Social media has become critical in interaction for both public discourses as well as targeted discussions. The nature of social media allows the sender of a message not only to send out the information they want their target audience to know, but also to monitor and evaluate the number of people the message reached and the impact it had. Both citizens of Dubai and visitors of the city have put it on the map through social media usage. Interestingly, the government has also embraced the use of social media to highlight key milestones in the city’s development. Particularly, the leader of Dubai, and the vice president of UAE, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al- Maktoum, is active on social media. The Sheikh uses the platform to interact with his people and also monitor the work of his government officials. The changing times have forced many governments around the world to use social media for purposes of transparency and accountability. Indeed, it is arguable that the platforms have also been used to increase the responsiveness of states. It is debatable that issues that are identified by citizens on the platform are normally addressed much faster than those reported through mail. Policies are critical in ensuring that the platform aids the government of Dubai to be more responsive and accountable to its people. Recently, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al- Maktoum provided guidelines for social media usage that have to be adhered to by all citizens of Dubai.
- GCC Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
- ICT Information, Communication and Technology
- SDGs Sustainable Development Goals
- TAM Technology Acceptance Model
- UAE United Arab Emirates
- US United States of America
- UTAUT Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology
- WHO World Health Organization
Technology continues to shape everyday life by redefining how people share and critique ideas. This is particularly true in public governance because social media is the new reality that leaders have become accustomed to as more people are demanding higher levels of accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs (Singer and Brooking, 2018). Indeed, social media has empowered people to advocate for better leadership by giving them a voice in an otherwise elitist sphere of decision-making processes characterized by bureaucracy. In this regard, several advantages associated with positive government-citizen relationships have been linked to social media development (Haro-de-Rosario, Sáez-Martín and del Carmen Caba-Pérez, 2018).
Besides nurturing relationships, social media is also associated with better service delivery, improved transparency, and service efficiency (Haro-de-Rosario, Sáez-Martín and del Carmen Caba-Pérez, 2018). Consequently, multiple governments around the world are integrating some level of social media interaction in the development of public discourse (Tsatsou, 2018). The importance of social media in promoting good governance is at the cornerstone of this study because it helps governments to remain involved with the public when advancing ideas across different levels of decision-making. Notably, several research studies have likened the quality of public governance outcomes to the speed of engagements between governments and their subjects (Luo and Harrison, 2019). Similarly, the right to access and share information has been evaluated within the context of understanding the media’s role in promoting good governance (Luo and Harrison, 2019). For example, Pătrut and Pătruţ (2014) investigated the relationship between social media and politics and established that it played a powerful role in influencing political discourse. The authors also demonstrated its importance in shaping political discourse during campaigns, such as the use of Facebook in the 2012 United States (US) campaigns and the 2011 Turkish general election (Pătrut and Pătruţ, 2014). These pieces of evidence suggest that social media has been used in electoral marketing, organizing riots, and even planning social revolutions. For example, Twitter and the Web 2.0 platform have been used to organize riots and social revolutions, as seen from recent events in Istanbul and Egypt (Pătrut and Pătruţ, 2014).
Based on the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2005, governments also recognize the importance of participatory leadership, which is fostered through social media (Tsatsou, 2018). Consequently, they have committed to supporting accountable leadership through democracy and public participation. Sustainable development goals (SDGs) have also been formulated with this goal in mind because the ability of leaders to get involved with the public on various issues is important in seeking their support in realizing present SDGs (Singer and Brooking, 2018). Therefore, there is a strong relationship between a vibrant media and good governance. Furthermore, as highlighted by Russmann, Hametner, and Posch (2019), a good relationship between the people and the state is one of the cornerstones of democracy and good leadership. A strong and vibrant media environment moderates this relationship.
Overall, technology and social media has influenced the relationship between citizens and their governments by improving the accessibility of government services to the ordinary citizen. Consequently, authorities have had to redesign their service models to include social media inputs. Such efforts have translated to improved governance and service delivery standards. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have been spearheading some of these changes.
Historically, governments have engaged the public through traditional media channels, such as television and newspapers (Atton, 2015). However, as Atton (2015) confirms, with the advent of social media, they are increasingly communicating directly with the electorate through virtual platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Subject to these developments, governments are supposed to adopt citizen-centric governance models and inclusive public policies because of changing public expectations. These are the two core agendas of current progressive administrations. However, it is difficult to make appropriate changes without communicating with citizens through open media platforms. Furthermore, appealing to citizens through social media is still contentious strategy, as it is still an informal channel of communication. This study addresses this research issue through a case study approach that is premised on investigating the role of social media in promoting citizen interaction with the government of Dubai entities, thereby improving their responsiveness.
Social media has eliminated the bureaucracy associated with citizen-state relations; instead, it gives the electorate informal access to their leaders (Wahid et al., 2019). With millions of people using this media platform, few researchers have bothered to understand the effects of social media in making government agencies more responsive to the needs of their citizens (Wahid et al., 2019). To this end, this study adopts a case study approach to investigating the role of social media in promoting citizen engagement with government of Dubai entities, thereby improving their responsiveness.
As highlighted in this paper, the purpose of the present research is to investigate and evaluate the influence of social media on administrative decision-making and public participation in Dubai. The analysis will be done through a literature review analysis, an assessment of current policies concerning social media in the UAE, and an analysis of examples and evidence of social media use in other countries. The objectives of the study are to investigate the cases, conduct a comparative analysis of the findings, describe their implications, and provide practical recommendations for improvement. A detailed assessment of the research aim and objectives is provided below.
Research Aim and Objectives
As highlighted in the preceding section, the aim of the study is to investigate the influence of social media on public participation with the entities of government of Dubai, their administrative decision-making processes, and responsiveness. The study aim will be achieved through the following research objectives:
- The conceptualization of this study will be done through a literature review on concepts, theories on social media, vis-à-vis public sector responsiveness;
- The contextual understanding of social media’s interface with the Government of Dubai will be carried out through an assessment of the current policies concerning social media in Dubai;
- The analysis will be undertaken by reviewing and comparing the examples and evidence to be collected through empirical survey.
The study then intends to provide practical recommendations for improving the social media-government interface and public sector responsiveness in Dubai. The aim and objectives of the study will be addressed by exploring the following research questions.
- What are the policies that promote the use of social media in Dubai’s public sector?
- What impacts can public participation in social media have in improving responsiveness and public services by the government of Dubai entities?
Importance of Study
The findings of this study have the potential to increase government responsiveness and enhance citizen satisfaction through improved government services. This progress can be built on an improved level of trust between the government of Dubai and its citizens. Evaluating the level of responsiveness of public agencies, vis-a-vis their engagement with the citizenry could also be used as a yardstick for determining the government’s commitment to improving service quality and responsiveness. In this regard, the findings of this study could be used as an internal self-analysis technique for overhauling government services to make them more responsive.
Additionally, this study is important in understanding the changing relationship between the government of Dubai and its people through active social media use by both parties. It is also critical in improving accountability within the emirate’s leadership structure by allowing authorities to be questioned about the effectiveness of government services. Zeng et al. (2019) support this view by saying that improved quality of citizen involvement is vital in improving government responsiveness. Indeed, through increased public participation across multiple social media platforms, governments can increase the transparency of their decision-making processes, thereby ensuring that political decisions are adapted to citizens’ needs (Wahid et al., 2019).
Additionally, investigating the role of social media in improving government responsiveness will help in endearing a state as a legitimate authority because more people will feel involved and valued when included in the country’s decision-making structure. Social media has an important role to play in realizing these outcomes because it gives all stakeholders an opportunity to connect with one another. In other words, it provides an avenue for people to exchange ideas and debate different issues that affect them. Therefore, the present study seeks to investigate the role of social media in promoting citizen participation with the government of Dubai entities, thereby improving their responsiveness.
Structure of the Paper and Research Process
Overall, this paper is divided into five key chapters. The first one is the introduction section, which sets the stage for the investigation by highlighting the background of the study, research problem, its aims, objectives and questions. The second section is the literature review chapter which highlights what other researchers have said about the study area. The resultant gap will be identified and addressed through the implementation of key research approaches that will be highlighted in the third section of the paper, which is the methodology chapter. The evidence provided in this chapter will be the result of a secondary investigation on the role of social media use in promoting the responsiveness of the government of Dubai. Secondary information will be obtained from published sources, including books, journals, and credible websites. The review will be done within a mixed-methods framework and the concurrent triangulation method adopted as the preferred research design. Lastly, data will be analyzed using the thematic analysis. It involves identifying patterns from the data, which will be useful in answering the research questions. These findings will be presented and analyzed in the fourth section of the paper, which is the “findings and analysis” chapter. A summary of the main points and their associated recommendations will be provided in the last chapter – conclusion.
