National Planning and Decision Making Through Citizen Counseling
Supreme Council for Planning

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
As a developing country depending on hydrocarbon, the Sultanate of Oman developed a Vision 2020 plan to diversify its economy away from oil and gas industries. The vision for Oman’s economy, its primary dimensions the strategy of economic balance and sustainable growth and covers the challenges facing their achievement, in addition to the most important basis of the vision. The primary aim of the vision for Oman’s economy in the next quarter of a century is to; at least, maintain the current level of per capita income in real term and to strive to double it by 2020. The vision also aims at providing suitable conditions for economic take off. The government will strive to use the proceeds of oil and gas for sustainable economic diversification and it will accept full responsibility for promoting basic health education training for Omani citizens, in addition to adopting policies which promote their standard of living. In this regard we shall discuss the challenges that face the Omani economy to achieve the economic balance and sustainable growth and its related dimensions – policies – and mechanisms – represented the foundation stone for achieving the Vision for Oman's Economy. The said strategy is assisted also by the following three main strategies:- Human Resources Development, Economic Diversification and Private sector Development. The former Ministry of National Economy (MNE) was the main organisation responsible for the development of the 5 yearly national economic development plans for the Sultanate of Oman. Although the plan was based on the Vision 2020 documents and requirements from more than 50 government ministries and organisations, there were no form of inputs from the citizens and other concerned stakeholders in the economic plans. These government organisations submit their 5 years requirements to the former MNE which would then collated, synthesised, prioritised and formulate the national 5 years plan. There were no form official communications between the citizens’ stakeholders and the government organisation in which citizens concerns and aspirations could be incorporated into the plans. In addition, involvement in planning used to be limited to specialists and government organisations, which created lack of plans' comprehensiveness as well as criticism by many sectors from the public that they were neglected. The used method limited planning to be among the government organisations through which every organisation discussed its plans internally and then submitted them to the planning authority. Within the planning authority, committees from related government organisation were formed to discuss the development needs of the different sectors and accordingly, put plans. Minorities, groups of special needs, people from less advantaged areas, nongovernment organisations, the private sector, and scholars were not involved in the planning process. On the other hand, social media was not utilised in the planning process as it was worried that it may cause unwanted directions in the conversations between the planners and the participants. This of course led to less consideration of the needs and requirements of these groups in the plans, which consequently, led to dissatisfaction from their sides for the amount of attention that was in the projects and outcomes of the plans. The Arab Spring of 2011 jolted the government and ascertained the needs for the common citizens to participate and do their bit for the future of the Sultanate.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
One of the major impacts of the Arab springs is the change of decision makers in the ministries with the appointment of new ministers who are more open-minded and receptive to public views. This is an unprecedented step as the government was previously not used to receiving criticism and feedback from citizens. The Supreme Council for Planning (SCP) was formed with new leadership to start engaging the various stakeholders in several ways. The new strategy adopted a pro-active 2-prong approach in strategic planning was to engage the various stakeholders in the country and seek their requirements and views. The first approach was aimed at face-to-face discussions with the different sectors in the country; while the second approach utilised the social media platforms to interact with the audiences through twitter, Facebook, and convey messages through YouTube and sound cloud. This enables government organisations, policy makers and public officials to better interact with the public, particularly individual citizens, and allows citizens to better express their needs, participate in and influence policy-making; comment on policy implementation; provide feedback on government services (on and off-line services); and file grievances. In the face-to-face approach, teams were sent to all districts and held several meetings with the leaders of tribes, NGO managements, private sector representatives, Omani Women Associations, youth representatives, and different government branch managers. The Symposium for Small Medium Enterprises organised in Jan 2013 was one of the first face-to-face event conducted to engage the various stakeholders. More than 1000 participants representing various segment of the society attended the symposium. The second prong approach is to utilise the media, both traditional and new media to reach out and engage more target groups and segments. This approach transformed all means of media to means of communication. Where symposium and face-to-face meeting could only reached out to limited number of people, the media especially social media linked the rest of the groups. For example during the Symposium live discussions from Tweeter were responded with the participants with more than 1200 tweets per day received. On Facebook, 3,241 posts on the wall of the symposium during that period. But the big number was from the YouTube channel with more than 30k viewers during Symposium. This clearly indicated the power of social media to engage the target audience. YouTube channels are used to convey government messages to the public, informing them of the progress in a clear and transparent manner. Solicit public views, respond to public queries, display public views and convey