By Jaye Gaskia
Setting the context
I have been invited to make a presentation on “An evaluation of citizens awareness on current key government policies”, but as you may have noticed from the title of my presentation, I have taken the liberty to modify the topic, without doing damage to the substance of the issue, which is to have a conversation on the level of awareness of citizens on government policies, and the ways by which this level of awareness maybe measured.
An evaluation of citizens awareness of policies, will require to be predicated on some form of assessment of citizens awareness through some form of survey, an exercise, which in other to be precise will need to have been quite extensive, and with a representative enough sample size, in scope, scale, and coverage, and accounting for all the diversities existing in the demography of the population; including age, sex, gender, religion, education levels, income levels, geo-location, existence of disabilities, among others.
And because no such extensive study has been conducted, and the data to inform such an assessment does not currently exist, or exist in variegated, unintegrated and dispersed form, no such evaluation could have been made, hence the need for me to twerk the title, while retaining fidelity to the substance of what is desired.
Nevertheless, the above caveat, puts into actual context, what an evaluation of citizens awareness of government policies will entail, and suggest the types of mechanisms that will be required to undertake such an assessment.
It is important to begin this discourse with some conversation around concepts, in order to clarify their meanings, so that we can all be on the same page [of the same edition, of the same book, written by the same author, and published by the same publisher].
What are the key concepts to clarify here? These will include the concept of evaluation itself, the concept of awareness, the concept of perception, and the concept of policy.
What does it therefore mean to evaluate? To evaluate is to be able to develop an informed opinion about the quality, value, amount, and impact of a process, phenomenon, or something. In the case of government policies, this determination will be in relation to the target audience of the policies, which in this case will be citizens and residents.
From the foregoing therefore, it can be seen that an Evaluation is a systematic determination of a subject’s merit, worth and significance, using criteria governed by a set of standards. It should be able to assist an organization, program, project or any other intervention or initiative to assess any aim, realisable concept/proposal, or any alternative, to help in decision-making; or to ascertain the degree of achievement or value in regard to the aim and objectives and results of any such action that has been completed.
The primary purpose of evaluation therefore, in addition to gaining insight into prior or existing initiatives, is to enable reflection and assist in the identification of future change.
From this we can deduct that integrating a system for regular periodic evaluation is central to the success of the business of governance.
If, as expressly stated in Section 14, subsection 2 (b), of Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [1999 CFRN], as amended, “The Security and Wellbeing of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”, then the only way to be able to determine in any precise form, whether this objective and goal, this primary purpose of government is being fulfilled or not, is have in place a robust mechanism [internal and external] for regular and periodic evaluation of impact of government policies on citizens and residents.
Next, we take on awareness. What does it mean to be aware? To be aware of something is to know about the thing, to realise its existence, to notice its presence, notice the occurrence of something. Awareness is thus knowing about something, about its existence, and understanding its importance. From this, awareness is in essence predicated on knowledge.
Whereas, to perceive is to be able to notice something, their existence or occurrence, similar to awareness, nevertheless, Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information or environment.
All perception involves signals that go through the nervous system, which in turn result from physical or chemical stimulation of the sensory system through sensory organs like the eye, ears, nose, skin etc.
However, Perception is not only the passive receipt of these signals, but it’s also shaped by the recipient’s learning, memory, expectation, and attention.
And why is this significant? It is important because perception, though based on sensory information and signals, is shaped by our level of knowledge and learning, our memory and experience, our expectations, and by our level of attention and attentiveness.
Because of this, our perception of reality, may be different from the actual reality, and, though informed by our awareness, may to the extent of this difference be quite distinct from the reality.
Policy, on the other hand, is a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. A policy is a statement of intent, and is implemented as a procedure or protocol. Policies are generally adopted by a governance body within an organization. Policies can assist in both subjective and objective decision making.