As highlighted in chapter 1 above, technology and social media have played a key role in shaping state-citizen relationships by improving the level of engagement of both parties. Consequently, governments have adjusted to this change by promoting good governance and enhancing their responsiveness (Zeng et al., 2019). This outcome is necessitated through increased levels of public involvement because citizens demand more accountability from public agencies through frequent social media communications. These processes are linked to improved service delivery and customer satisfaction standards. This chapter contains a review of the existing knowledge relating to the use of social media by government agencies to improve their responsiveness in the provision of public services. Key concepts that will be explored in this chapter include e-government, good governance, and responsiveness.
A discussion of key theories, including the alternative media theory, technology acceptance model (TAM) and the unified theory of acceptance will also be provided. Broadly, this chapter will be divided into four key sections. The first one will explore the relationship between social media and government responsiveness and the second one will highlight international case studies and examples of how other governments have used social media to improve their responsiveness. This analysis will pave the way for the third section of the literature review, which will provide a contextualized understanding of how the UAE has used social media to improve its responsiveness in the provision of government services. The last section of this chapter will provide a summary of the main findings and identify the gap in the literature that will be filled by the present study.
Understanding the Relationship between Social Media and Government Responsiveness
e-Government and Social Media: Concepts and Theories
Before social media, governments relied on virtual communication platforms, such as e-government 2.0, which was developed through the integration of Web 2.0 technologies, into their service delivery models. These platforms were used to facilitate information and content sharing among diverse user groups and hailed for promoting trust, honesty, and transparency in public governance (Obi and Iwasaki, 2015; Khan, 2016). This traditional model of participation only included a government’s online presence without effective citizen participation, or the use of virtual data in problem-solving. One can argue that the use of social media is also culturally driven as only the ruler of Dubai has so far been active on the platform as a government official. Dubai, a significantly cultural society, is guided by its leaders and Sharia Law (Milla and Mataruna-Dos-Santos, 2019).
Ines (2012) regards the adoption of social media as a wave of technological development in e-government, which is hailed for its distinct feature of allowing bidirectional communication between public authorities and the citizenry. Within this framework of commitment, the internet, and web-based technologies have been adopted to improve government performance and processes (Siyam, Alqaryouti, and Abdallah, 2020). This strategy is a departure from traditional forms of media, such as newspapers and television, which were monolithic. However, the implementation matrix adopted by most governments to embrace social media and other forms of web-based communication is subject to several theoretical frameworks, such as the alternative media theory, technology acceptance model (TAM) and the unified theory of technology acceptance, which are discussed below.
Alternative Media Theory
The alternative media theory suggests that the creation of new channels of communication through social media has diminished the power of the state and traditional media outlets from shaping conventional public discourse on various political issues (Atton, 2015). For example, the initial promise given by proponents of Web 2.0 was the improvement of efficiency standards through a reduction in the number of gatekeepers from the governance service model (Gehl, 2015). Its proponents also argued that doing so would create an opportunity for an ordinary person to participate in government decision-making. These outcomes are yet to be fully realized. From this promise, different governments have adopted Web 2.0 and other virtual technologies with mixed results. However, their adoption transcends concerns raised by some critics of alternative media who contend that traditional media channels, involving information exchange commercial media and information transmission, were the only versions that could potentially increase citizen participation (Atton, 2015; Gehl, 2015). Therefore, other forms of media, such as social media, were utopian and bordered on fantasy.
The aforementioned arguments have been discussed within a larger context of understanding the need to adopt one or multiple media forms in the provision of government services. These discussions have also seen proponents of either side of the debate using the merits or demerits of each type of media to diminish each other (Atton, 2015). However, the contemporary model of media use in public governance today is mass media. Based on its liberal nature, it includes most forms of citizen-government interactions (video, audio, and graphic). The affordability and availability of this type of media have forced some people to rethink their understanding of conventional media and support alternative arguments to reasoning (Gehl, 2015). This paradigm shift stems from the works of notable scholars, such as Geert Lovink, who identified an unquestionable desire to develop other forms of media to improve citizen engagement. Additionally, he posited that this desire often transcends the content that would be shared on the platforms or even who the gatekeepers would be (Gehl, 2015). Broadly, the alternative media theory suggests new ways of thinking about communication by challenging conventional wisdom associated with traditional media. Although observers have affirmed the potential of social media to create these new paradigms of thought, they are still wary about its potential of abuse through for-profit gains (Atton, 2015).
Technology Acceptance Model (TAM)
The introduction of new technology to improve workplace or government processes is one of the most difficult aspects of virtual integration because people have to be convinced about its usage before they could effectively adopt it as part of their mainstream decision-making tools. The use of social media to provide government services is subject to this reasoning because people have to understand why it is important to their lives before they can embrace it. The acceptance process is often difficult because the public has to be educated about the importance of using new technology to create changes in public service management. Therefore, without a holistic acceptance of such technology, it becomes increasingly difficult to realize positive outcomes.
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was developed from the above insights because it explains processes that lead to people’s adoption of new technology from a systems approach perspective. Relative to this assertion, Abramson, Dawson, and Stevens (2015) say that the TAM is one of the more common approaches for explaining how people discover, use and accept new technology in the workplace or public sector management. The actual system use is the desired goal for proponents of TAM and their actions are intended to achieve this objective. The willingness to accept technology is evaluated in terms of a user’s attitude towards its adoption. These attitudes are formed by understanding the general impressions created by the technology on users.
To this end, the TAM is premised on two key approaches of technology usage: its perceived usefulness to the user’s life and ease of use (Abramson, Dawson and Stevens, 2015). Fred Davis is one of the key proponents of this view and he argues that the perceived usefulness of technology refers to the extent that users believe it would improve their lives and performance (Abramson, Dawson and Stevens, 2015). Stated differently, acceptance is presented as an aggregate assessment of a user’s ability to make judgments regarding the use of technology. The second aspect of adoption, as proposed by Fred Davis, is the perceived ease of using new technology (Abramson, Dawson and Stevens, 2015). It refers to the relative effort people need to use when adopting new technology. Low barriers to usage are registered when there is less effort needed to adopt it. However, when users perceive its use to be complicated or technical, they are likely to have an unfavorable view of it. Advocates of the TAM also argue that social conditions influence people’s attitudes towards technology adoption (Abramson, Dawson and Stevens, 2015). Therefore, when the right social conditions are created, it becomes easier to create a favorable environment for adoption. However, demographic factors, such as income levels, gender, and age may moderate the extent of a user’s support for new technology.
Although the TAM has demonstrated its merits as a systems theory for reviewing how people accept new technology, the model has been criticized for its heuristic value (Abramson, Dawson and Stevens, 2015). Its limited predictive power has also been cited as another disadvantage associated with the theory because critics believe it shifts the attention away from real issues regarding technology adoption to unquantifiable measures of technological adoption (Abramson, Dawson and Stevens, 2015). In this regard, it is believed that the TAM could create the illusion of progress during the adoption of new technology.
Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT)
The unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT) model identifies four major factors that influence people’s behavioral intention to adopt new technology. They include social influence, expectation expectancy, performance targets and facilitation conditions that encourage users to accept new technologies as part of mainstream decision-making (Mensah, 2019). Consequently, the UTAUT model has been used to explain at least 53% of cases involving the acceptance or rejection of technology use in public sector management (Mensah, 2019). However, demographic factors such as age, gender and education levels of the participants often influence this construct.
Performance expectancy is the anticipation that technology will aid in faster decision-making. The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is closely linked to this aspect of UTAUT performance because they both explain how people accept information systems management. Comparatively, performance acceptance is often realized when users believe that technology will help them accomplish their tasks faster and more efficiently (Mensah, 2019). In this regard, the “efforts expectancy” tenet of the UTAUT model shares close similarities with the “perceived ease of use” tenet of the TAM. The social influence of technology is often realized or achieved when one’s social systems support the integration of new technology in their lives. For example, family and friends may have a positive perception of technology, thereby creating the impetus for its adoption. Figure 1 below explains the interactive framework of different elements of the UTAUT model.
