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Gov’t 2.0 – DAY 1
Managing and organizing any sort of multicultural, multi-purpose event, especially in the Balkans, a region notorious for its local solipsism and one-upmanship regarding dialogue and cultural change, is no small feat. That being said, once united by a mutual cause and a purpose of genuine benefit to the society as a whole, no undertaking is arduous and challenges only motivate you… unless you are sleepy, dragging lazy bags across town at the break of dawn to have everything in mint condition in time for the Conference, but hey, who’s complaining?
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As Darko Sokovic, President of Foundation Dokukino, said: “At Dokukino, we find a way to converse about all those things we know are important but sound so boring, in a fashion compelling and interesting enough for people to start participating.” This is exactly what Government 2.0 two-day conference is about. Organized by Dokukino and SEECOM, with generous support from the American Embassy in Sarajevo, this Conference is exactly the type of event envisioned as an interactive, appealing enabler of dialogue, some kind of a formal hangout for people of influence who have an idea, so to speak. On a cloudy and rather cold March morning in Sarajevo, after countless sleepless nights spent on contemplating every last detail, we found a way to attract an impressive array of speakers, government officials, public relations experts, media and new technology professionals, and activists, united in their purpose to discuss their experiences and suggestions regarding government transparency and cooperation between civil society and politicians.
 The media is here and while the guests are mostly adorned in suits, the atmosphere is laid back and chatty enough. We all get to know one another before the articulate, formal discussions, take place. From the very start we know there will be plenty to talk about; Krunoslav Vidic, Chairman of SEECOM Croatia, provides a brief, electrifying introduction. “New media is decrepitating and disabling civil activism. This sounds controversial, but what goes on in virtual world is seldom easy to transform into real-life actions and occurrences. It is neither simple nor easy finding the right balance between what government hears and does and what the citizens say and wish for.”
With this remark, we really kicked it off.
Government 2.0 – Principles 
Our first speaker, Dr Jasna Jelisic, International Expert for Foreign Affairs and Public Diplomacy with the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, tackled the issue of contemporary communication and politics directly and unapologetically.
“It is of great importance that the data collected by the government is available to the citizens. A collaborative way of making decisions is essential not just for local government activities, but also for foreign policy and society in general. Traditional diplomacy, in which one country’s institutions communication with another country’s institutions, is obsolete; diplomacy is so much more than that. Most political issues cannot be solved by simply relying on governments and their formal announcements – rather, direct, two-way communication between politicians and their constituency is necessary. The point is not in having power over others, but in having power with others,” said Jasna in her 30-minute speech.
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Jelisic stipulated that traditional diplomacy was a rigid practice with a clear division of roles and participants, while today reality is completely different. In this day and age influence is found in people everywhere, people of different ranks, vocations and backgrounds, while only those countries that properly govern themselves locally can achieve genuine credibility with international communities. Modern technologies no longer allow for secrecy – if you say one thing and do something else, information is more ubiquitous and travels faster than ever, meaning no mistake can now be hidden from the people with access to Internet. This new virtual world scares those governments who don’t spend enough time listening to the needs of the citizens, who will nevertheless certainly subject them to scrutiny. Recognizing the importance of transparency and direct communication is imperative for good governance – the sooner governments acknowledge they cannot function in an isolated manner, the sooner will appropriate communication channels be created for politicians and their constituency to function proactively and in cohesion.
Gov’t 2.0 – From Policy to Practice
The main session of the day focused on turning the need for collaboration between governments and the people into concrete, continuous practices. Moderator Vuk Vujnovic, SEECOM Montenegro Secretary General, opened the session with insights from his previous experiences.
“It takes much more than just government willingness to achieve efficient communication. It is quite difficult to get people to be interested in public policy in the first place. More often than not, governments are plain boring. Most people from our regional public administration can hardly brag about being or working with people capable of translating their policies and messages into communication appealing to the general public. We cannot measure the extent of public support or concern by the number of likes on the internet. It is natural people are more interested in what Angelina Jolie is doing in the vicinity than what we here are talking about.  The main goal of the government should be to attract people’s attention with regard to policy-making issues and find the channels to communicate with the audience.” 
