Today’s post is by Arthur Mickoleit of the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development. Inputs from Kareen Schramm and Sofia Varas of Chile’s Ministry General‑Secretariat of the Presidency are gratefully acknowledged.
Do you “like” your government? For many Chileans, the answer could be yes, I “Like” (or rather, “Me gusta”). That’s because the official government Facebook account has 23,000 likes). If that number sounds low, take a look at their soon 500,000 followers on Twitter. That’s anywhere between one third and one sixth of all Twitter users in Chile (estimates of overall Twitter users range from 1.4 to 3.2 million)
To be fair, public administrations and officials in the United States and United Kingdom led developments in this area. President Obama is one of the top 5 celebrities on Twitter worldwide. His community of 36 million followers sets him on par with personalities like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
The UK government’s @Number10gov can count on the highest “per capita” followership among accounts of top executive institutions across the OECD. But it’s closely followed by Chile’s @Gobiernodechile .
Do all these numbers mean anything for you as a citizen? Maybe President Obama is an exception, but my guess is that most people would prefer a one-on-one with a celeb to a public policy jam with the president or prime minister. No offense, but the odds of being sought after on social media are probably even lower for a civil servant.
If you look beyond the numbers, though, a pattern seems to emerge where governments and public administrations the world over use the web to defeat popular stereotypes (what comes to your mind when you think “public administration”?). So could it be that social media are profoundly changing the way those who govern talk and listen to their constituents?
To get back to Chile, when the current President Sebastián Piñera assumed office in 2010 he did so with a cabinet of 22 ministers. But not just ministers as usual – each of the 22 had a Twitter account upon taking office. Health minister Jaime Mañalich has a reputation for answering e-v-e-r-y question that reaches him via the online service with the little bird: on whether an adult infected with Hepatitis B as a child could act as a blood donor (no); on the rising risks of canine rabies contagion starting in the month of August; on the correct timing for vaccinating a baby against meningococcal disease, etc.
If you’re not in Chile, can you see your own government’s minister for healthcare doing that? Certainly possible, but still pretty unusual. So along with governments like the US and the UK that make bold use of social media, it seems the Chilean government is doing a pretty good job too.
How did this come about? Chile’s experience with social media started abruptly and dramatically. President Piñera took office in 2010, just days after massive earthquakes devastated parts of the country, killing hundreds of people. In many places, power, communications and broadcasting broke down. Amazingly though, a large number of mobile phone and Internet infrastructures like 3G kept going. So citizens turned to services like Google’s People Finder, Twitter and others, whether via fancy smartphone web access or low-key SMS.
Chile’s government made sure it was present on the main platforms. It decided to adapt to a new situation and operate in the same space in which citizens were already operating. That’s a lesson governments all over are starting to take more seriously. To “go where the citizens are” is the motto, instead of trying to bring citizens into government processes that are often complicated or even opaque for the outsider (thanks to David Eaves for bringing this up at the 2012 OECD E-Leaders meeting).
Chile’s government has used the momentum that built up since then. It published a digital guide) for institutions and individuals in the public administration that want to engage via Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, Slideshare, etc. And their comprehensive ChileAtiende (“ChileService”) strategy gives citizens a wide range of choices for the communications channel they want to use to access information and public services.
You will have understood by now, social media are one of the “valid” channels to get in touch with government in Chile. Compare this with many governments around the world that are still having difficulties considering an email from a citizen as a “valid” means of communication.
Where does all this lead us? What will help more governments take the social media plunge is more knowledge and evidence about what works and what doesn’t.
Chile and some other countries are doing impressive stuff, but when governments use social media, is that mostly to jazz up their image or are they really trying to innovate in the way they provide information and services? How do people react – and who are those people? Are young people really the only target group for social media use? What about opportunities to reach vulnerable people too? For example, immigrant groups in some countries are reported to have high uptake rates for Facebook or Twitter. Can social media actually help civil servants work better? Think of crowd-sourcing of ideas for your local government office. Or is that a pipe-dream when more than one third of civil servants are over 50 years old in most OECD countries?
We will raise most of these questions, and hopefully answer one or two of them, at the next OECD E-Leaders meeting on 29-30 October in Switzerland. Tune in to the webcast and talk to us via #eleaders and @OECDinnovation). We hear a lot from government, let’s hear from you: do you “Like” your government?
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