The above-mentioned model has been successfully used to explain different aspects of technology adoption through e-government, e-commerce and e-learning development (Mensah, 2019). The justification for its adoption in this study is premised on its widespread use in e-government applications.
Broadly, the use of UTUAT in e-government has been examined in the UAE context and it suggests that unique social constructs of trust, confidentiality, and attitudes towards technology are important predictors of e-government adoption (Mensah, 2019). These attributes contrast with those of users in other countries who are motivated by other constructs in the adoption of e-government services. For example, studies undertaken in Mauritius suggest that performance anxiety and perceived value of technology are the main determinants of e-government adoption in the country (Mensah, 2019).
Good Governance and Responsiveness: Concepts and Theories
The role of governments in improving the welfare of their citizens is a cornerstone of good governance. By definition, the concept relates to the impact that governments create in having a positive or negative outcome on specific programs or courses of action relating to specific public policy matters (Khan, 2016). However, not all governments are responsive to their citizens’ needs. The challenge may be cosmetic or structural, depending on the unique social, political, or economic dynamics of a state. However, these factors do not erode the common belief that good governance may break or make the relationship that most citizens share with their governments, or how they would remember a specific administration. For example, after the 2007-2008 global economic crash, the American government received significant backlash from its citizens regarding how they managed the economy (Ireland, 2017). It also led to a loss of public trust in government institutions.
Based on such problems, governments are not only faced with the challenge of identifying the right policies to address specific social or economic issues but also grapple with the challenge of finding the most responsive ones (Alshahrani and Ally, 2016). Even when they find the right policies to apply, implementation challenges may emerge, which will influence how the public will receive them (Ireland, 2017; Criado, Villodre and Meijer, 2019). Relative to this challenge, the capacity of governments to function well depends on their willingness to be responsive and effective in the implementation of their agendas and programs (Luo and Harrison, 2019). The trust that citizens have in government institutions is critical to boosting their capacity to address these challenges. In today’s fast-paced society, social media has emerged as a powerful tool that could redefine how governments build this trust.
Role of Social Media in Enhancing Responsiveness
Social media is a rapidly evolving communication platform where users can interact with government agencies on various national issues. They refer to a set of web-based applications that allow people to share content through a broader social network involving multiple parties (Tsatsou, 2018). Unlike other forms of content sharing platforms, social media is unique because it allows for real-time communications. Its pervasiveness in society further makes it one of the most powerful tool of engagement between citizens and their governments. Some of the most commonly used social media platforms are Facebook. Instagram, and Twitter.
Social media’s role in enhancing responsiveness was first observed in social media marketing communications where businesses got timely and valuable feedback from their clients regarding their products and services. In line with this observation, consumers can frequently provide organizations with timely feedback to improve their products or services (Singer and Brooking, 2018). More recently, social media has been used by government agencies to improve the efficacy of their programs because its high level of responsiveness allows for more participation. However, this area of application has been insufficiently addressed by existing literatures. Furthermore, unique political, social, and economic dynamics of a state play an important role in influencing their responsiveness. However, the context-specific nature of this analysis highlights the need to understand country-specific experiences.
International Examples and Case Studies
Different governments have adopted social media to involve their citizens with varying levels of success in implementation. In this section of the literature review, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States (US) are highlighted as possible examples of how social media has been used to promote public commitment regarding various aspects of political and social governance. A detailed assessment of its use in the aforementioned countries is provided below.
Singapore is one of the most progressive states in Asia. It has a parliamentary form of government borrowed from the Westminster model of governance, which gives members of parliament a lot of control in the country’s political governance system (Kozlowska, 2018). This governance model serves about 5 million people who live within the country’s borders, but there have been challenges in making it effective and responsive. To address the challenge, authorities have had to be innovative in the manner they communicate with the public. The use of social media has emerged as a novel approach for interacting with the public because of the high number of people in Singapore who are active users on the platform. Kozlowska (2018) says that about 66% of the Singaporean population uses at least one form of social media.
When the potential of the internet in boosting social relationships was highlighted in the 1990s, there was a lot of hype in Singapore about how it would change how government and politicians engage with the people (Atmakuri, 2020). Speculations were correct in the manner they predicted the impact of social media on citizen-government engagement. However, it was difficult to understand the scope of the influence during the initial stages of adoption. From this background, the Singaporean government has been using social media to engage citizens who would ordinarily not listen to speeches made via television or other forms of traditional media about various national issues. For example, it has used the communication platform to reduce mass panic about public health crises, such as the recent Corona virus pandemic. Concisely, authorities have been using social media to educate the public about the need to maintain proper hygiene and self-isolate to manage cases of new infections (Atmakuri, 2020).
The government has also used social media to update citizens regularly about the pandemic, thereby reducing panic and distress among citizens who may be alarmed by fake reports circulating on other media platforms about its impact on human health and life (Atmakuri, 2020). For example, in a recent post shared on Instagram, Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Law, Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, was spotted at a local supermarket assuring residents that the retail outlets would be stocked throughout the pandemic, thereby alleviating concerns that people would run out of food by being forced to stay in their houses (Atmakuri, 2020). From this post, the hoarding of food stopped as the public was assured of its constant supply (Atmakuri, 2020). This recent example shows that social media has been helpful to government authorities to address citizen concerns in real time.
The Singaporean government has also used social media for public engagements and fiscal planning. This statement emanates from a recent report, which showed that the government contracted social media influencers to encourage the public to interact with the budget making process (Kozlowska, 2018). The government sought feedback from its citizens through social media for this purpose. In 2018, government agents who contracted social media influencers on Instagram to educate the public about the budgeting process and encourage them to give feedback about it took this action (Kozlowska, 2018). The campaign was effective because in a few days, there were many people who took photos with captions highlighting their concerns about the budget-making process, such as a high inflation rate and poor fiscal planning (Kozlowska, 2018). Others shared their wedding photos with captions stating how they plan to budget their finances. In some cases, users shared fun facts about the budget-making process, thereby attracting more online participation to a process that would otherwise be shunned by most Singaporean youth (Kozlowska, 2018). These examples show that authorities have used social media to reach a young population who are increasingly spending more time on this platform more than any other form of traditional media (Alghizzawi et al., 2019). Relative to this statement, in a recent interview, the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that his initial motivation for engaging in social media was to communicate with young people who he could not reach through other media platforms (Soon, 2015). Therefore, together with parliamentarians, the Prime Minister of Singapore uses social media to interact with the public and demonstrate the government’s service delivery record through photographs shared on social media platforms and commentaries on similar platforms. These evidences suggest that social media is actively used in Singapore to promote social order and development.
Similar to Singapore, Malaysia is also another progressive country in Asia, which is governed by a federal parliamentary system. However, its population is significantly higher than Singapore’s because it stands at about 30 million people, while Singapore’s population is about 5 million (Soon, 2015). Malaysia’s high population means that the government has to be innovative in engaging its citizens about various political and governance issues by reaching a growing number of people who are not keen to listen to traditional forms of media, such as newspapers and radio. This gap has led to the use of social media as an alternative communication platform that connects citizens and their government. Indeed, the internet, and by extension social media, has helped Malaysia to stay abreast with other countries in managing their political, economic and governance issues.
Like Singapore, Malaysia, being a multicultural nation, has relied on social media to maintain social order and promote cohesion through a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions on mainstream platforms. According to Peña-Acuña (2017), 66% of Malaysians are online and active users of various social media platforms. The government has been on the forefront in encouraging this growth by taking proactive steps to foster social media usage. It is motivated by a vision of making the country a regional hub in information communication technology (ICT) development (Peña-Acuña, 2017). In line with this plan, the government has also taken measures to be paperless and promote internet penetration in remote parts of the country (Peña-Acuña, 2017). The adoption of these strategies provides the backdrop for the active engagement of government on social media to invite citizens on various governance issues.
Malaysia government officials commonly use social media because it allows them to directly connect with the electorate. Furthermore, they also receive first-hand feedback about their community initiatives, thereby providing a basis for making future improvements (United Nations Public Administration Network, 2019). From a public policy standpoint, the Malaysian government has primarily used social media to create awareness about various social issues, such as drug abuse, reduction in accidents and the need to reduce crime (United Nations Public Administration Network, 2019). Reports suggest that there have been significant gains made on these fronts because there has been positive public response regarding the aforementioned issues and indicative pieces of evidence show that social media has contributed to increased awareness about these issues within the public (United Nations Public Administration Network, 2019). It was not possible to make such gains in the past because government agencies had to rely on traditional forms of media, such as newspapers and television, to communicate to the public. These modes of communication were slow and had no common or reliable premise for assessing feedback. Social media has provided the Malaysia government with such tools, thereby allowing it to measure feedback and make appropriate changes to their plans.