decisions which were based on public views and feedback. In addition, using social media network, polls were directed towards people to vote and choose between alternatives. Hashtags were directed towards extracting responses and participation as well as feedbacks from the public. All responses were registered and then directed to the concerned teams to take into account the views of the public in the plans. The SCP team also met with the Shura Councils, State Councils and the Municipal Councils to seek their views and information. Based on the various approaches, the SCP team collate all the findings and recommendations into a report and presented them in a National Policies Symposium held at the end of the year. The first of such symposium was held on Dec 2013. It brought together the findings of the report, state councils members, NGOs, public and private sector to discuss the report, average about 300 participants. Open hastaggs called Social Polices to obtain feedbacks from the general public – live broadcasting during the symposium. The outcome of the Symposium will be the recommended activities for Oman 9th National Development plan.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The creativity and innovativeness of the initiative are expressed in the following ways: - The initiative directed the minds of the public from criticising the plans and planners into working along with them to provide a better outcome. - It also, through opening the social media platforms, increased the belonging towards to process rather than confronting it. - It was also innovative by creating a loop of thousands of participants in an open brainstorming session which could have been impossible to do in any other way. - Visiting people in their various regions, made them value the initiative and respond to it positively. - Social media tools are used to extract ideas from various target segments in which participants are encourage discussing and exchanging views in a civilised and organised manner. Afterwhich, they assist the government to determine the priorities which should be included into the national development plans. In so doing every segment of the society are involved in the national development plan. - With the advent of social media network and instant information phenomena especially after the Arab Spring, there is a need for clear and transparency in dealing with criticism and issues within in the country. Hence, this initiative become an institutionalised mechanisms to channel the demands and views of citizens in a consultative manner which led to more effective government policymaking and implementation as well as holistic and “horizontal” approaches to public service delivery and management.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
In 2012, the Supreme Council for Planning (SCP) gathered expertise in different fields of SME and public and societal relations to initiate a comprehensive experience of joint planning and decision-making practice. 2. In December 2012, social media platforms were first utilised to involve the public and other sectors in planning for the symposium and in taking decisions of which to be covered in the symposium. 3. January 2013, the first actual interaction between 1000 people gathering in a symposium and thousands more people that were not physically attending to talk and exchange ideas and views about certain topics. 4. Early in 2013, the social media platforms were designated to the SME Authority and new accounts were created for SCP in 2013. During the same period, visits started to the different Omani districts to meet people and discuss plans and views and to encourage their participation in the process in a project named (The Social Policies). Within this project, teams visited all the districts of the Sultanate and met representatives of all stakeholder groups to discuss their views, requirements and needs. 5. Later in 2013, the Social Policies project was directed towards organising a symposium to discuss all the outcomes of the visits to the districts as well as present all the interactions collected through social media. Simultaneously, another project named (The Musandam Strategy for 2040) was initiated and used the same methodology in an attempt of examining the transferability of the project and its ability to suit different purposes. 6. In 2014, the project is still running and the chairperson of the community relations was assigned a chairperson for the Symposium of Education in Oman (The Way to the Future) which discussed five of the major Educational projects and initiatives comprising the Strategy of Education 2040, the Reform of the Omani Education System and others. The choice of the chairperson of this project to lead the media team for the symposium aimed at implementing the same approach to involve the public and different stakeholders to participate from beyond the boundaries of the symposium dome which witnessed the participation of more than 600 attendees from all groups of stakeholders and national sectors. Please see implemented plan for details.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Oman administratively is divided into 11 governorates and each governorate is divided into provinces or wilayats. This initiative that was led by the Supreme Council for Planning visited all the governorates. The participants comprised the SCP employees, the Governorates’ governors, representatives of Ministries of Education and Higher Education, NGOs, the private sector, academics, entrepreneurs, and leaders of tribes, regional government employees, consultants, media, women associations, women home trading, and students. SCP reached out to every strata of the country and engaged them in SCP decision making processes for the development of the new 5 year economic plans.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The initiative was based on actual visits to the regions and districts as well as utilisation of the virtual world or social media network. The HE Office of the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Planning oversees the implementation and management of the social media network and the Media Department. While the visits and face-to-face events were conducted by the Directorate General of Planning and Development Department. The cost of managing the social media network and analysis was about 45k Omani Rials (117k USD).

