By Alexandru Oprunenco, UNDP in Moldova
Chisinau, 4 February 2013-- National discussions on a new global development agenda are in full swing in our region – and beyond.
With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to share our experience in Moldova in the hope it might provide useful insights to other practitioners who are asking themselves (just like we did at the beginning!) – oh my God, how do I do this!
The post-2015 national consultations provide a space to involve citizens in defining the future they want for their country. So far, so good. However, to ask and to get meaningful and representative answers from people in these days of information overload is not an easy task. In other words, before you can make the voice of people heard you need to make these people hear you!
And then you have to ensure that you capture as many voices as possible, especially people from marginalized and vulnerable groups, who are often left out from decision making. We also decided to use the Small Area Deprivation Index to identify and reach out to the most deprived communities.
In Moldova we used a wide range of tools to make the consultation process both inclusive and meaningful and designed our outreach campaign in two overlapping stages:
- Helping citizens learn about the consultation
- Listening to citizens’ voices
A project of this scale required an awful lot of coordination and ingenuity. Let’s face it… this is a time of budget constraints and only by tapping into the collective efforts of United Nations agencies, and a wide variety of partners (individuals, media companies, private sector, CSOs, and more) were we able to make our dollars go further and achieve the scale we needed to make the process meaningful.
So how did we go about it? Here’s a checklist
1. Helping citizens learn about the consultation
- Get the United Nations agencies to coordinate their message and speak with one voice;
- Have government counterparts on board from the very beginning and use a high-profile public event to officially launch the process. In Moldova the national consultations were launched in the Parliament as part of the UN Resident Coordinator’s address to the plenary. We created a web-space to inform the public about consultations and to collect their views via a simple online survey. This way, the website became a platform to which many other tools relate;
- Create a Facebook and Twitter account to help establish a two-way channel with the public;
- Meet the people where they are! TV is still the most popular media in Moldova and we produced a highly attractive spot that was aired on all major TV channels in the country for free in prime time. The spot also promotes the website and encourages people to go there and have their say;
- However, all this may not be enough. You need to reach out to people who may be indifferent to TV spots, allergic to social media or, quite simply, too busy with their daily problems to worry about what may happen after 2015. And this well may be a silent majority! How to reach them? Use that gadget most of us have in our pockets (right, the mobile phone) and send an SMS. The trick is to find the right tone: you need to be personal, explicit and short…let’s face it, not exactly the forte of a bureaucracy
Luckily we could rely on great mobile partners (Orange Moldova, Moldcell and Moldtelecom), so here’s what we came up with: “Your future depends on you. Log on to www.un.md/2015 and tell us what is important for you!”
We also clearly indicated the ID of the sender so that the message was not perceived as commercial spam, and we sent out the survey in two waves.
In Moldova the results of SMS campaign have beaten all expectations: in the wake of the second wave, the web-site was effectively stormed (no, it didn’t shut us down!) and stats showed 5,000 unique visitors per key day of the campaign to the dedicated web space (not bad for a country like Moldova). It really paid off – having such involvement at the push of a button!
2. Listening to citizens’ voices
As sponsors of the consultations, we feel a tremendous responsibility. We are the first to hear the voices of citizens who devote their time to engage in the consultation process.
It is only if we are attentive and open that their opinion will be adequately represented in the post 2015 national and global development agenda. Therefore we need to employ as many instruments as possible.
“Face-to-face” tools, such as focus-groups and national opinion polls have undisputable advantages: they allow either for in-depth discussion and better focus on the most vulnerable groups or can offer nationally representative results.
But they also have drawbacks as well: they are time-consuming, limited in outreach, and relatively costly.
Online tools such as surveys and social media help us offset these limitations. They are open to everyone, allow for discussions and feedback loops, are relatively cheap, and most importantly, allow for continuous follow-up even after the consultation process per se has been finalized.
The combination of both offline and online tools allowed us also to ensure that national consultations are held in an inclusive manner (Internet penetration rate hovers around 43 percent in Moldova).
Our focus groups helped us reach reach approximately 180 people in communities identified as the most deprived and vulnerable. . (More on the Small Area Deprivation Index)
In addition, with around one-third of the Moldovan labour force working abroad, we felt it was necessary to include the extend the Moldovan diaspora in the consultations. A United Nations migration project served as vehicle to hear the voice of the “other Moldova”.
An important issue we tackled was also how to ask our questions. In Moldova, we decided not go with a pre cooked menu of themes to submit to citizens.
On the contrary, we left them full freedom in identifying and putting forward the issues of the highest importance for their future.
The consultations are still ongoing so we won’t celebrate success just yet. But we feel that we ventured into new territory (for example, through an SMS campaign) and the gamble so far paid off. We proved that we can reach out to citizens in new, cost-effective ways and that we can bring together different partners around a common purpose.
Now of course, the biggest challenge is ahead of us: making sure that the great input we received is properly heard and accounted for, and that we continue to provide feedback to those citizens who decided to get engaged. Watch this space for updates!