The positive gains made from social media use in Malaysia have attracted politicians who are increasingly signing up on popular platforms, such as Twitter, to increase their political influence (Peña-Acuña, 2017). For example, the country’s Prime Minister has multiple social media accounts, spread across various platforms, to reach as many people as possible (United Nations Public Administration Network, 2019). Evidence shows that most politicians who have adopted this public interactivity approach have gained popularity because of the high rates of social media penetration in the country. The visibility has been positively received by Malaysians because it increases accountability levels among the leaders. Indeed, a politician’s activities could be known in seconds if they post content on social media and questions could be posed to them immediately. Based on their response, the public can make an informed choice regarding whether to continue supporting the official, or not.
The Malaysian government has also used social media to improve public confidence in the government by broadcasting messages of assured safety to its citizens. For example, the government, through the military, has periodically reached out to its citizens, informing them of their security and willingness to confront aggressors (United Nations Public Administration Network, 2019). It has also used social media to alleviate fears of war and fear mongering among the Malaysian public, as seen from recent tweets by defense agencies about the possibility of an all-out war with China over the South China Sea (United Nations Public Administration Network, 2019). Broadly, these examples show that social media has allowed Malaysians to be versed with geopolitical issues and enabled them to be better informed about ongoing political developments that may affect their future. Consequently, social media plays a pivotal role in maintaining public order and increasing the confidence of the citizens about government operations.
United States (US)
The US government is among the leading users of social media for public engagement across the western world. The concept of digital governance has been adopted across all levels of government. A study by Manoharan and Ingrams (2018) suggests that up to 75% of all local governments in the US have a website. Relative to this assertion, Manoharan and Ingrams (2018) say that up to 90% of US government departments posted regularly on their social media platforms. Others are in the process of doing so or reviewing this option as a new way of promoting citizen participation. Similar to Egypt, US authorities also use social media to convey information to the public. Therefore, there is minimal citizen-to-government rendezvous on these platforms, at least from a citizen’s perspective. In the US, social media use in the provision of government services has received a lukewarm reception from the citizenry, as there is not much interaction with the public on these matters.
Based on the insights highlighted above, the US’s use of social media for engaging its citizens stands out from the others highlighted in this paper because the government has taken a proactive role in advancing its use. For example, unlike Egypt’s strong citizen-led participation on social media, America has adopted a government-led approach to social media use. Nonetheless, the adoption of social media use is uneven, as different levels of government have reported varying levels of contribution from users (Manoharan and Ingrams, 2018). Furthermore, there are still significant gaps in critical service innovation, such as the poor completion of financial transactions on the social media platforms of US government departments. Business and property registration processes have also been mentioned as areas causing frustration for most citizens intending to access government services online (Manoharan and Ingrams, 2018). Why these challenges persist as government authorities try to consolidate their social media presence remains unknown.
Broadly, the US government has adopted social media as part of its strategy to engage citizens on various governance issues. Therefore, the government’s digital strategy is extensively characterized by this goal. In an unofficial capacity, the American government also uses social media as a citizen engagement tool. For example, the US president uses Twitter to discuss national issues. He also uses the platform to comment on social and current issues affecting Americans, including giving his views about international relations, elections, economic performance, and others.
Although contested by some critics, some of the content tweeted by the president have been assumed to be the official position of the US government. However, an in-depth assessment of the president’s Twitter handle revealed that it contained unverifiable information. In more extreme cases, the president has been threatened with legal action for his Tweets (Manoharan and Ingrams, 2018). This example shows the extensive nature of social media use in providing feedback about elected officials. In other words, the internet is being used in the US as a political tool. This strategy has led to increased public participation in some jurisdictions as people give their views on different public interests. Relative to this assertion, Manoharan and Ingrams (2018) say that this type of engagement has heightened the level of citizen involvement, as is evident between Trump and his supporters.
Overall, the nature of social media usage is that the visibility of a post is commensurate with the popularity of the account. This design structure has given users a lot of power in determining the type of relationship between governments and their followers because users determine what should be the nature of public discourse by causing an issue to be popular, or not. This process happens democratically by allowing users to vote on these issues using likes and retweets. Therefore, the adoption of social media use for public involvement in the US is unique because it helps to determine important issues for prioritization. Government agencies are also actively using it to inform the public about various issues, aided by a favorable attitude of political engagement.
Broadly, based on an assessment of the international examples of social media use highlighted above, the successes or failures of governments in using social media are predicated on the social, political, and economic dynamics of the respective countries analyzed. These influences have a significant impact on the enthusiasm of citizens to participate on various social media platforms and their perception of responsiveness to public needs because social media success is subjective.
One lesson learnt from various countries on the use of social media in ensuring government responsiveness is the division of task based on core work. The premise refers to the fact that unlike in Dubai, other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, have official handles for their ministries and departments. Compared to Dubai, where a significant amount of government responsiveness is measured through the personal handle of the Sheikh, the approach used by the other governments enhances accountability. A second lesson learnt is that social media for government responsiveness works due to the fact that a majority of the target audience is already on social media most of the time. Pătrut and Pătruţ (2014) explains that on average, people spend three to six hours a day on their socials media platforms. This is enough time to engage with their government on the different services offered. More studies will be used and presented in the findings section of this report.
There are several key takes one can pick from the use of social media in other governments. First, it is clear that social media is critical in fully incorporating the different cultures and people in a country. UAE, Dubai specifically, is a metropolitan that has encouraged the absorption of foreign cultures and using social media will ideally make it easier for these groups to also keep informed of government actions. Secondly, one can pick out the fact that these countries have also used social media as an accountability platform. Not only is social media open to all, but it also archives the achievements these governments have recorded making it easy for citizens to keep track of all government activities across a certain timeline. The study will draw lessons from these mentioned countries, and others, and articulate them with findings realized.
The UAE Context of Social Media and Government Responsiveness
The adoption of the e-government 2.0 model by the UAE government was intended to improve efficiency in the provision of government services. About a decade ago, this initiative was adopted as part of a broader set of interventions proposed by Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum to promote sustainable development in the UAE (Obi and Iwasaki, 2015). The Prime Minister also linked this initiative to the improvement of government delivery services, as a natural solution to some of the inherent logistical challenges of service delivery and information exchange in the country (Obi and Iwasaki, 2015). However, there are glaring gaps in the implementation and integration of e-government Web 2.0 technologies in the UAE, which undermine this goal. Broadly, the government has only managed to achieve a small degree of integration in the areas of information sharing (57%), customer relations (20%), and digital transactions (23%) (Obi and Iwasaki, 2015).
The aforementioned statistics suggest that the UAE government has only achieved a stage three integration level within its wider e-governance model. Gaps in integration have occurred despite the government’s efforts to sensitize the public about participating in the e-government framework. For example, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum has stressed the importance of using digital communication strategies to foster public engagement in the management of governance affairs (Obi and Iwasaki, 2015). His guidelines have necessitated the formulation of social media guidelines to moderate citizen-government participation on the Web 2.0 platform. However, some departments of the UAE government have not adopted these guidelines fully or are struggling to meet their intended goals. Consequently, there is a need to conduct further investigation in this area of integration as it underscores the nature of the relationship between the UAE government and its people.
It is critical to note that examples that have been used in both previous literature and in this literature review indicate the active use of social media by Dubai’s ruler. However, there is little to no use of the platform by other government officials. This raises concerns on the level of responsiveness among other government officials on digital platforms. Why is there minimal usage of the platforms among departments and agencies of the government as well? Answering this question will help in enhancing the research study.
