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This is a joint post with Christina Droggitis.

Congratulations are in order for the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC)! Following the White House’s example of sharing news on a daily basis in order to create a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government, PEPFAR has recently launched both a Twitter and Facebook page to more readily inform us about their activities in the countries they support.

This is a great first step in spreading the word on PEPFAR activities, however the main purpose of these pages still remains unclear.

What should fans and followers expect to read about on these pages? How can they respond to news and updates? After a quick check of both the Twitter and Facebook pages, it seems like they are operating so far (granted both have just been launched) as one-way streams of communication. That is, PEPFAR informs us of successful programs, agreements signed, Ambassador Goosby’s travels, etc., while space for comments and questions from fans and followers is nowhere to be found. For those of you who are IT savvy and use these communication media, you know that the whole point to them is to create interactive and multi-directional communications. So, tweets and wall posts will only go so far in increasing people’s awareness of PEPFAR activities if OGAC does not maintain these as interactive sites. In the absence of a clear message about the ways in which these new communication media will be used, here are three ways in which we see that Twitter and Facebook can add value to PEPFAR’s communication strategy:

  1. Will communicate quickly to a large taxpayer base information about a U.S. foreign policy program so they can better understand and track policies, programs and results in real time. This is a potentially strong marketing strategy for PEPFAR that could facilitate continued support of the American people for future global development spending.
  2. Will allow stakeholders in countries to understand what is happening at OGAC in Washington, D.C. For the last three years in working closely with our research partners in Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia, we have observed a definite disconnect between new policies and/or strategies from Washington D.C. and how these may be perceived by different stakeholders in the three countries. Tweets and Facebook posts can provide an interactive way to involve a broader audience from all over the world in the workings of an unprecedented foreign assistance program and provide them with an opportunity to learn and comment on policy changes, program implementation and real action in countries.
  3. Will provide a one-stop shop for the most current news about PEPFAR, and provide an alternative to the sometimes archaic and arcane pepfar.gov website.

As Ambassador Goosby steers PEPFAR in new and important directions [see here] Facebook and Twitter are two important media for a much needed strategic communication plan that will send the right messages to a range of country-based actors—governments, program implementers, civil society groups and beneficiaries—about policy changes and what this means for them. Consider a recent brouhaha over an article in one of Uganda’s leading dailies where a journalist described PEPFAR’s funding to Uganda as at risk. While further research into the situation (checking with country based HIV/AIDS Monitor colleagues and staff at OGAC in DC) shows that a more intriguing set of issues (including local politics) exacerbated these claims, it also demonstrates that important messages about PEFPAR policy changes and how they will affect programs have not been provided and/or reached a range of stakeholders on the ground. The unnecessary negative publicity for PEPFAR and for the Ugandan Government was palpable and was quickly dispelled with a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala in another local Ugandan newspaper. Moving forward, PEPFAR can minimize or avoid such incidents by clearly laying out policy changes as they happen and the real life implications of these changes for different stakeholders. Avoiding confusion at the country level is a high and immediate priority for Ambassador Goosby and his global team as they do the hard work of translating better policies in to programs, so Twitter and Facebook can certainly help get the word out.

PEPFAR’s Twitter and Facebook pages signal a first good step in the right direction towards greater transparency, but there’s opportunity for OGAC to take a big leap and share much more. As the HIV/AIDS Monitor team has recommended here and here, the next steps for PEPFAR should include the sharing of funding and programmatic data to improve the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS spending.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.