Engaging the Public in the Budget: Twitter Chats in Kenya
By Vivian Magero and John Kinuthia from IBP Kenya— Jan 22, 2015
The International Budget Partnership Kenya (IBP Kenya) recently held a twitter chat on how government revenue is shared in Kenya. The Kenyan government is in the midst of reforming how revenue is shared among Kenya’s 47 counties. The Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA), which makes recommendations to the Senate, is playing an important role in revising the formula for revenue sharing. CRA submitted its recommendations to the Senate in November 2014. Given the importance of these reforms, we felt there has been too little awareness and engagement from the wider public.
Part of the challenge is that debates over how revenue should be shared can be quite technical. IBP Kenya has been producing content to make the topic more accessible and underline what is at stake. This includes an infographic explaining the first generation revenue sharing formula; another infographic outlining our recommendations on how to revise the formula; and an animation outlining three easy to understand principles of revenue sharing: need, capacity, and effort.
Twitter is popular in Kenya. A 2012 study found Kenyans to be among Africa’s most prolific tweeters. It is also a platform on which the major players involved in the revenue sharing debate – including the CRA and civil society – are active. A twitter chat seemed like a good opportunity to come together to openly debate the reforms.
In the lead up to the chat, we prepared a simple strategy. This included:
- Who our audience was. We hoped to engage the general public, who have a right to give their inputs to the Senate and the CRA. But we also wanted to bring in some of the key players: the CRA, who were in charge of submitting recommendations to the Senate; members of the Senate committees of budget and devolved governance; the media; and civil society, who are actively engaged in advocacy around devolution and public finance in Kenya.
- The objective of the chat. It was important to establish why we were holding the twitter chat in the first place. What did we want to achieve? We settled on three objectives. The first was to inform the wider public and civil society of the reforms and encourage them to engage in the reform process. The second was to influence the Senate on the key principles of sharing, and to help them to make informed decisions. Lastly, we wanted to inform the media on the proposed reforms and ensure journalists had access to information relevant to the debate.
- Components of the chat. To ensure people could follow and engage with the chat, we came up with two hashtags, #SharingRevenueKE and #FormulaWatchKE. This allowed people to follow the debate and tweet their questions and comments. We made sure to draft a set of the tweets to cover our key messages, supply information and links to related content, and ask questions to stoke debate.
- Promotion. Using Piktochart, we created some visually appealing posters advertising the chat. We sent these out to our contacts via email, through our Facebook page, and on Twitter.
How it went
The hashtags attracted over 200 tweets, many of which were retweeted multiple times. However, most interaction came from those already actively engaged in the reforms, and unfortunately the CRA and the Senate didn’t get involved in the discussion. Nonetheless, we have seen a considerable increase in interactions on IBP Kenya’s Twitter handle since the sessions started, including on issues beyond the formula.
We have a few takeaways from the sessions:
- Hosting a Twitter chat can be a powerful tool for stoking debate but has to be planned well and thought through. There are many things to manage during the chat, so preparing material beforehand is very useful. In the first session we learned that graphics and pictures work really well and attracted a lot of retweets. So we busied ourselves preparing more of that material for subsequent sessions.
- There were a few people during the chat who drifted off the topic and some who tried to politicize the discussion. It was important to keep bringing the conversation back to the intended focus of the discussions.
- We attracted a good number of tweets and retweets despite only having around 350 followers. By engaging organizations and individuals with large twitter followings, we were able to draw a larger audience than we would have been able to alone. It was important to target our audience and bring them into the discussion early, and to keep reminding and inviting potential participants.
- There were more retweets of our content than original contributions. This suggests the debate was mostly among those already engaged. However, these retweets enabled our graphics and discussion to reach many outside of our followers.
We plan to continue to experiment with Twitter and other social media platforms to reach new audiences and widen participation in budget debates. In the meantime, you can keep up with our work on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook – drop us a tweet or a comment!