Social Media as a Tool to Enhance Public Feedback and Government Responsiveness
Rating Government Services: The Current Context of the UAE and Dubai
Nepal, Paris and Georgakopoulos (2015) investigated the use of social media in the UAE from a public policy perspective and found that political leadership played a key role in safeguarding its use. Particularly, the authors suggest that the strong political leadership in the Emirate, especially with the proliferation of virtual communication services by authorities, has contributed to significant adoption of the same in Dubai (Nepal, Paris and Georgakopoulos, 2015). Furthermore, while other countries in the Middle East struggle to integrate social media in the provision of government services, Dubai is effectively using its financial resources to build a complex network of ICT infrastructure that allows citizens to communicate with government agencies at multiple points of involvement (Nepal, Paris and Georgakopoulos, 2015). In this regard, it has been more successful than other Emirates in fostering citizen commitment, although still lower than the developed countries, especially in policy making (Salem, 2017). Broadly, this section of the study shows that the government of Dubai and the UAE have used social media to enhance public feedback and government responsiveness by encouraging its citizens to rate its services, convey important information to the public, and receive timely feedback from users. These key areas of responsiveness are discussed in-depth below.
The UAE government has used social media to rate and improve government services. For example, in one of the tweets, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s posted a scorecard of government services showing which areas were rated poorly and highly (Zayed, 2018). He also reiterated his commitment to making sure citizens received satisfactory government services. In line with this view, in one of the tweets, he said, “There are five entities that scored 60 percent. This is unacceptable” (Zayed, 2018, p. 2). This statement conveyed his expectations on the performance of government officers and his conviction to work for the needs of citizens. Through this assessment, social media emerges as a platform for fostering transparent communication not only between the government and its citizens but also between the ruler and government employees. Therefore, social media is an active platform of interaction that stems from the highest authority on the land.
Anderson (2016) highlights this type of social media use as a platform where governments have an opportunity to start conversations and obtain intelligence from the public inexpensively. Owing to its potential to reach a wide audience, social media in the UAE emerges as a cost-effective way of gathering knowledge from the public. By fostering interactions on the platform, social media lends itself well to audience participation. For example, when one person sees a tweet, he or she may retweet it to friends and gather more intelligence. For example, in the case of the mysterious teacher highlighted above, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum received valuable feedback about the mentioned person when users started reacting to his stories and sharing their experiences with the same person. Concisely, one of the people who identified the unnamed woman mentioned her name as “Mama Sheikha.” In one of the tweets, she said,
“This is Mama Sheikha. I remember once I came to school and we had a trip to Al Hilli Park and I did not get the money for the trip. I was about to go back home when she saw me and she took me by the hand, paid for the fees and bought me snacks like all the other students. It happened seven years ago and I still till remember it today” (Al Shurafa, 2020, p. 2).
In another tweet, another person recounted how the same teacher came to school and looked after the sick students by accompanying them until their guardians picked them (Al Shurafa, 2020). It was also revealed that she could go out of her way and transport children to their homes if their parents became busy or could not come to pick their children (Al Shurafa, 2020). Besides getting this valuable information about the teacher, users also tagged HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum on her Twitter account. Eventually, the two linked and she was rewarded for her positive contribution to society (Al Shurafa, 2020).
The above-mentioned statement suggests that social media is a powerful tool for engaging the public because the government was not only able to identify the mysterious woman but also obtain additional information about her good deeds. Therefore, the government uses social media to provide valuable information to authenticate claims made on unverifiable platforms and explore an issue of interest. Based on these findings, the ruler of Dubai emerges as one of the most accessible public servants despite being the head of government services. He uses social media platforms to interact with the public about pressing issues and communicates with them on the same platform about the response he has received from the officers. Therefore, engagement through his twitter account is collaborative and two-sided because citizens can reach the ruler and he can communicate with them if it is necessary. Furthermore, he can assess the level of involvement from his social media platforms by tracking the number of likes, tweets, and retweets on his posts. Using the same platform, he can also communicate with government officers about what needs to be done to improve government services. Therefore, people can see how he interacts with his officers through his Twitter platform, thereby increasing accountability in the provision of government services.
The use of social media to improve government responsiveness through public feedback can be analyzed through HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Twitter activities. He has used this media platform to update his constituents about what the government is doing to improve the provision of government services and receive feedback from citizens about the same issue. For example, he recently used Twitter to convey the government’s vision of creating an environment where people can be happy. The actual Tweet read, “Our ultimate goal as a government is for happiness as a way of life” (Anderson, 2016, p. 5). Through the online media platform, he reiterated his government’s commitment to instilling happiness and positivity in society. Through a series of tweets, the ruler of Dubai also conveyed how government ministries are mandated to abide by this vision. In this regard, the Prime Minister of the UAE has used social media to share information about the government’s vision and how it is connected to the fulfillment of the citizen’s goals – the pursuit of happiness (Anderson, 2016; Jasmi and Awamleh, 2020).
In terms of public engagement, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Twitter account emerges as one of the most active among other leaders in the region because citizens report incidences about government laxity in the provision of government services to him directly. For example, in 2019, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, through his Twitter account – @HHShkMohd, acknowledged receipt of a photo showing citizens waiting in line for services at a government post. He responded by saying the corporation’s leader needed to improve its performance or be fired from his government (Zayed, 2018). Using the same platform, the head of government also gave the UAE citizens an update on the progress he made after following up on the aforementioned issues through a series of tweets demonstrating a high level of commitment towards promoting efficiency in the provision of government services. In one of the Tweets, he said,
“We sent a team to verify the level of Emirates Post services in one of their centers. “The team returned with this report. I put it in front of everyone with transparency. I say to everyone in the government – nothing will transparently pass without follow-up” (Zayed, 2018, p. 3).
The above-mentioned update led to a reduction in waiting time at the Emirates Post to only 11 seconds (Tesorero, 2019). Some observers also said there was improved efficiency in processing financial transactions (Tesorero, 2019). This example shows that the UAE government is actively using social media to improve government responsiveness to local issues facing Emiratis.
Besides getting feedback about various government programs, the UAE government also uses social media to get information from the public about its people. For example, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has used his Twitter handle to seek the public’s assistance in identifying a mysterious teacher who treated her children kindly by greeting them with honor and reminding them to be happy (Al Shurafa, 2020). The ruler wanted the public to help identify the person because he wanted to reward her for being an exemplary citizen. Such acts of kindness are characteristic of the government’s use of social media because they encourage citizens to be kind and good to others.
The UAE government’s use of social media also involves getting feedback from the public regarding various government programs and initiatives. This information is used to recalibrate the government’s response and influence resource allocation programs. For example, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum took to his Twitter account to inform the public about a new application termed “UAE Mystery Shopper” that sought the public’s views about how to improve government services (Khan, 2020). Social media helped to achieve this objective by allowing authorities to evaluate the services and effectiveness of its programs, as offered in multiple languages. Through this platform, UAE citizens were required to give their views about service providers and delivery centers with the view to improve the quality of public goods and services offered.
Social media also allows UAE citizens to rate their experiences, receive government services in terms of employee attitudes, waiting times, reception of visitors, parking spaces and such-like evaluation criteria. Through this platform, the UAE government interacts with its citizens on service delivery standards (Khan, 2020). More importantly, the existence of social media has forced government employees to work better and more efficiently because they know someone could report them to authorities. Therefore, social media has increased the government’s responsiveness to issues that affect citizens. Additionally, it has created vigilance, transparency, and accountability in the manner government workers conduct their work. Particularly, social media has increased the threat of someone documenting poor service and posting it online to get the attention of the public and relevant authorities. Social media has eliminated such barriers to communication, as demonstrated in the examples highlighted in this review. Therefore, employees are motivated to work better and more efficiently towards satisfying the needs of the public. The by-product is a people-centered public service delivery model where the experiences of the public are prioritized.
Conveying Important Information
The UAE government has also used social media to improve its responsiveness by communicating important information relating to various matters of public interest. For example, through his Twitter account, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum warned citizens about the dangers of misusing social media and spreading falsehoods (Al Serkal, 2019). For example, he cautioned against using the UAE name to gain followers or pursue selfish interests. Following an in-depth assessment of tweets generated by the UAE government and that highlight the need to protect national values through online contributions, social media emerges as a powerful tool for educating the public about governance issues. For example, from the above-mentioned case, social media allowed HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum to communicate the need to safeguard national interests by encouraging the responsible use of social media. This action suggests that the media platform is a powerful tool of communication for the UAE government.
The UAE government has made efforts in using social media as a tool for promoting public participation. For example, before it makes decisions on various national issues that require citizen input, they contact them via social media to get their views. For example, an article by Nasrallah (2019) shows how the government sought the views of its citizens regarding a preferred logo that should be used to represent the country for the next 50 years. Users were told to vote for their preferred logo after being shown four options with different characteristics. The voting process led them to identify a preferred logo for use as the country’s national brand.
