Can Public Institutions Learn from Private Organizations?

Parliament in SessionIt is well known and taught in all business schools how important to any organization communication is, and indeed market communication departments, P.R.Os and other communication offices are prevalent in most public or private organizations. But truly, is the public sector in Ghana  taking communication as seriously as it should?

Members of Parliament, forming the legislature body of government, play a key role in governance. By law, these honorable gentlemen and women are elected by their constituents to represent them in the nation’s Parliament. As ‘representatives of the people’ it would be reasonable to expect that in order to perform their duties, MPs would endeavor to keep in constant contact with their constituents. So, when was the last time you heard from the MP of your area?

Most private businesses in Ghana understand the importance of maintaining constant communication with their consumers to ensure that they are satisfying them, which assures their success. It’s for this reason that companies undergo extensive market research, that company branches have easily accessible customer care lines or complaint forms, that many companies have websites, that many companies are now utilizing social media to reach their customers. It is only via frequent two-way communication that any organization can be said to know the needs or desires of its customers and thus meet them.

For the public organization, especially the government, this need is even more pronounced. Governments exist principally to serve their ‘customers’, who in this case are people of the country. The United Nations, in its definition and explanation of the concept of Good Governance, lists such principles as: Accountability, Transparency, Participative and Responsiveness.

How then can the MPs of Ghana be accountable, transparent and responsive to their constituents when the main form of communication between the Ghanaian and his MP is when that MP happens to take one of their infrequent ‘constituency tours’. How can the Parliament of Ghana be said to be ‘participative’ when our M.Ps rarely seem to or do not have the relevant tools to enable them seek the opinions of their constituents before debating issues in Parliament. One must ask, if they are not able  to seek the opinions of their people before coming in to the floor of parliament to speak, who then, do these MPs represent on the floor? Themselves?  Or the People?

So, as was asked before, when was the last time you heard from or spoke with your MP? If you had a complaint to make about something in your constituency (as you probably do), how would you get in touch with the M.P.? A quick check online revealed there’s no functioning website for the Parliament of Ghana. The page states that it’s ‘Coming Soon’. On the other hand, most large private organizations have customer care lines staffed with several people to accept calls from the public and respond accordingly. I wonder if any parliamentarian in Ghana has any similar office staffed with people ready to listen to and forward complaints or other issues from constituents. This is not a new concept. Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom and Senators in the United States operate such offices alongside e-mail and social media lines, all to make sure they can stay in touch with constituents.

In Ghana’s past, it was common and effective for chiefs to tour their communities and hold open meetings in order for them to hear and address the grievances of their people. Ghana’s Parliamentarians of today, representing fairly large communities, do not have such luxury . That notwithstanding, the presence and advancement of communication technology gives them meaningful and myraid options in reaching their people.

The fact that the mobile penetration rate in Ghana is above 70% now should allow mobile phone calls or SMS messages (i.e. mass messaging) to be an acceptable means for the common Ghanaian to communicate with his M.P. and vice versa. It is perfectly possible for parliamentarians to use mass messaging platforms such as MyTXTbuddy to communicate by SMS with their constituents about their activities or to pass on information.

Parliamentarians should have public care centres or lines and people staffing them throughout the day to receive calls from constituents. Parliaments should have public e-mail addresses and Facebook pages. blogs and websites. Such platforms should be well manned to effectively  ensure the consistent flow   and management of information to and from the public.

For Ghana to be positioned at the top of the global, technology-enabled governance ecosystem, the country needs effective governance and feedback models with Information Technology at the nerve centre of its activities. Imagine a Ghana in which constituents receive monthly e-mailed newsletters about the developments in the community. Imagine a Ghana in which any Ghanaian noticing a problem such as a lack of dustbins in an area or poor service at the community hospital can immediately call the M.P.s office  or send a text message or even a multimedia message to some sort of complaint repository to register their complaint.  Imagine a Ghana where there exists a complimentary access channel for the MPs  to track , manage and act on such complaints.

Imagine a Ghana in which the ordinary Ghanaian can post a question to an M.P. on their Facebook Page or Website and receive a reply, without the usual bureaucratic hassle currently implicit in approaching any high-level government figure.

Communication in the public sector and by public organizations leaves a lot to be desired considering the efforts of and extent to which private organizations go to achieve the same ends. It is high time that parliamentarians in Ghana as well as other public bodies  learn from the private sector and step up their efforts in embracing advancements in communication technology and utilizing them accordingly.

-Terence Adjei-Otchwemah

Executive, Product Evangelism and Social Media Relations

DreamOval Ltd.

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Twitter: @DreamOval_Ltd & @TerenceAdjei

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