Policies that are used in subjective decision making usually assist senior management with decisions that must be based on the relative merits of a number of factors, and as a result are often hard to test objectively, e.g. work–life balance policy. In contrast, policies to assist in objective decision making are usually operational in nature and can be objectively tested, e.g. password policy.
The term may apply to government, public sector organizations and groups, as well as individuals, Presidential executive orders, corporate privacy policies, and parliamentary rules of order are all examples of policy.
Policy differs from rules or law. While law can compel or prohibit behaviors (e.g. a law requiring the payment of taxes on income), policy merely guides actions toward those that are most likely to achieve a desired outcome.
Nevertheless, for government policies to be effective and have their desired impact on delivery of good, equitable and inclusive governance; on society, and on citizens and residents; the three dimensions of policy must be appreciated fully taken into account in the policy process.
These dimensions of policy include, The content of policy – that is what the policy says, and states that it intends to do. Including why it intends to do what it wants to achieve, how this is intended to be achieved, when this is to be achieved [the timeline], and where this is intended to be achieved.
The second dimension of policy, is the Structure of policy – that is the mechanisms for its operationalization and realisation, including such things as institutional frameworks, legislative frameworks, human and material resources that are required, as well as the capacity to deliver.
While the third dimension of the policy process is the Environment – that is the existing way of life of the people, the cultural norms of the people of the place where the policy is to be implemented, and the lived experience of the people in the area.
Current policy of government
The flagship policy of the current administration since its inception is the National Social Investment Program [NSIP], established in 2016, and managed by the National Social Investment Office [NSIO].
At its inception, the government had indicated an intention to commit N500bn annually in public investment through the annual appropriation Act towards realising the NSIP. Nevertheless, funding to the program hasn’t been as expected, and has thus far cumulatively amounted to just a fraction of the commitment made, at less than N500bn over the past five years.
The NSIP consist of a series of programs, including;
- The Conditional Cash Transfer [CCT] program: targeting poor and vulnerable households with N5,000 monthly transfers, and which according to the NSIO has reached 408,682 beneficiaries across 25 states of the federation;
- The National Home-Grown School Feeding Program [NHGSFP]: Designed to provide a meal a day to school pupils, with the intention of improving nutrition, and improving enrollment and retention of pupils, and which according to the NSIO has reached 9,963,726 pupils across 33 states of the federation;
- The Growth Enterprise and Empowerment Program [GEEP]: aimed at supporting enterprise development among the informal sector, and which involves transfer of grants and interest free loans of various amounts and categories to MSMEs, And according to the NSIO, this program has reached 2,238,334 beneficiaries across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT;
- N-POWER Scheme: A job creation and skills empowerment program targeting young Nigerians aged 18 to 35 years old. The scheme provides enrollees in the various units of the program N30,000 monthly stipend for a period of 1 to 2 years. According to the NSIO, the N-Power program, consisting of various schemes including, N Agro, N Health, N Tech, and N Tax, has reached 549,500 beneficiaries across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
Additionally, the NSIP has created a National Social Register, and enumerated and enrolled 1,648,967 poor and vulnerable households in the National Social Register [NSR]. If we assume the average household size of 6, this represents a total of 9,893,802 persons captured in the NSR and benefitting from some form of social benefits or the other.
Taken together, and assuming that there no persons benefiting from more than one of the programs at a time, it will seem that the NSIP has to date reached more than 23,054,044 beneficiaries in all across the country, that is slightly more than 10% of the total population [at 206 million], approximately 28% of the population of poor Nigerians which according to recent NBS survey of May 2020, live in poverty, on less thanN306 per day, put at 82,606,000 persons.
Given this total number of beneficiaries in concrete terms, and as percentage of the entire population, as well as of the poor, the impact of this policy alone ought to be quite significant not only on the lives of the direct beneficiaries, but also on the nation as a whole; and the level of awareness of both the programs and their impact, and of their impact ought to be quite significant among citizens and residents. Yet, we know that this is not the case.