The government has also tactfully used social media to advance social, economic and environmental conservation by rewarding users for voting or engaging in public participation (Nasrallah, 2019). For example, Emiratis who voted for the country’s preferred logo received an assurance that for every vote cast the government would plant one tree in their honor (Nasrallah, 2019). While this reward seems reasonable, it highlights the tactics used by the UAE government to address social issues through social media engagement. In this regard, it is being used as a tool to advance or promote environmental conservation while receiving feedback at the same time.
The feedback received from engaging people on social media is overwhelming because discussions have emerged from simple tweets posted by government departments and officials regarding different matters posted online. For example, the above-mentioned example encouraging UAE citizens to be more patriotic stirred debate from institutions, ministers, observers, and analysts alike about the conduct of social media users and possible solutions that could be adopted to address the issue (Al Serkal, 2019). These debates have also allowed people to share ideas on how to improve online interaction and make them attractive to all. Coupling it with service provision is a welcome concept because citizens are open to using the media platform to improve governance and public order.
Arguably, the issue of conveying information is also critical when discussing the relevance of use of feedback in implementation of both policies and projects. Whereas there have been efforts to encourage people to use social media more for purposes of feedback, as explained previously, there is still lack of uptake by the citizens. Milla and Mataruna-Dos-Santos (2019) attribute the low uptake (for political purposes as citizens are very active on social media for other purposes) due to limitations associated with the use of social media freely. Al Serkal (2019) highlights the warning that was given to all UAE citizens on misuse of social media. Apart from that, the burden of the public image of the world in regards to UAE was placed on individual citizens. Such a responsibility, it can be argued, limits the way citizens interact with one another, the government and the world online.
Findings from Literature Review
This literature review has shown that social media is a powerful tool used by governments to share information and get the public’s views on different governance issues. International examples and case studies were provided and they included a review of social media use in Singapore, the US, and Malaysia. Similar to the US, social media elicited much collaboration between the public and the governments of Singapore and Malaysia. However, the level of engagement could improve through more relaxed regulations surrounding social media use. However, the US and the UAE had better responses to social and political issues highlighted on social media, compared to the other two cases studies mentioned.
In both countries, their leaders freely communicated with citizens on Twitter, which is their preferred social media platform. Indeed, both Donald Trump, who is the current president of America, and HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, were freely accessible online and frequently interacted with their followers by discussing various issues affecting society. Therefore, their social media usage and responsiveness records were higher than the other two countries analyzed – Singapore and Malaysia. However, their findings are indicative and broad to the extent that they do not provide a contextual assessment of citizen-government relationships beyond one social media platform. Furthermore, the localized arguments highlighted in this chapter relate to the UAE in general and do not exclusively focus on Dubai, which is the case study. Therefore, the two research questions guiding this study and which focus on Dubai are inadequately addressed. Consequently, there is a research gap premised on understanding the responsiveness of the UAE government on social media in Dubai, as one of the most developed and progressive Emirates in the UAE.
An in-depth analysis is required, beyond a review of social media engagements, between the UAE citizens and HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Twitter platform. The present study seeks to fill this research gap by investigating the role of social media in promoting citizen involvement with the Government of Dubai entities, thereby improving their responsiveness. The theoretical framework for this report will have three main pillars: (a) the emergence of social media as a powerful communication tool (b) the need for governments to adjust to this change by promoting good governance and enhanced responsiveness and (c) increased levels of public interaction, as citizens demand more accountability through social media platforms. These processes are linked to improved service delivery and customer satisfaction standards.
The literature review has addressed the previously mentioned study objectives in two ways. The first research study objective was to conceptualize the study through the secondary sources that have been identified in the literature review. All the secondary sources used have clearly linked social media usage and public sector responsiveness. They have proved that indeed, there is a positive correlation between the two. Secondly, the literature review has shown how different policies in Dubai have affected social media usage for both government officials and the public. However, there is a gap identified in terms of policies in Dubai and this will be filled through primary data that will be presented in the findings and analysis section. Lastly, the third objective has been addressed through a comparison with other countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, that have also incorporated social media into their government activities.
Nature of Questions
As mentioned previously, the research study used both primary and secondary sources. The primary data was collected from social media representatives working in different departments within the government. The researcher used a pre-developed questionnaire to collect the data needed for the study. The questionnaire, which is the data collection tool, was preferred due to the nature of delivery of the tool. The tool was submitted digitally, and the participants had to fill in their answers individually. This was necessitated by the current regulations surrounding the COVID-19 health pandemic. The data collection tool was made up of 15 questions that touched on various elements of social media use in the Dubai government. No personal information was collected from the participants in order to protect them and also due to the fact that the data will be presented as anonymous.
The 15 questions that made up the data collection tool can be categorized into seven groups revolving around frequency of social media use, benefits of social media use so far, potential of social media, feedback effectiveness in social media use, administration and social media, public perception and social media use, and policies present and social media. Critically, these categories are appropriate for the study as they collect data on both administrative decision-making and public collaboration, which is the aim and objective of the research study. The data collection tool was open-ended and participants were encouraged to write down their answers to each of the questions.
Initially, the researcher aimed to use a concurrent triangulation method as the preferred research design. The design was best suited for the study as it combines both qualitative and quantitative studies. It would have allowed the researcher to combine both the secondary and primary data sets effectively. However, due to the fact that the initial sample size was affected, the researcher opted to use qualitative research design. The research design was chosen as much of the data that was used in the study was secondary. This means that the data was collected from scholarly journals and books on the same topic. It is important to note that qualitative research methodology has several advantages that supported the study.
First, qualitative research allows for different ways of collecting data (Nowell et al., 2017) This is relevant as the study uses data from limited primary sources and extensive secondary sources. Secondly, the chosen design also allows for provision of detailed information. Interestingly, as mentioned, the data collection tool was open ended, meaning that the participants were allowed to write down their answers instead of answering either “yes” or “no”. Another justification for the use of qualitative research method is that the secondary data used is not countable (quantitative), rather, it combines the results of different studies that were done on the same topic. Lastly, the approach was cost efficient considering that the initial design would have been more expensive as the researcher had planned to collect data personally.
The target population is extensive as it is made up of all the departments in the Dubai government. However, an initial sample population of 6 people was selected. Despite this, only 2 participants were available for the study due to the COVID-19 health pandemic. Despite this, the target sample size was selected through simple random sampling method. This method involved the selection of the participants through a “by-chance” approach through their intranet system. All the government employees had the same probability of being chosen through this approach.
One of the advantages of the simple random sampling method is that it removes any form of bias, which makes the research study more reliable and valid. The removal of bias also helps with communicating with the identified sample size as some might worry that they have been targeted. Secondly, the sampling method worked best as it was simple enough to be accommodated within the existing structures of the government. This was a critical element due to the sensitivity of the work that the participants do in their different departments. Additionally, since the method was so simple, it did not require any effort from the department’s side, making it easier for the head of departments to agree to the sampling of their staff. Further, simple random sampling allowed the researcher to get a rich participant sample as it was made up of different people from different parts of the government.
Practical and Technical Aspects of Conducting the Research
Due to the mentioned impact of COVID-19, several practical and technical aspects of conducting the research had to be considered. First, a practical aspect of undertaking the research study was that all data collected had to be shared digitally. This was necessitated by the regulations provided by WHO on the importance of observing social and physical distance in the previous, and the next, couple of months. The researcher had to change the initial plan to have face-to-face interviews with the participants to a virtual one. Another practical aspect that was considered was the letting go of research assistants who had been procured to help the researcher with the data collection. The identified sample size was made up of 6 people. However, this number drastically dropped due to the impact of the Corona Virus.
In regards to the technical aspects, the research design was changed due to the unavoidable circumstances. A study sample of 2 people is not scientific, thus, the study had to rely heavily on secondary data sources from peer-reviewed journals and books. Although a change was necessitated by circumstances, the researcher still selected the best research design for the study. Also, as mentioned, another technical consideration was the use of digital platforms to collect the primary data needed. This change was also technical as the sample size had to agree to send back the filled questionnaire through their emails.
There were several ethical issues that were considered during the research study. The first was the use of personal information. The initial data collection tool included some personal information such as the participant’s age, department he or she was working in, and his or her gender. The researcher decided to remove all forms of personal information for ethical purposes. First, so that people would not feel targeted and secondly so that they would not be exposed. It was important for the researcher to assure the sample size that the study was purely for academic purposes as well in order to instill trust.
