Recently Community engagement has reached an appraisable level of interest across public sector globally. There could be many reasons for this including success of Obama’s election campaign, strong conviction of USA, UK & Australian government towards public engagement, UN millennium development goals and technological advanced population.
I have tried to compile the learning’s from across the globe in this document (public engagement in public services), I hope you will find it useful.
I personally believe in identifying the challenges first because that stimulates the thinking as to how these challenges can be addressed. Below is an extract from the document, it highlights the key challenges
A comprehensive list associated with community engagement is available at the website of Queensland Government (Australia); following are some risks which I foresee in community engagement
- A broad target segments: Unlike private sector Government reaches out to everyone equally. Now this involves lower & higher SECs, hard to reach audiences, opinion leaders and followers, literates and illiterates, segments with vested interests etc. This together broadens the scope of community engagement for public services and makes it complicated to ensure unbiased results
- Accountability, information access and federal government:- Unlike private sectors in public sector – community and citizens have all the rights reserved to access the information they shared at all levels. But it is very difficult from Governments’ perspective to share information at all levels, especially in the absence of web 2.0 technologies. Governments are also centralized and decisions take a lot of time before implementation. This results in distrust of communities on the Governments and consequently people feel that their input is not being valued.
- Generic community management issues:- Addressing the destructive impact of ‘bad participation’, where negative attitudes to community involvement lead to poor engagement practices, causing increased hostility, decreased trust and poor experience and outcomes not only for communities, but also for officials and politicians, thus further reinforcing negative attitudes and behavior. Recognizing the catch-22 faced by residents who take on responsibilities as community leaders, but find their legitimacy challenged precisely because they ‘stand out’ – becoming labeled as ‘unrepresentative usual suspects’.
- Inconsistent vocabulary: – The term ‘community participation’ is understood and applied differently by different statutory bodies, and by different officers within those statutory bodies. These variations can make it hard for different bodies to work in partnership with each other and with communities.
- Lack of available statistics on how community engagement helped Governments gain popularity, enhanced their positive image and got re-elected also acts as a barrier from government officials view point
- Managing expectations: – increased community engagement results into high level of expectations. So it at times become a catch 22 whereby increasing satisfaction through involvement Governments can lead to dissatisfaction by inconsistent policy or by not incorporating the community inputs
- Lack of time and interest: – An audit in Canada found that 55% people don’t want to be involved in community engagement because of lack of time, feeling of no influence over decision making etc.
IMPLICATIONS to United Arab Emirates
- In a tax-free environment, the first question which Government as a service provider asks is the depth of community engagement. Why and to what level people should be engaged? On top of tax-free environment, high turnover rate of expats (which constitutes the major part of the population) complicates service delivery, satisfaction levels and result oriented community engagement
- A unique mix of expats from different parts of the world results into different level of satisfaction and expectations across different segments. It becomes increasingly difficult to understand the cultural, lingual differences in involvement and product delivery.
- UAE has very high penetration of mobile phones and internet; this actually paves a way for technologically advanced means of sustainable community engagement.