial resources to plan and conduct activities. An even larger proportion do not organise their communications according to a strategy based on clear objectives.

Underlying these difficulties is the absence of a mandate and buy-in from senior officials, who tend to limit the scope of the communications function by appointing political advisors as press officers. These ministries’ communications thus tend to have a more political character. For this reason, high-level reforms are needed that set a clear mandate and resources for public communication, independently of its political counterpart.

Intra-governmental co-ordination in this area requires similar institutionalisation. Minimal mechanisms in place for communicators to collaborate mean that, for the most part, each ministry communicates for itself, rather than the government speaking with one voice. This has been further underlined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the long term, reforms could establish a central office to oversee whole-of-government communication, centralising resources to support peers in line ministries. Meanwhile, forming an inter-ministerial committee on public communication would provide a needed platform for co-ordination and promoting the administrative reforms noted above.

Institutionalisation is, ultimately, a prerequisite for applying core communication competencies strategically. However, pending the introduction of reforms, simple interventions, such as training, can help Lebanese ministries mitigate skills shortfalls in the short term and optimise resources for greater impact.

Competencies in digital, internal or crisis communication, campaigns, and media relations can help transform public communications from a one-way dissemination of information to a way to engage citizens. This can be best achieved by developing written, time-bound strategies tied to measurable objectives and policy goals. To be successful, strategies would also need to rely on evidence gathered by conducting research on audiences as well as monitoring and evaluation activities. While these competencies can include highly sophisticated tools and skills, communicators in Lebanon’s institutions could already expand their use of simpler and readily available analytics to improve the effectiveness of their work.

Reforms to public communication could look more specifically at formalising requirements for communications to be conducted in the service of open government objectives. This could include synergies with access to information disclosures or tapping the potential offered by some platforms, such as social media, to interact directly with stakeholders on a more frequent and informal basis.

Successive Lebanese administrations have expressed ambitions to pursue open government reforms and develop a consolidated agenda in this area. As highlighted in the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, Lebanon’s policy makers would benefit from integrating public communication in such efforts.

Finally, given the fundamental role that information plays in public life, open government reforms should not overlook the role of actors other than government institutions, chiefly the media. Indeed, the media in Lebanon could be a key asset for promoting transparency, integrity, accountability and participation. However, the considerable politicisation of some of the main news outlets in the country may erode public trust in them, while a lack of resources for independent and state media prevents them from filling the gap. Upgrading regulations for the sector, given the increased prominence of digital platforms, would support the role of the media in building a more open government.

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