Also, the disposal of the primary data raised some ethical concerns. As mentioned, the work of government people in Dubai is considered sensitive. This is one of the reasons the researcher did not use any primary information that would identify the person or the department the participant worked in, in the questionnaire. The researcher informed the participants of the appropriate and university-approved methods of disposing of the data after use. Finally, the dropping out of the participants after the sample size had been selected was an ethical concern. However, due to the fact that participating in the study was on voluntary basis, the researcher could not force the participants to fill in the questionnaires. This forced the researcher to adjust the study and rely more on secondary sources.
Limitations of the Study
As mentioned, the research study was able to gather only 2 filled questionnaires from the sample size. A majority of the staff that were randomly selected to participate in the study were unavailable due to the effects of the Corona Virus pandemic. On the other hand, the selected simple random sampling method requires significant time to select the appropriate participants, thus, could not be repeated. This limitation forced the researcher, as stated previously, to rely on secondary data for the study. Another limitation of the study was that the chosen methodology does not allow generalization to the larger population. This is especially so due to the small sample size that was used. The change in the research design also meant that the researcher used more time in collecting secondary sources than previously expected. Despite these limitations, it is important to note that the researcher was able to successful conduct a scientific research. The study lacked any form of bias and the data collection tool was both reliable and valid. The questionnaire had been tested previously to ensure it had the right questions to allow for proper primary data collection.
How the Chosen Methodology Answers Research Questions?
The research study is guided by two questions. The methodology presented helps answer both questions as, first, the data collection tool focused on the impacts of social media use among government entities. Additionally, the secondary sources that were used gave insight on the different policies in use in Dubai that enhance the use of social media for public communication. Further, the methodology allowed the researcher to analyze the different data collected at a more in-depth level for purposes of proper understanding of concepts. Overall, despite the changes that were made to the study, the researcher was still able to answer the research questions.
Results and Analysis
This section will be divided according to the research results. Each result will be analyzed and linked back to the literature review in Chapter 2. It is important to note that the results will be presented based on the seven research question categories that were identified in Chapter 3.
Frequency of Social Media Use
100% of the participants agreed that there is an increase in the use of social media both in the public sector and in healthcare. Wahid et al. (2019) argue that both the public and private sectors have embraced the use of social media in the recent years due to the increase of users online. Alghizzawi et al. (2019) go further to add that a majority of youth in Dubai absorb information from their favorite online platforms first before they go to traditional media channels such as television, radio and newspaper. It is important to mention that this is a world-wide observation as many people often receive news and other bits of information online. The additional fact that the digital space has been made that more accessible through the mobile phone allows more users to desire to interact with both the public and private sectors online. This finding is similar to the assumptions/expectations held before the study.
The results can be linked to the research questions as the frequency of social media use among the public has also forced government to use the platform to disseminate information. Additionally, the literature review supports the finding as Khan (2016) observes that the use of social media as an information dissemination tool is seen as transparent and accountable. The frequency of social media use among government agencies has not only been pushed by the online communities but also by international communities that partner with the Dubai government. Further, 100% of the sample size stated that social media is a good way of marketing, which relates to public relations and public image. Critically, having open communication about government projects not only benefits the public but also the associated government institution as they usually are vetted for performance management based on their documentation.
Impacts of Social Media Use by Government So Far
50% of the sample size stated that one of the impacts of the use of social media by the government is the frequent interaction with the general public on their initiatives. Siyam, Alqaryouti, and Abdallah (2020) go further to argue that there are many benefits of the close interaction between the government and the public through social media. The scholars identify transparency as one of those benefits. It is common to find the public interested in some of the policies and projects the government is undertaking. Through social media use, the government is not only able to give updates on development initiated by its various agencies but also answer questions the public might have of the same. Additionally, the government is able to offer critical information on a timely basis as social media usage does not need much infrastructure to operate.
Importantly, another impact of the use of social media is that it allows the government to understand the needs of the people. Jasmi and Awamleh (2020) explain that Dubai has used social media on numerous occasions to measure happiness among its population. Indeed, a measure of happiness can allow the government to understand whether the society is thriving or otherwise. This will in turn help in the formulation of better policies and projects that aid the public become happier with better general wellbeing. 50% of the sample population agreed that social media is effective in enabling public sector officials to reach better decisions. The literature review presented in Chapter 2 also revealed that e-government allows bidirectional communication which aids in better decision making (Ines, 2012). Arguably, due to the mentioned fact that more people are relying on social media for information, the government does not have anything to lose by using social media to communicate with the public. The findings go hand-in-hand with the expectations held before the study.
Potential of Social Media
All the participants agreed that there is more to be done in regards to social media usage in Dubai. For instance, the government can increase their response time to general inquiries that are raised online by users (Alshahrani and Ally, 2016). The issue of time and responses is not unique to the Dubai government, however, and policies are needed to enhance the same. 50% of the participants started that currently, all social media use is guided by keys provided by HH Sheikh Mohammed, the Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of Dubai. This finding was not expected due to the fact that social media usage was assumed to be highly unregulated. 50% of the research participants agreed that the regulation by HH Sheikh Mohammed was needed as it is a common belief that all the users of social media are not only representing themselves but they are also representing Dubai. This overall obligation to all citizens in regards to public image of Dubai was not expected.
Criado, Villodre, and Meijer (2019) argue that many countries that are still conservative have strict guidelines on social media usage. This allows the government to not only monitor social media easily but also allows it to control the overall view the world has of the country through its online presence. Despite this control, Criado, Villodre, and Meijer (2019) explain that the nature of social media allows people to open parody accounts and talk about the things that bother them about their political, social and economic spheres. From the results, it is arguable that the strict control of social media usage in Dubai can negatively affect its main purpose, which is to better interact with people. This is due to the fact that people might be scared to raise concerns or criticize the government online.
Feedback Effectiveness in Social Media Use
50% of the sample size stated did not give a definitive percentage on how much feedback received from social media is used in their processes but agreed that it is an essential part of their work. The remaining 50% stated that they use about 30% of feedback collected on social media platforms to shape their activities. The researcher expected that some form of feedback that is received via social media platforms is used by the government and the finding proves it. In Chapter 2, which is the literature review, Singer and Brooking (2018) argue that organizations have used feedback to improve their services. It is interesting to note that the finding that the government in Dubai strictly regulates social media usage affects the reliability of feedback that is offered online. It is arguable that there is a need for research on the impact of different guidelines provided by the ruler of Dubai on social media usage.
Arguably, all the participants agreed that the feedback that is received from social media is critical as it shows how involved the public are with the government initiatives. Debatably, the role of the government is to satisfy the needs of the people. Public engagement in all government processes is, therefore, critical. One can argue that the use of social media by the government makes this mentioned public participation easier through the collection of feedback. It is critical to mention that although social media offers the government an easier way of collecting feedback, the analysis of the same should be done by technical staff in order to get the best out of the feedback. Many governments have used this premise to enhance the involvement of sector-specific departments online. Therefore, instead of having one social media handle for the government, each department has its own handles where they can interact with the public based purely on their mandate.
Administration and Social Media
Milla and Mataruna-Dos-Santos (2019), through a study, reveal that there is a deep relationship between social media usage and culture in many Arab countries. This affects administration work as many Arab countries combine culture and politics through Sharia Law. Arguably, the discussed finding that the government strictly monitors and regulates social media usage is also due to the fact that all activities by all citizens of Dubai are guided by Sharia Law and the general Islam culture. There are two main elements to consider when discussing administration and social media. The first is the use of social media to make administration work easier. This has been proven through the findings that government administrations have used feedback from social media to improve services offered. Additionally, the fact that 100% of the participants agreed on the importance of social media in administrative work shows how much the government trusts its levels of interaction online.
The primary data shows that 50% of the participants agree that social media factors into management’s administrative decisions in general and in specific cases as well. The issue of decision-making has been mentioned in various of the findings discussed. Thus, it is debatable that the government agencies in Dubai value the input of the public in an attempt to make better decisions concerning both policies and projects. Additionally, the relevance of the right policies was emphasized by 100% of the sample size. 50% of the sample size mentioned that social media use can help track policies that are already formulated and at the same time, show gaps to allow the government to come up with the right policies. The other 50% of the sample size stated that the successful use of social media by the government is dependent on policies set rather than individual preferences.