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Engaging the various stakeholder in decision making policies of the country – With the dual-prong approach, every strata of the society are actively engaged by SCP to gather their views, feedback, opinions and requirements. In 2013, a total of 9 visits were conducted to all the governorates in Oman. The SCP team met the Walis (governors) and all stakeholders and seek their lists of projects and initiatives that they would like to see implemented in their respective region. The main areas of concerns are mainly in developing the region economically, better social and economic infrastructures, more support for NGOs charitable work in the governorates. In this manner, these groups would inevitably supports the findings and recommendations in the Social Policies document as they are now able to air their views and seen their feedbacks acted upon by the relevant agencies. b. Advocate transparency and accountability in government decision making process – The use of social media tools denotes the changes in government strategy and their willingness to discuss pertinent issues and face criticism from the citizens openly. This is indeed an unprecedented steps and a positive step for a consultative government. For example, 90% of the findings and recommendations from the SME Symposium held in Jan 2013 have been successfully implemented by end Oct 2014. Additionally, one of the most active and critical critic in Oman has 60k followers on his Tweeter account. When he spoke positively about the symposium and government sincere efforts in engaging the citizens, he and his followers became ardent supporters of the government efforts and policies. c. Formulations of strategic national policies by the people for the people – 3 main projects have been completed with the use of this initiative while others are in process: the completed projects are: the Social Policies Document in which the 9th Oman National Development Plan will be developed and implemented, the Musandam Strategy 2040, and the documents of the Education strategy and reform. d. Formation of an authority responsible for the development of SME - After the success of the SME Symposium in Jan 2013, SME tweeters become a permanent feature for online participants and discussions. The Public Authority for the Development of Small Medium Enterprises was also established in 2014 which addressed all the concerns regarding entrepreneurship in the country and implements all the findings of the symposium.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Direct management of the communication with the public was closely observed to maintain positive results of the implementation as well as measuring the interactions of the public through social media. Regular monitoring of the online discussion, feedback and analysis are conducted from the various social media site. Reports from all these activities are carefully analysed, synthesised and evaluated so that more can be done to address the citizens concerns in a more pro-active manner. Criticisms from public on social media are also monitored and remedial actions are taken. This allows the relevant parties to become pro-active in providing the needs and requirements instead of being reactive to problems and demands.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
a. Scepticism by the citizens and stakeholders - The main obstacles were initially the ability to convey the message to the public that their views are appreciated and that whatever they would present will be taken into consideration. Many thought that this initiative was just another of their political gimmicks and lips services. This was addressed by the frequent assurances that all that is provided from their parts will be considered in addition to reflecting the views transparently. We also maintained open dialogue with active social media personnel through whom they started to view the process clearly and valued the intentions. The symposiums and the modified documents were also proofs that the involvement was valued and the views were taken. b. Organising the face-to-face meetings and events were tedious and time consuming and required lots of resources and co-ordination with many parties and stakeholders. However, after the first events, all the preparations are now compiled as a standard procedure and they become much more streamlined and efficient as more such events were organised over the years. c. Social media challenges- it took quite a bit of time for the government apparatus to learn how to utilise social media to meet their needs and requirement. After trainings and discussions with social media experts and bringing an expert onboard, SCP was able monitor the use of the various social media tools in preparations for the next national economic plan.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The impact of the initiative was and is still very high. a. Winning Trust from the citizens - People are now a lot easier into providing their views with trust that they would be considered as well as they spread the idea and encouraged those who were reluctant to take part and participate positively. There are people who used to criticise the whole process, this criticism is now a lot less and the positive attitude has been clearly increasing. b. With input from the citizens, SCP representing the government planning apparatus is able to develop more relevant and better plans to meet the needs of the people in tandem with the economic development of the country. More comprehensive plans were produced and better representation of the society’s needs was reflected. Clearer needs and requirement were identified as well as gaps in the planning where highlighted and rectified when planning for the new national development plan. c. The ability to garner more loyalty to the plans and decisions encouraged by the feeling that the public has been listened to and