Croatian government has proved to be the most communicative government according to an international study, in no small part thanks to Marko Bozac, Associate in Online Communication Department in the government of Republic of Croatia. Marko rightfully bragged about the incredible results his government has achieved since opening itself to direct communication and consulting with the citizens through social networks.
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“There is an inverse relationship between control and trust. More control, less trust,” was Marko’s opening remark. Croatian government is active on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Social media is used as a platform for public consulting, and the government openly invites citizens to participate in decision-making processes. The number of comments received on the part of the citizens has increased by 2000% since the country has opened itself to two-way communication through social networks. Campaigns for celebration of Croatia’s acceptance into the EU has sparked interest from everyone– the government received more than 2,000 pictures on Instagram within 10 days, along with more than 12,000 tweets. In Croatia, the concept of “e-government” is well-devised, and citizens have the opportunity to find pertinent information about their community online, while government’s Facebook page, which has more than 100,000 followers, receives more than 100 questions daily.
Director of the Public Communication Office of the government of Kosovo, Arianit Bytyci, had quite a bit to say about the important of governmental transparency, given that the Republic of Kosovo is merely six years old. He initiated his speech by saying: “Digital diplomacy is solving foreign policy problems using the internet.”  
“Through the web we can listen, publish, engage and evaluate in new and interesting ways. Crucially, this way we can widen our reach and communicate directly with civil society. Kosovo’s Digital Diplomacy Strategy was written by a British diplomat with a background in foreign policy and strategic communication. Kosovo engages in digital diplomacy with the intent of enhancing recognition of the new state and its acknowledgement by the global internet infrastructure. The purpose of digital communication between Kosovo officials and the general public is conveying the values of the new state and its path toward European integrations. Through a number of websites and activities such as “App Camp”, the government attempts to create and advance new channels of communication and applications that would directly promote the Republic of Kosovo,” said Arianit, who then placed particular emphasis on explaining the intents and actions of the government to its people.
Head of Government Communications Office of the government of Moldova, Aliona Sloninov, spoke about Moldova’s road to European integration and the governments’ attempts to be better heard through digital newsletters and full cooperation with both local and international media.
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Along came Mak Kapetanovic, Communications and Political Officer of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who spoke about openness on the part of government as the only way of acquiring and keeping citizens’ trust. “In the fast and constantly changing world we live in, there is great need for governments to adapt to the new channels of communication and transparently inform citizens about their actions. Politicians have to find a way to assess when personal opinion stops and selfless serving to the community starts,” was the backbone of Mak’s speech.
Marija Novkovic, Project Manager of the United Nations Development Programme in Montenegro, held a particularly compelling speech about all the ways government officials can include and consult citizens when making important decisions. “Chance favors the connected mind,” was her opening line.
“The Internet has changed the way we look at the world: what we buy, where we eat and, ultimately, how we think. The government of Montenegro has encouraged its citizens to start initiatives and petitions for matters they believe in. Any citizen who manages to collect 6,000 signatures (about 1% of total population) makes the petition eligible for consideration on the part of the government.” 
Another project Marija discussed was the initiative for changing the way citizens communicate with their government. By perceiving citizens, not as a target, but rather as an asset, governments receive input regarding everyday activities and can more easily develop an approach supported by the community. The solutions provided for this sort of initiative were rooted in technology. The government of Montenegro often invites its citizens to provide feedback regarding potential investments and share their ideas on popular social networks.
