Many nations have become increasingly concerned with involving citizens in various aspects of development. The main goal is to design services and develop policies that satisfy individual needs and are appropriate to the particular circumstances that they are facing. To do this, public servants have to collaborate and reach out to the public as opposed to merely consulting and responding to their queries. This implies that the public servants will engage people who know their rights as citizens, are increasingly well-educated, have access to relevant information, and have broad exposure to the opinions of experts, leaders and advocates. Public policy and public engagement are important for the social development of any nation as it allows even representation and inclusion of diverse views that ultimately result in better decision making.
In Saudi Arabia, certain groups of people were mostly excluded in participating in the various aspects of the development of the nation. The groups included youths, women, people with disabilities, and refugees. However, with the recent upheavals in the Arab world, most governments, including that of Saudi Arabia, have become more involved in drafting policies that allow public engagement in the social development of the nation (Karshenas et al., 2014, p. 2). The public participation is aimed at extending knowledge on various development initiatives and increase practical awareness into the potential paths for social development in the nation. With such policies the public gains visibility, consideration, access to social interactions, avenue to exercise their rights and the necessary resources they require to participate in the social development of the nation fully.
The first group of people that need to be considered in public policies and engagement is the youth. Youth engagement encourages them to achieve their full potential and improve the future of the nation. Youth social development is improved through the involving them in active social participation and civic engagement. In turn, social participation and civic engagement of youth allows them to identify policies that concern them hence allow them to build stronger support for program implementation (Murphy, 2012, p.3). In formulating public policies and programs, it is crucial to provide education, skills and other relevant information to youth so as to their deficiencies and disengagements and allow them to be agents of social development (Murphy, 2012, p. 3). Also, the media should not portray the youth as persons who bring problems to society but rather portray them as the resources that the nation needs for social development. Strengthening youth knowledge, social values, practical skills and civic competencies will ensure that youth increase their participation in issues such as social development which are important to the nation.
Apart from youths, public policies should include women so as to ensure diverse views from a wide representation of the population. Multiple discrimination and exclusion have been a common occurrence in Saudi Arabia and other Arab regions for a long time. The issue is especially clear in women, who have fewer rights and legal protections than men (Rajkhan, 2014, p. 1). As a result, they have experienced discrimination with regards to information access and social services, less involvement in decision making even on issues that directly affect them, and limited avenues for them to express themselves and the issues that they are facing. Although there has been a substantial improvement of women education in Saudi Arabia over the past few years, women involvement in social development has been limited mainly due to the cultural barriers as well as the roles expected of women in the society (Rajkhan, 2014, p. 2). As such, public policies should ensure equal representation and engagement of women in the social development of the nation. When this is the case, then decision makers are bound to obtain diverse inputs that would improve the development process.
Another vulnerable group that is susceptible to exclusion from public participation in social development is people with disabilities. Such persons are the most vulnerable to all levels of the society may exclude them from various processes aimed at development (Al-Jadid, 2013, p.1). Some are not only excluded in the education system but also by family members and relatives. Therefore, this has made it impossible for this group to become active members of the society. However, the through well-structured public policies, the government can ensure that this group has the necessary information and resources to air their views on issues concerning them and the population at large so as to formulate strategies that will improve social development.
Finally, public policies and public engagement should include migrants and refugees. Proper public policies should include this group so as to open a way for them to integrate with the society, therefore, result in an improved social development in various areas of the region. Refugees and migrants should be provided with the necessary information and resources that will allow them to effectively participate in public processes that have a direct impact on them as well as other members of the society (Ebrahim and Weisband, 2007, p. 37). With proper support, effective preparation and adequate funding, refugees, and immigrants can integrate better in the society hence allowing them to feel at ease while contributing their ideas so that decision makers can come up with better ways of improving social development.
The government can take a wide range of policies to encourage public participation in the social development of Saudi Arabia. Some of the methods include public deliberation workshops, online public deliberation, educational programs and media outreach (Rowe and Frewer, 2000, p.5). Public deliberation workshops are among the most comprehensive ways of ensuring public engagement in the nations social development. The moderated group discussions allow a diverse group of people from different backgrounds to participate in informed dialogue as well as in-depth deliberation about the issues surrounding social development in the nation (Rowe and Frewer, 2000, p.6). Another method, online public deliberation brings the principles and ideologies of public deliberation workshops to the online world. The technique can reach a diverse audience in an easy and cost effective manner (Rowe and Frewer, 2000, p.8). Apart from public deliberation, educational programs are essential to instill knowledge, skills and awareness to the public so as to allow effective participation in the process of decision making of issues that affect them (Rowe and Frewer, 2000, p.8). The final method is to use the media so as to inform and engage a broad range of citizens. Other policies include focus groups, public polling, and other consultation mechanisms.
Public policy and public engagement allow both the public and decision makers to participate in the social development of the nation hence resulting in benefits for both parties. It allows the public to have a better understanding of government policies and decisions, while at the same time allowing the government to gain the necessary input that assists them in designing and implementing better processes. In addition to dialogue, effective public engagement should include allocation of adequate resources and provision of relevant information. If used properly, public policies and public engagement can establish a mutually beneficial government and improve the relationship with citizens.
Al-Jadid, M.S., 2013. Disability in Saudi Arabia. Saudi medical journal, 34(5), pp.453-460.
Ebrahim, A. and Weisband, E., 2007. Global accountabilities: Participation, pluralism and public ethics (Vol. 34, pp. 81-100). UK: Cambridge University Press.
Karshenas, M., Moghadam, V.M. and Alami, R., 2014. Social Policy after the Arab Spring: States and Social Rights in the MENA Region. World Development, 64, pp.726-739.
Murphy, C., 2012. Saudi Arabia's Youth and the Kingdom's Future. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Middle East Program.
Rajkhan, S. (2014). Women in Saudi Arabia: Status, Rights, and Limitations. Masters Dissertation. University of Washington Bothell.
Rowe, G. and Frewer, L.J., 2000. Public participation methods: A framework for evaluation. Science, technology & human values, 25(1), pp.3-29.
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