Regardless of “I” or “We”, Everyone Participates

Yesterday we went to a lecture series at the University of Seoul. While we were only attending that day, the series itself is a week-long seminar focusing on Seoul as a case study for policy management. In addition to our humble group of five, there were also MBA students from Britain, and scattered universities in the US including UGA students (yay!). The two primary lectures we attended were on the budget for the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Seoul’s Welfare policy.

Now, while these subjects are not our typical areas of interest or study, that doesn’t mean they were completely irrelevant to us. Instead of just memorizing facts and getting lost within budget numbers or descriptions of different welfare programs, we were identifying communications issues and processes that were subtly present during the presentations.

I found myself jotting down notes on how they could use branding and public relations in their efforts to change the population’s negative mindsets towards disabilities because these mindsets are preventing individuals from accepting disability aid. Or whether or not their use of citizen community meetings to establish parts of the city budget could be classified as a type of crowdsourcing. During breaks in between lectures the cohort would go over communication topics such as whether or not major corporations reluctance to partner with Seoul’s city government on certain programs meant that corporate social responsibility isn’t a primary concern for Seoul citizens, or if it just showed that CSR takes on a different form in Korea. So one of the good take-away’s from this lecture series as the chance to practice identifying where communications niches exist within both private and public sectors and deciding which communication strategies would work best for those niches.

For example, discussions on welfare can range from extremely intense and heated to lackluster and dull, but Korea’s primarily aging population added a certain layer of seriousness to the second lecture we attended. Korea’s population is aging fast and efforts until recently to increase and improve preparedness had been going very slow. The representative from the Seoul Metropolitan Government outlined several welfare programs in currently in use and development. These ranged from aiding senior citizens in getting jobs to healthier daily living. What was interesting was how he described the way SMG wanted South Korea to quickly move past becoming a “welfare state” to being a “welfare community”, where the aged population is able to actively participate in the levels of the welfare process.

The participatory culture in Seoul is something you can’t help but know and experience. We visited Gyunbokgung Palace over the weekend and were treated to a free tour by two middle school girls who were student volunteers and spoke near flawless English. During our meeting at Seoul City Hall part of our roundtable discussion focused on the implementation of social media policies for the government; the process included constant back and forth two-way communication with the citizen public, both online and offline. A Seoul Wiki exists which acts as an encyclopedia about Seoul and recent changes in the city, which is continuously developed by Seoul citizens. And used as a platform for reporting any budget problems.

What these examples all show is how Seoul citizens are actively participating in their communities, most prevalently for the benefit of their city. We knew that South Korea is traditionally a collectivist culture, Now that I can recognize how this kind of culture actually presents itself within Korean society, it makes it easier to identify which kind of communication strategy would work best for connecting with target publics.

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