Information technology ministry ictQatar is seeking public feedback on a new e-participation policy that would require government agencies here to engage with residents via social media and other online channels.
According to the ministry’s latest draft policy document, the culture of e-participation is still lacking in Qatar, but is critical to improving transparency in the country.
In a statement, Hassan Jassim Al-Sayed, Assistant Secretary General of the Information Technology Sector – ICT Government Programs, said:
“E-participation is the sum total of both the government’s programs to encourage participation from the public and the willingness of the public to do so. It is imperative that to successfully embrace e-Participation in the State of Qatar, thereby ensuring social and economic progress of the nation, all government agencies implement the provisions as laid out in the draft policy provisions.”
Once implemented, government agencies would be required to assign a senior staff member the responsibility of communicating to the public on behalf of the agency, and to implement e-participation activities.
This person would also be tasked with raising awareness within the agency about the importance and benefits of engaging with residents online, and provide general guidance on social media usage in both professional and personal capacities.
Other new requirements on agencies would include:
- Establishing their own web pages, and clearly state on them how residents can get in touch with government bodies (residents often complain that many ministries currently have a web presence, but that there are out of date and lack contact information);
- Soliciting public feedback on topics of importance – though any issues related to Qatar’s internal security, relations with other countries or other sensitive subjects would be exempt;
- Explaining the rationale behind a new policy, and soliciting feedback from the public about potential changes;
- Giving residents four to eight weeks to respond, depending on the urgency of the policy change; and
- Following up and informing residents of the outcome, so that the know they were not wasting their time by engaging with the agency.
The policy document also urged government bodies to go beyond establishing websites by utilizing social media like Twitter and Facebook.
These forums could help agencies gauge public sentiment on certain issues, give them a chance to respond to misinformation regarding the government’s position on a subject and offer opportunities for feedback on new policies.
IctQatar added that it is planning to create a national e-participation portal that would help increase dialogue between the government and the public through discussion forums, polls and other features. It has tasked itself with monitoring and assessing agency participation in the portal, which would be in English and Arabic.
Residents have until Sept. 15 to give feedback on this policy document. According to the timeline listed by ictQatar, all government agencies would be engaging with residents under the new participation rules within a year of passing the policy.
Earlier this year, ictQatar introduced a new open data policy that would radically overhaul how ministries here work by requiring them to release non-personal data such as live traffic reports and certain crime stats to the public in an easy-to-read format.
That policy was expected to be implemented by June, but there has been no official word on it since it was first floated in March. UPDATE: IctQatar now says that the date of the policy implementation has yet to be determined.
Despite this, Qatar has been making great strides in terms of increasing transparency.
Some of its government bodies, including the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP) regularly engage with residents on Twitter and Facebook.
Additionally, this year for the first time, the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS) has begun releasing monthly reports of key Qatar-related statistics such as the number of traffic accidents that occurred, import/export figures and passenger movement at the airport, among other figures.
Here’s ictQatar’s full policy document:
Feedback can be given here. Thoughts?