Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was recently reported to have remarked that his successor is a more adept salesman, event manager and communicator than himself. Although this was meant as a backhanded compliment, we are puzzled at the derision directed at marketing and communication.
In India, governance is often narrowly interpreted as the process of policymaking. But it is widely acknowledged in development and public policy research that good governance is also about nurturing the relationship between citizens and public institutions in order to bring about positive change.
It is often alleged that the Modi government has been ‘recycling’ the ideas of the previous regime. But the fact that the current government’s campaigns seem to evoke a wider interest only confirms that government programmes have become more energetic through better communication.
What makes Prime Minister Narendra Modi a better communicator? Why do his government’s campaigns seem to evoke greater interest? We see here a classic case of what marketers refer to as the integrated marketing communication (IMC) approach. Two things are important for any government initiative to be effectively implemented. First, it is important to realise the strategic significance of communication in government programmes, and second, every piece of communication needs to be integrated and driven by a strategy.What’s the strategy?
This government has understood well that information sharing can make citizens more empowered and lead them to demand service delivery. Information sharing also helps to garner social support for programmes. People need to be involved and feel involved in order to participate in and ensure the success of such programmes.
Information sharing also helps build capacity in citizens to engage with the government and give feedback and suggestions. Today’s multi-directional, interactive technologies provide channels for intensive public engagement. Mygov.in is an example of such a platform where over a million registered users engage in around 35 groups discussing more than 200 different issues at a point in time.
Communication can lead to better information sharing among different arms of the government. It can lead to healthy competition among various bodies of government to come up with better policies and more imaginative schemes, and also avoid duplication. Or it could simply mean pressure on State governments to follow up on the Centre’s initiatives. For instance, the Centre’s persistent campaign on the benefits of smart cities has led the Congress-ruled Kerala government to plan for seven smart cities.Exploring social media
Each element of the government’s communication campaign is hinged to a strategy, bringing consistency and integration for a bigger impact. Modi is known to be an admirer of the internet and social media and it is not surprising that his government extensively uses government websites, emails, text messages and twitter.
Very few of us would have been spared the flurry of messages on initiatives ranging from direct transfer of LPG subsidy to Atal Pension Yojana and Insurance for one rupee a day. If you don’t own a phone, then the traditional channels of TV, radio and print media would have delivered the same messages.
Not only are multiple channels of communication used, the campaigns aim at producing multiple effects on the audience from awareness building to behavioural change, and from engagement to advocacy. For example, a radio broadcast of the Prime Minister’s speech triggered an avalanche of ‘selfie with beti’.
The Prime Minister uses his Mann Ki Baat series on radio to have a conversation with rural India or the armed forces that may not be watching television or checking text alerts on phone.
Communication prepares the young to be better citizens; they learn to trust and engage with the government. The success of International Yoga Day can be attributed to integrated communications targeted at multiple audiences right from public servants to schoolchildren, from health enthusiasts to spiritual gurus, and from soldiers to celebrities.
In India, we were so far used to the ‘ mai-baap sarkar ’ concept of government where the government doles out benefits and we gratefully pick up from what is thrown at us. But effective communication can go a long way in making people enthusiastic stakeholders in governance.
Sensarma is an associate professor of economics and Purani is a professor of marketing at IIM Kozhikode