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How a digital communication strategy can help IEBC increase public engagement

By Caroline Kimutai | Jan 24th 2022 | 4 min read
IEBC officials Alphonsinah Ototo and Moffat Muriithii register a voter on January 20, 2022 at Moi Avenue Primary School in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

We are counting down to Election Day, August 9, 2022.

As the political heat rises, we have every reason to worry. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is not in a good place, as far as public engagement is concerned.

Why do I say so?

Recently, IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati complained about low turnout during phase II of the Enhanced Continuous Voter Registration (ECVR) exercise that started on January 17 and is expected to end on February 6, 2022. IEBC has a target of registering 4.5 million new voters who they say were left out in phase I.

During phase I of the ECVR exercise that ran from October 4 to November 5, 2021, the IEBC performed dismally. Out of a target of six million, they only managed to register 1,519,294 eligible Kenyans as new voters. Unless IEBC learnt lessons from phase I, then I do not expect them to meet the 4.5 million new voters’ target they have set for phase II.

Address public engagement

Low voter registration is caused by many factors. One of them being low public engagement. Considering the tight deadlines, does the IEBC have a game plan to increase public engagement? If not addressed urgently, the same pattern will be repeated during the August 9 general election making it a case of doing the same thing, and expecting different results.

The top leadership of the IEBC must align organisational goals and the communication objectives that go beyond August 9. The long-term goal is to deliver IEBC’s vision of “being a credible electoral body that meets the democratic aspirations of the people of Kenya”. Ideally, IEBC must communicate with the goal of increasing public engagement to achieve its Vision.

With a clear goal, IEBC should set SMART communication objectives that include tactical strategies that combine use of digital or traditional media, marketing, public relations etc. Unlike previous years, we have not seen any aggressive communication campaigns by IEBC apart from press conferences and posts on social media platforms.    

For IEBC, data is King

After defining the goal of public engagement and SMART communication objectives, IEBC now needs to clearly segment and analyse its audiences.

Luckily for them, they have a huge database and if need be, they can access more data from other government agencies like the registrar of births and deaths, Communications Authority of Kenya, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics et al. All they have to do is drill down the audience of registered voters and potential new voters and communicate to them based on psychographics traits.

Data will reveal literacy levels which then informs the language to use, who and how to communicate to the target audiences. When targeting potential new voters who have just turned 18, the IEBC can work with telecom companies and send out an SMS to that specific target group based on geolocation and inform them about where they can register. 

The IEBC website can also be used as a point of contact and data collection. Registered voters classified under the upper and middle class can be reached via regular email newsletters/bulletins as one of the ways of keeping them engaged and informed. 

The recent Speedtest Global Index revealed Mombasa has the fastest mean mobile download and upload speeds among Kenya’s most populous cities at 30.32 Mbps and 17.05 Mbps, respectively. Mombasa also had the fastest mean fixed broadband download speed at 22.91 Mbps during Q4 2021. Kisumu, Nairobi, Eldoret and Nakuru come in second to fifth respectively. This presents various opportunities for IEBC to target and reach audiences in these cities. 

Do Kenyans trust IEBC?

One of the things the Commission grapples with is trust which causes low public engagement. I hope IEBC has conducted a trust survey. It could be a reason why Kenyans are not registering to vote. But based on IEBC’s past record, I am sure the IEBC probably knows how Kenyans would rate them on trust out of a score of 10.

The IEBC can build trust through clear and consistent communication both offline and online - the way the Ministry of Health has been consistent with releasing Covid-19 numbers and information.

All communication should be made available online and offline – factoring in persons with disabilities. Does IEBC have the material in braille? Are videos produced with sign language or text? Using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) is an option that will allow persons with disabilities to access information quickly, conveniently, and independently. This is especially useful for registered voters in Kenya and the diaspora.

For web and social media platforms, information must be packaged for mobile consumption. The IEBC website should load easily and make it accessible to a screen reader for users with visual impairment.

Standing out from the political noise

To avoid being drowned in the noise, IEBC must track and monitor media consumption habits of their audience. We live in a very noisy world and our attention spans are very short. Audiences consume content on traditional and digital platforms.

IEBC should work with content creators and package information that can be easily noticed, consumed and shared. If more people prefer consuming videos, why doesn’t IEBC have a TikTok account? They are already on Twitter anyway. Such platforms are good for engagement and interaction. The beauty of video is information can be packaged in any language which allows more people to be reached.

As Kenyans prepare to vote in a few months, IEBC must make public engagement a major priority so as to deal with voter apathy and low turnout during the August 9 general election.

The writer, Carole Kimutai, is the Digital Editor at The Standard Group.

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