Public Perception and Social Media Use
Alghizzawi et al. (2019) observe that studies show that a majority of people today develop a perception of a brand or an entity based on their social media presence. This is relevant as it also explains why the Dubai government is keen on how its citizens use social media. Public perception on social media not only affects how the citizens view their own leaders but also affects how the world views Dubai. It is arguable that despite the good works that the Dubai government is doing, there will always be criticism in regards to how activities were conducted. It is important to note that social media enthusiasts support positive criticism as a form of feedback that aids improvement. The nature of social media, however, does not allow such positive criticism as it is also often difficult to differentiate between real users and parodies.
50% of the research study participants stated that the use of automated services on social media makes public perception of the government poor. Indeed, AIs on social media have made acknowledging messages from users easier in an attempt to make the user feel valuable. However, according to this group of the study sample, the use of AI has worked against the government as it is impersonal. It is arguable that the need for a personal touch in social media usage by the government is also necessitated by the culture of the people. In a conservative culture as that of Dubai, it is critical that a human being manage all conversations online between the public and the government. It also assures the public that their message was heard and that indeed, was being considered by the government. Such actions are critical in ensuring frequent and reliable interaction with the public at all times.
Policies Present and Social Media
According to Salem (2017), data driven policy making in the UAE is a new concept that has just started to take effect. In Dubai, there is a great need for policies to not only be guided by Sharia Law, but also be supported by a majority of the policy makers. Recently, UAE in general has opened up to the need of public participation in policy development and there is no better way of doing this than using digital platforms. Salem (2017) analyzes a study that shows the importance of social media in policy development. One of the findings that comes up is the importance of data in both developing and implementing policies. It is arguable that social media offers an easy way for the government to collect data on different policies and, at the same time, also encourage public participation. Debatably, the socio-technical transformation that Dubai is undergoing at the moment makes it easier for the government to introduce the use of data in policy making. For example, it is arguable that the ruler’s decision to come up with guidelines for social media use for all citizens of Dubai should have gone through public publication to ensure that the public owns those rules.
Indeed, there are several policies that guide the use of the internet in UAE and specifically in Dubai. However, currently, there are very few policies that do the same in regards to social media usage. 50% of the population sample stated that they know the guidelines for social media usage that were provided by the ruler of Dubai. Although these guidelines are, arguably, observed by a large percentage of social media users in the country, they are not policies. It can be suggested that social media usage policies should be developed with the participation of the general public. This, as mentioned previously, allows for the public to feel a sense of ownership for the guidelines. In turn, the citizens would adhere to the said guidelines more willingly compared to those that are forced on them by the government.
Relevance and Summary of Findings
One of the key findings realized through the study is that the government has increased its usage of social media to better communicate with the public. This finding is relevant as it also indicates the willingness to change of the government. In a highly cultural and conservative society as Dubai, such an action is admirable as it denotes openness. A second key finding was the use of feedback from collected from social media for administrative work and decision making. Arguably, this finding is relevant as it also indicates the importance the government has placed on the opinions of its people in regards to development. Additionally, the finding that social media is useful in both policy monitoring and development is relevant as it highlights how the government can tackle its issue of public participation.
There are several findings that were unexpected after the study. First, the fact that the participants agreed that the government currently regulates social media usage was unexpected. It is arguable that strict measures of usage of social media beats the purpose of free collaboration between the government and its people. It is understandable that the need to protect the image of Dubai is shared between the government and its citizens. Culture and religion also play a big role in this finding as general behavior is guided by both. Although these findings were unexpected, their realization added more information to the study. It is suggested that future research consider the identified issues as areas of interests.
Critically, the literature review offered various findings such as the adoption of social media to enhance government responsiveness in other countries. The findings in this section were complimented by the data that was collected from the primary sources (interviews) that proved that there are various advantages for both the public and the government in using social media as a reliable communication channel. Additionally, both realizations drawn from the literature review and the primary data emphasize the importance of having official handles for the government agencies. This can especially be drawn from the US’ experience where tweets drafted on President Trump’s personal account were confused with official statements from the different agencies that the tweets targeted. Such confusions have to be averted for the use of social media for government responsiveness to be effective.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Summary of Main Argument
This research study sought to find out how social media influences administrative decision-making and public policy development in Dubai (page 4). The study was necessitated by the frequent use of social media by citizens and the potential of the same tool to enhance public participation, particular in policy formation. Arguably, social media is an important tool in this day and age for both decision making and policy development in any country as it enhances accountability and transparency.
Validity and Reliability of Findings
The validity and reliability of the findings are certain because of various reasons. The first reason is the fact that the primary data collection did not have any form of bias. As mentioned on page 35, the chosen sampling method removed any form of bias from the selection of the sample. Additionally, all the secondary sources used for the study were peer-reviewed and published in respected journals. Data analysis of the findings was also based on both the literature review and other scholarly materials.
Results in Context of UAE
Dubai is part of the larger UAE and is considered the most advanced of the other cities in the region. Having said this, it is also important to mention that compared to the other cities, citizens in Dubai are the most active on social media. This, coupled with the fact that the ruler of Dubai is also the country’s Vice President allows the city to push the agenda in regards to developing policies for social media usage in the country. It is also important to note that even though the larger UAE uses the same Sharia Law as Dubai, other cities are more conservative compared to Dubai due to the exposure the latter has had with the outside world. Dubai is debatably a metropolitan with combination of locals and people from different parts of the world. This interaction with foreigners has allowed locals to experience modern culture, which largely relies on social media, and have different views of technology in advancing development.
Indeed, the whole of UAE is experiencing some level of socio-technical advancement and this makes it easier for the government to develop policies that guide the same space. The development of the policies will not only include citizens of Dubai but citizens from each of the cities that make up the UAE. Arguably, this would mean public sensitization in areas where social media usage is low in order for the citizens in these areas to appreciate both the importance of social media and that of public participation in policy formulation. Overall, the inclusion of all citizens of UAE is critical in ensuring the success of any of the policies made. Also, it would also affect the quality of decision-making based on social media feedback in other cities and the country as a whole.
This section will be divided into two categories, which are the two research questions asked at the beginning of the study.
Policies that promote use of social media in Dubai’s public sector
In conclusion, there are no formal policies that promote the use of social media in Dubai’s public sector. The public sector has embraced the use of social media to engage with the public. Currently, the city uses guidelines that were provided by its ruler on social media usage. Arguably, there is need for the development of better and more formal policies for social media usage.
Social media, public participation and improving responsiveness and services
To conclude, social media can have positive impacts in enhancing responsiveness of government and provision of better services in the public sector. One way it can do this is through feedback received from the public about the different services offered. Additionally, the ease of use of social media makes it easier for government to respond to citizen inquiries.
The first recommendation that can be made after the study is the development of policies that guide social media usage in both Dubai and UAE at large. Policy formulation is not a day’s job and various stakeholders have to be involved. It is important that the public be included in the development of these policies to allow for a sense of ownership. Critically, the policies should be adopted in the whole of UAE, not just Dubai. On the same note, it is also recommended that the government enhance its public participation activities through the use of social media. Already, Dubai government agencies are using social media to reach out to its citizens. The use of the platform for purposes of public participation will ensure transparency and accountability. In turn, this will lead to the development of trust among the public in regards to the intentions of the government.
Thirdly, it is recommended that Dubai allow for open feedback, in that the public should be able to offer feedback without fear of punishment. The current restrictions on social media use has curbed negative feedback from citizens but also increased the use of parody accounts to criticize the government. The suggested policies can highlight the acceptable ways feedback can be given in accordance with Sharia Law but they (policies) should not be highly restrictive. Finally, it is suggested that the different departments and government agencies in Dubai use social media to deliver on their mandates.
Implications of Research
One of the implication of this research study is the development of formal social media policies that will not only guide the citizens on proper use of this communication tool, but also guide government agencies on the best ways to communicate with the public on the same platform (sector). Secondly, the study provides a basis for the consideration of public participation through social media for the Dubai government (population). Lastly the research study has identified various research (context) gaps that should be considered for future research.
Lessons and Skills Learnt
One of the challenges I learnt doing this study was the impact of COVID-19 on the process. I learnt that a research plan should be flexible enough to allow for sudden change in case of such pandemics. One lesson I learnt that I will transfer to my area of practice is the use of feedback in improving services. Normally, feedback is only encouraged from direct clients of a service. However, with social media, feedback can also be sought from people who have only interacted with the service offered virtually.
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