Factors affecting citizens awareness of government policies
This leads us directly to a conversation around the factors which affect the level of citizens awareness of government policies, and that may contribute to predisposing citizens and residents to holding the perceptions of government policies and their impacts that they have.
- The most decisive factor influencing the perception of citizens and residents of government policies and that contributes to determining their level of awareness of such policies, is the extent to which citizens and residents have been involved, are involved in, and are enabled to participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of the government policy. When citizens are involved in discussions around the policy design development and implementation process, and participate in the various phases of the process, their level of awareness of the policy increases, and their perceptions of the policy will correspond to the reality of the policy. Citizens need to be enabled through deliberation mechanisms to participate in this process, and to exercise citizen oversight of the processes.
- A second decisive factor in this regard, is that of trust, that is the level of trust that citizens have in government and political leaders, and thus their level of confidence in the veracity of their pronouncements and actual actions. Where trust and confidence levels are low, or where they are lacking, citizens awareness will be equally low, and colored by their perceptions, which maybe far from the reality. Nevertheless, central to trust and confidence building is a deliberate process and mechanism for engaging with people, and enabling their unfettered participation and involvement all through the policy process.
- A third factor the weight of the lived reality of the citizens vis-à-vis the policy in question and its impact. If for instance, the policy fails to reach the targeted beneficiaries because influence peddling has hijacked the process of selection of beneficiaries and disbursement of resources and funds, then, although the figures may be high, and resources may have been disbursed, but because the actual beneficiaries are not the intended beneficiaries, then the impact of the policy will less positively visible, but would be rather more negatively visible on citizens. Citizen’s perception of both the government and its policies can very quickly be colored and distorted as a result of the corruption and distortions involved in the policy implementation process. Such lived reality and experience also impact on trust and confidence levels in government and the governance process.
- A fourth decisive factor is that of communication. Where a policy is not communicated, inadequately communicated, improperly communicated, or negatively communicated through distorted deeds and manipulative and corrupting practices, then the level of awareness of such a government policy and of such a government will be very low, nonexistent, and even quite negative. However, it is important to note that best mechanism for ensuring the effective communication of government policy, requires the enabled and empowering participation and involvement of citizens across the policy process, from conception, design, development, implementation, all through to monitoring and tracking of impact. A robust mechanism for citizen participation in governance through their effective engagement in the policy, law making and governance processes, is the surest mechanism for effectively communicating government policies. When citizens are involved and engaged, they are informed, they know, and they are aware.
Measuring citizens awareness of government policy
To be able to effectively, regularly and periodically measure, track and assess the level of citizens and resident’s awareness of government policies, a robust, interactive, live, and two-way feedback mechanism must be deliberately put in place and operationalised.
Such a mechanism must be holistic, multidisciplinary, inter-agency, and integrative in nature and character. It must be mechanism that is able to transmit real-time information about government policies to citizens and residents, while also being capable of simultaneously receiving and transmitting feedback about government policies and its impact up the ladder of the mechanism back to government and its relevant agencies and institutions for the respective policies.
In this regard, taking into consideration the integration of measures to ameliorate the factors affecting citizens level of awareness listed above, and in order not to engage in the fruitless exercise of reinventing the wheel, then an existing agency like the National Orientation Agency, with is vast grass rooted structure, is well placed, and well positioned to become the pivot, coordination center for a robust information dissemination and feedback retrieval and collection mechanism, for government policies.
Such a mechanism will enable a process of regular and periodic monitoring and tracking of the progress of policy implementation process, impact of policy implementation on citizens and residents, while also enabling government to receive feedback in a structured manner as to enable it to refine its policies and policy delivery mechanisms and ultimately to improve the quality of governance.
Gaskia, member of the National Leadership of Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond [ASCAB], and the Director of Praxis Centre, made this presentation at a workshop on creating necessary linkages for enhancing the impact of government policies on national development organized by the NOA 24th to 26th March 2021