have been considered a key player in the long term vision for Oman. Several political and ideological disagreements were eliminated by the sharing of the ideas and extraction of thoughts especially through the use of social media network, d. Embracing technology and the power of social media to engage the target group. Government no longer view social media in unfavourable ways. Instead, they are now able to harness its power and transform them into effective communication means. Through the use of social media the government is able to reach out to the target group by conveying the message, soliciting feedback on government policies, prioritise plans and implement them effectively and efficiently with full support of the citizens and target group. Hence eradicating challenges and obstacles along the way. e. Effectively engaging the youth group through social media network – Oman has more than 650k social network users especially on FaceBook, Tweeter and YouTube and 70% of such users are below 30 years old. This is definitely the most suitable platform to engage the youth and gain their support in national policies issues. A good example was during the SME Symposium; more than 30k viewers watched the proceedings in YouTube and posted their comments and views online. f. Collaborative decision making process - These initiatives provided great outcomes and most importantly it set the stage for government transparency in decision making process. This initiative brought about considerable improvement in government services because they conveyed the right message to the right audiences in the right place and time. This is achieved through enhances responsiveness of government to the demands and needs of citizens based on the dual approach in engaging them. The inclusion of the views of concerned sections of the community in public affairs and demonstrates openness that SCP team had done through consultative mechanisms using both face-to-face meetings and social media sites with the public. Public involvement with all its required precautions has to be considered seriously in all cultures simply because they provide wider perspectives as well as build loyalty. Media also can go along with physical implementation of projects and initiatives. Media can facilitate a lot of complex issues in the current world in which change is rabidly happening and knowledge society is a concept of the 21st century.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
This initiative which comprised a dual-prong approach is definitely sustainable. The same methodology was applied by the Council of Education in Oman in the Symposium of Education evidently proof that the initiative is becoming a culture that takes its place within the Omani society gradually. The Omani example was also presented early last year in UN conference for this initiative in Bahrain. We have also noticed that some of the neighbouring countries have adopted the initiative after that presentation with partial modification In addition the modified practices by some of the neighbouring countries assure the ability of the initiative to take different forms and address different issues.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
a. Leadership by example – SCP has to lead the rest of the government apparatus in creating an open and transparent platform in which citizens and government can interact and collaborate in an effective decision making process. It was very difficult initially as it required a complete change in mindset of the government employees in order for them to accept criticisms and act in an accountable manner. So the regular meetings with stakeholders helped in facilitating this mindset change and this would go a long way in transforming the rest of the government agencies. b. Engaging the youth – the youth is perhaps the most vocal of government policies and activities. It is very important for the SCP team to read every single tweets, comments and feedback and to analyse them which were very tedious. With the use proper analytic tools, such information could be easily highlighted and acted upon. c. Transforming the traditional media – with the rise of social media, traditional media became less relevant and important. SCP media team had to transform the way television and radio programmes as well as newspaper reports were utilised. To create the hype around the Symposiums, special TV and Radio programmes were broadcasted along with responding on live TV or radios some of the key comments from Tweeter or Facebook concerning the issues at hand. The newspaper carried special articles on the discussions that took place during the event. Most important was the level of transparency in reporting the news and discussions including serious criticisms. d. Multiple issues and problems brought out during the discussions - By engaging the stakeholders and citizens in the planning process, it enhances loyalty to the plan and self-actualisation and supporting the initiative. It also facilitates the process of engaging the people with the right stakeholders to solve their problems and issues in each governorate. Today, national planning has become a national wide phenomenon instead of just a silo engagement, champions identified and support the various cause. e. The need to balance the discussion – SCP had to remain neutral and led the public feedback to the right direction in order to balance the public feedback. The team had to remain neutral, not taking any side in discussions, no personal discussions and had to very careful to choose the right word to convey the ideas and the message. This required lots of patience, practice and diplomacy.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Supreme Council for Planning
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Hilal Alshidhani
Title:   Dr.  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat

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