• Fiona Anne

UAE's Smart Government: Embracing Social Media in Services & Communication.

We live in an age where citizen engagement requires the use of unique channels that have never existed before i.e. smart devices. Social media platforms are important in building relationships among people today specifically among millennials who use it as a ‘standard of communication’. With over 99% of the total population within the UAE being active users it isn’t a surprise that government entities have begun using social platforms today. To the older generation this might seem a bit drastic and unconventional but think about it; to file a complaint or pay a bill you have to head down to a government office only to be disappointed that you have to wait in line and can’t finish your task for the day because it has ended but with smart services you are now able to multitask and do everything from the comfort of your office, home or even grocery store.

Hence, it would be a waste if the government were to put a resource like social media on the back burner. In fact, they have made great strides in utilizing this amenity. You can see social media being used everywhere from calculating the population’s happiness factor to paying attention to their grievances. Rather than going through multiple channels to understand their people and engage with them the UAE government now has online portals that run 24 hours a day rather than specific days in a week. Keep in mind this type of overhaul does not happen overnight, they have been working towards this change from the 2000s and have slowly started implementing it bit by bit on different departments spanning from simple online applications to service kiosks.

So why are most entities moving towards smart government? If you’ve made it till this point, its self-explanatory the answer is all of the above and more. The UAE government’s use of social media has helped revolutionize governance; take the simple example of Dubai’s president using twitter to announce a brain-storming session with its citizens in order to gain new perspectives in the health and education sector of the emirate. The initiative saw a mammoth engagement of around 82,000 ideas being contributed with some contributors even being asked to join the private cabinet to give detailed descriptions of their ideas. Dubai today is progressing and reshaping the entire emirate along with its neighbors into smart governing entities.

For instance in Abu Dhabi a new system was implemented where all the street signs in the capital would comprise of a QR code; this code when scanned by any smart device would help people find the location their looking for, this system is also extremely useful in times of a crisis as it would help emergency vehicles get there quicker. This was its main purpose upon implementation but it worked beyond its basic function, including helping utility and service agents set up their instrumentation faster while also aiding tourists and teaching them more about the city (by scanning the code you also get background and historical information about the location).

From opening the world’s first smart police station to RTA applications, individual services (visa applications), establishment (registration, renewal) services and free wireless in public transport the UAE has transformed its entire governing system on wide scale using smart services to not ease work but also help its residents save time off their busy schedule. By using such platforms the government is also able to understand its residents and provide better resources for its people.

A simple example is the use of customer happiness centers across the country to not only study and improve people's happiness but to also understand and rectify their grievances. Cases like these are the reason smart governance has become popular. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter enable interaction between the government and its residents. Studies have shown that social media provides new avenues for policy making and with the Unites Arab Emirates having a large number of social users (highest social penetration in LinkedIn and Instagram within the GCC) it is bound to shape public opinion and government policy.

With modernization we have improved our lifestyle but in the process have also lost jobs that were once a means to an end; but with the emergence of social media new opportunities have been created within the emirates for instance Saeed Al Rumaithi — an established social media influencer since 2006 became the youngest Federal National Council (FNC) member from Abu Dhabi, to successfully win a seat within the Council solely through his active engagement with the public via social media. Opportunities like these are the reason the younger generation not only absorb these platforms but pursue them.

Leaders are now turning towards social media to better connect with the public as it not only helps them keep a close ear to the ground but also helps their people have a conversation with their lawmakers, receive important announcements firsthand as well as regulate what is posted whenever necessary. We all believe in freedom to express ourselves but with great power also come great responsibility. Considering the amount of active social users in the emirates regulation is also key; this is mainly to help weed out propaganda, anti-cultural matter along with content posted without consent and bullying or harassment which helps keep cyber-crime at bay.

When used properly in both internal and external channels social media is bound to lead to efficiency which in time will lead to better results in not only decision making but also in innovation. There needs to be a constant drive for improvement which can be seen through the government’s social media efforts and its use of smart services throughout the country. In a culture and country as digitally forward as the United Arab Emirates it’s not a surprise their beyond the halfway mark to excellence.

Sources: The National Business, Gulf Business, Gulf Government, Go-Gulf, Huffington Post, Global Media Insight, ITP, Research Gate, Emirates Center for Strategic Studies & Research

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