Mr. Jonathan Francis, First Secretary and Deputy Head of Development Cooperation in the Embassy of Sweden in Bosnia and Herzegovina, spoke about how Swedish government has been on the forefront of digital, two-way communication. Swedish government was the first in the world to guarantee freedom of the press; any citizen can demand information from the government, which increases transparency in the already open Scandinavian society. In recent years, the government of Sweden has taken further steps toward transparency, adjusted to new technologies and communication principles. Through events such as Internet Freedom forum in Stockholm and the Open Aid initiative, a website aimed at distributing aid transparently to end poverty, Swedish government became the first country in the world to comprehensively approach the issue of efficient communication with citizens, asking for their suggestions and opinions at every turn.
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Kemal Korjenic, Project Coordinator at the Ministry of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, presented a project called “Eticka linija” (“Ethical Line”).  The government started using this electronic procedure to encourage citizens to report irregularities such as corruption directly to the officials of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This channel enables direct, two-way communication with citizens who may remain anonymous when filing a complaint. As a result, 45% of all complaints regarding corruption have arrived through this website, meaning Ethical Line has been well-received as a credible communication system.
Workshops and conclusions
We finished day one with discussion workshops in which all speakers and guests were invited to participate and collaboratively develop ideas and reach conclusions regarding governmental transparency and open communication with the citizens. After the speakers have established the issues, discussing them within three separate groups, some concrete solutions were proposed as a method for societal betterment. Among proposed solutions, our speakers and guests from group No. 1 suggested the following:
– Firstly, the government should ask the citizens which tools they need in order to be able to communicate with their elected representatives more effectively; citizens should voice their opinions on the options for creating channels of direct communication
– Offline and online campaigning is key to providing transparent information to the public; creating websites that would enable direct interaction regarding pertinent issues and information the public might need is a step toward collaborative efforts
– Public debates and lectures hosted by local parliamentarians, who spend time answering people’s questions, is another way of directly connecting government officials with the citizens
– Establishing a system of reporting to the public and the media, through which governments will standardize their work and present the ideas, goals and results to the public on a pre-established basis
– Lobbying is detrimental to initiatives and should be reduced to a minimum
– Institutional communication with target audiences and the general public should be established as a system, rather than an acute way of discussing a particular issue – points of contact are crucial for such an idea, transforming offices and departments into spaces open to visitors from general public, people inquiring about issues and providing feedback;
– Establishing strong and updated social media profiles through which citizens and NGOs can communicate with the government openly and without censorship; it is paramount to create a system for quick and concise communication available to all concerned
– Bureaus and Public Relations departments are not efficient enough in doing their jobs insofar they are slow and mostly communicating with the media, rather than other organizations and citizens; this should change through technological modernization of said agencies and departments
– Governmental policies should be transparent and available to the general public at all times
– Virtual forums should be created as websites providing content and space for people to connect directly with select government officials
– Government officials themselves could create accounts on most popular social networks, thus encouraging citizens to approach them directly with questions and concerns
– Citizens lack basic knowledge about sending in complaints and appeals; institutions should create ways to teach citizens to communicate more effectively and encourage feedback
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Group No. 2 discussed insufficient participation on the part of general public in local budget creation. There are several causes for this issue, the most prominent being the fact that citizens are rather uninterested in tackling this kind of an issue, whether for a lack of time and knowledge, or from the belief they are powerless as individuals. The overarching idea is to educate people about the way governments function and what budget creation and distribution really means. Implementing a system through which the public will become better informed firstly entails drawing attention to the issues in a manner interesting to everyone, especially the media. The four keywords in the process are EDUCATE, ENGAGE, MOTIVATE, and EXPLAIN.
Finally, group No. 3 discussed the extent of efficacy in cooperation between the authorities and citizens. The discussion was aimed toward finding ways to get the average citizen interested in political issues and communal advancement. As of right now, it is axiomatically presumed that citizens simply aren’t interested in solving important issues through voicing their opinions and active engagement. Nevertheless, Dokukino’s findings (and the findings of our partners) suggest otherwise – the public is exceptionally interested in change and would be engaged in the process if adequate channels existed.
More on this awaits us on Day 2.

 

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