Where is the CRC’s public education campaign?
The Jamaican Constitution forms the backbone of the nation’s legal and societal structures. Consequently, any reform or significant changes to this cornerstone document demands not just our attention but also our engagement. With such a transformative task in its hands, the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) has a vital role in ensuring the public remains informed, educated, and actively engaged.
Recently, motivated by my own curiosity about the CRC’s efforts and approach, I took a deep dive to find a comprehensive synopsis of its work. My quest led me to the official website of the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Here I discovered the minutes of 12 meetings from March 22 to June 21. I cannot say for sure whether the CRC met after the June date.
Scouring through these minutes, one would expect to unearth a detailed communication strategy, laying out how the CRC plans to reach out to the Jamaican people. Disappointingly, this wasn’t the case. While the minutes showed deliberations and discussions, there was a conspicuous absence: a communication strategy was nowhere to be found in the minutes.
However, what was present in abundance were discussions centred around public engagement. From this, it’s evident that public education is on the CRC’s radar, which is commendable. The challenge, though, lies in the ambiguity: How does the CRC plan to convert these discussions into actionable steps? Without a structured communication strategy, the risk of miscommunication, or worse, lack of communication looms large.
In a digital age, characterised by an abundance of information and platforms, the need for a well-defined communication strategy cannot be overemphasised. The public needs consistent, clear, and comprehensive information. Such a strategy doesn’t merely involve disseminating information, but should also focus on actively engaging and involving citizens in the reform process.
Findings from the Minutes of the CRC
After digging through pages and pages of the digital minutes, I came up empty-handed – no clear public engagement strategy. Maybe this strategy was discussed by the public engagement and communication subcommittee. However, no evidence of its strategy was reported to the CRC. Instead, I discovered a series of meetings of the CRC at which members discussed its approach to educating the public about potential changes. During the second meeting, the need for a structured public engagement campaign was highlighted, focusing on three stages: education, listening, and response. While understanding the current system and potential changes was key, direct feedback from the public was also crucial.
By the third meeting, the urgency to start public engagement became clear, with a focus on accurate information-sharing and controlling the narrative. Members also discussed the Jamaica Information Service’s budget for the campaign, with some believing it wasn’t enough.
In the sixth meeting, it was noted that there were delays in rolling out its public engagement plans. A book by Justice David Batts was highlighted as a potential educational tool.
By the seventh meeting there were concerns about ineffective communication of its ongoing efforts. Dr Spence, in subsequent meetings, emphasised the need for speed and better collaboration, mentioning her outreach to various groups and media.
Recommendation for a Comprehensive Public Education Strategy
First, I am recommending the establishment of a dedicated website for the constitution reform process (CRP) to serve as an authoritative and centralised information hub for all Jamaicans. This platform should prominently feature a photo gallery, capturing moments from public engagement events and showcasing the community’s active participation in this transformative journey.
Integral to the website would be a ‘myth-busting’ section, which would meticulously address prevalent myths and misconceptions with factual rebuttals, ensure clarity and dispell misinformation.
Complementing this would be an easily accessible FAQ section, providing clear answers to common queries, elucidating the reform’s nuances, and fostering a transparent and informed discourse among the citizenry.
Second, I’m recommending the development and distribution of informative pamphlets pertaining to the CRP. These pamphlets should provide a concise overview of the CRP, its objectives, and its significance to Jamaica. For the benefit of the public, a section should detail what citizens can expect in terms of timelines, public engagements, and potential outcomes.
Additionally, to further enhance understanding and address common inquiries, a questions and answers section should be integrated, listing frequently asked questions and their respective answers.
Distributing these pamphlets across various touchpoints, such as community centres, schools, and government offices, will ensure that a broad spectrum of Jamaicans can access clear, authoritative, and easily digestible information about the reform process.
Third, I recommend the initiation of a grass roots programme titled Constitutional Reform Reasonings on the Corner (CR-RoC). Recognising that many individuals, especially those commonly found socialising at community corners, may not be inclined to attend formal town hall meetings, it’s crucial to meet them where they are. The CR-RoC would involve trained facilitators engaging with these community members in familiar and relaxed settings and use the Jamaican language to discuss the nuances of constitutional reform in a relatable and accessible manner.
By converting corners into spaces of enlightenment and dialogue, we can ensure that every Jamaican, regardless of their typical venues of interaction, is informed and feels a part of this significant national process. This initiative not only extends the reach of the reform information but also respects and values the input of every citizen, irrespective of their usual engagement preferences.
Lastly, I recommend the integration of an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven chatbot on the CRP website to cater to the digital natives and other tech-savvy individuals within our society. This demographic often seeks instantaneous responses and prefers digital interactions. By introducing an AI chatbot we can ensure that visitors receive immediate answers to their queries, engage in meaningful dialogue about the reform, and easily navigate the nuances of the process.
Additionally, this tool can be programmed to provide personalised information, direct users to relevant resources, and even gather feedback for continuous improvement. As technology becomes an intrinsic part of our daily interactions, leveraging an AI chatbot will not only modernise the CRC’s public engagement strategy but also ensure that the platform remains accessible, interactive, and aligned with the preferences of today’s digital generation.
While the CRC has intentions to engage in public education, an absence of a documented communication strategy is evident from the minutes of its meetings. This failure of the committee has so far led to no robust public education campaign.
Jamaicans should not be passive recipients of constitutional reform, they should be active stakeholders. To effectively play their part, members of the public need the CRC to ensure that its strategies for public education and engagement are clear, accessible, and actionable.
The ideas I’ve given are free, they are my contribution to the committee. It’s time to press the reset button on public education. Over to you, Madam Chairperson. Time to step on it!
Dr Henry Lewis Jr is an associate professor at University of Technology, Jamaica, in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He is also a social scientist and executive life coach. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.