Communications as a Policy Tool in India

On June 15, 2005, a historic act was passed signalling a new beginning towards enhanced transparency and accountability in the working of the Indian government. The Right to Information (RTI) Act was the first-of-its-kind initiative that aimed to create an enabling ecosystem in which citizens and government could engage in two-way communication.

RTI has changed the way we view government communication because it provides a mechanism for citizens to remain vigilant of public policies and seek information on matters directly affecting them. Access to accurate and timely information, as well as mechanisms for citizen participation and feedback, are essential components of any citizen-centric democracy. Over the recent years, governments have increasingly recognised the role of communication as an instrument for policy making

Public communication is usually defined as the government function of delivering information to maximise its impact, as well as listening to and responding to citizens for efficient public service delivery.

Constantly evolving technologies, the surge of social media, and the spread of misinformation make it even more critical for governments to communicate with their citizens in ways that weren’t considered or explored before. The Government of India (GOI) took a transformational step in this direction with the launch of MyGov India in July 2014, the first of its kind participatory governance initiative involving citizens. MyGov brings the government closer to people through the use of various digital platforms for a healthy exchange of ideas and different perspectives for good governance. With the MyGov India initiative, GOI has been directly reaching out to the public to not only disseminate information on various policies, programs, and initiatives but also to seek their opinion, suggestions, and feedback on them. To engage with citizens in a proactive manner, the platform employs communication tools such as crowdsourcing, contests, pledges, discussion forums, and blogs, among others.

In August 2021, MyGov India launched a public consultation survey to seek citizens' suggestions on the National Curriculum Framework which will establish guidelines for a new school curriculum. Recognizing the importance of citizen participation, the Ministry of Education has taken the initiative of soliciting citizen feedback on the implementation of various recommendations under the National Education Policy, 2020.1

Similarly, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has used a strategic communication policy to disseminate information on its monetary and fiscal policies, including tools like the Monetary and Policy Committee (MPC) resolutions and minutes, extensive post-policy statements, statements on developmental and regulatory measures, press conferences, speeches, and other publications. Asserting the importance of an effective communication strategy in rolling out the monetary policy, RBI Governor Shakikanta Das said, "The clearly defined inflation target and the band, the setting up of the MPC, the explicit accountability mechanisms for defining failure in meeting the target, the detailed resolution and the quick release of individual assessments in the minutes have strengthened transparency and credibility of monetary policy formulation in India.”2

The efforts spearheaded by the RBI to streamline their communication strategy for effective dissemination are also echoed by global financial institutions. In its economic report, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) stated, “Communication can explain the objectives, strategy and policy process to the public, and thus build political support. In addition, it can help the authorities share their risk assessment with both the affected parties and the broader public, which can enhance effectiveness.”

In today’s day and age, effective communication of policy interventions is not only a nice-to-have feature but an indispensable part of a strengthened democracy like India. The importance of deploying communication as a policy tool has been recognised by several countries that have adopted a National Communication Policy, including Canada, Norway, and Jamaica.

Communication can support government policies and agendas in several ways. For starters, it can improve active transparency and help build trust. According to an OECD Trust Survey published in 2021, four out of ten people do not trust their government. 50% of people expressed dissatisfaction with the government for not providing them with adequate avenues to express their views on public policies. When deployed as a front-end tool in the public policy process rather than a back-end support function, effective communication can help governments build trust and accountability among citizens. Communication, both internally and externally, within the government can also contribute to greater public sector integrity and also hold governments accountable.  While effective communication can never be a substitute for effective policies, it can definitely ensure that these are understood, critiqued, and accepted by not just its makers but by those who they most impact.

1. Suggestions invited from citizens on National Education Policy 2020

2. Monetary Policy and Central Bank Communication: Address by Shri Shaktikanta Das, Governor, Reserve Bank of India - March 4, 2022 

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