Villagers in Bumthang use WeChat to share information and get work done

As unbelievable as it sounds, villagers in Bumthang have their Dzongkhag and gewog officials and representatives answerable to them at every sound bite. This is achieved through the use of either Facebook or the ever popular messaging app WeChat. Such swift and regular communication on social media is seen as an advantage for both parties.

An Information and Communications Technology (ICT) officer in the Dzongkhag Administration in Bumthang, Sonam Jamtsho, said that WeChat is much preferred among the people as even the illiterate ones can use the app easily.

When Bumthang Dzongkhag Tshogdu decided to construct a festival ground or Tendrel Thang just below the Jakar Dzong in the 12th Five-Year-Plan, the public officials along with government agencies and dzongkhag administrators embraced the social media to keep each other informed.

Sonam Jamtsho said there is a group of sector heads on WeChat that discuss and share information and work accordingly. It also holds people accountable as the chat is marked.

“For proof, one has to look no further than the WeChat feed of dzongkhag administration in Bumthang – more than 20-30 messages over two days, featuring everything from photos of events and progress within Dzongkhag,” he added

According to the dzongkhag estimate, about 2-3 complaints and grievances are sent to the Dzongkhag Administration through its Facebook Page.

While civic issues, such as non-removal of garbage, encroachment, non-functioning of street lights or vacancies in government institutions are sorted out as soon as possible, however, the grievances pertaining to central government institutions or other districts are forwarded to respective authorities.

“Dzongkhag Administration embracing Facebook, but mostly WeChat, as a medium to communicate has been a resounding success,” said ICT officer Sonam Jamtsho.

He added that due to rampant fake news being spread on Facebook, the people prefer to hear information on WeChat instead.

He said the recent voting details of NC election’s Dhamngoi Zomdu, was well received in all gewogs and by villagers on WeChat.

Another example that the Dzongkhag Administration cited for the effective use WeChat is the ease using voice message to solicit response and feedback from the public on policy planning. The Dzongkhag Administration officer pointed out that such a social media app is enhancing Government to Citizen (G2C) mobility.

He added that social media can be used as a channel for government-citizen communication where the onus of implementing plans and polices can be shared by the agencies and the people.

“What helps is that social media allows government or dzongkhag servants to own up to things that make a difference to citizens or villagers and this owning up gives a sense of purpose,” Chokhor Gup Pema Doengyel said.

He added that though this sounds utopian, this is slowly becoming a reality in advanced democracies with high telecom and broad band infrastructure and mobile telephony access.

“Social media, in case of WeChat, is now proving to be the spark that ignites the collaboration between gewog, Tshogpa and the villagers,” he said.

Mangmi Sangay Thinley said that earlier it was a lengthy affair to inform each villager and household for even a short meeting, but now, it is convenient to inform the people through the social media. “It doesn’t take 5-10 minutes to inform villager through voice, pictures and messages,” he said.

Chummey Gewog Mangmi, Chundu Tshering, is able to share information across the villages about the Dzongkhag Tshogdu easily now. “Most of the villagers are illiterate, including me, so it is easy to use WeChat for faster communications and to inform villagers,” he said.

“The network of people including farmers is rapidly expanding on the social media, mainly WeChat,” Tshokpa at Dungmi village, Kinley, said. He pointed out that the social media space is benefiting the villagers and officials in many ways.

Ura gewog has been using social media, especially WeChat, for two years now. It has played a pivotal role to improving their gewog communication.

Gup Khandu Wangchuk said that social media provides for easy and rapid dissemination of information.  He said it helps create transparency, and thereby, strengthens the villagers’ goodwill towards government or gewog administration.

“For villagers, there is an unimagined level of access to gewog and government information on social media in real time. For gewog administration, it offers the ability to rapidly sample public opinion,” he said.

Likewise, Tang gewog administration stated the advantage of using social media.  “It saves time and money,” Gup, Ugyen Nima said, “Providing information through social media channels offers real efficiency in creating faster, easier and cheaper access to information, particularly to uneducated farmers, and youth who can read and operate in social media spaces,” he said.

“It creates new ways of working in the dzongkhag,” said Sonam Jamtsho.

He added that online collaboration across departments and with citizens can be effective in framing policies and its timely implementation.

However, some villagers are skeptical about the use of social media to engage with people. A farmer, Phurpa, from Dekiling said, “This is not to say the social media is the only answer. Obviously, it’s not.   As with every government activity, it should be based on meeting people and solve problem accordingly.”

He added that gewog administration should not add teens or youth as a member because the use of social media as part of the overall policy and communications are mixed.

According to the ICT officer, Sonam Jamtsho, there is some risk operating in social media. “Messaging can’t be easily controlled, reputations need to be strongly managed and the right information needs to be provided at the right time.”

He said social media allows for the people in Bumthang to remain informed, and it allows the officials to use social media in their working environment, providing opportunities for real engagement, innovation, change and transparency.

This story was made possible due to support from DoIM.

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