Targeting the Influentials: New Strategy for Connecting People and Reform Policies

May 2010 - May 2012
Milla Mineva, Anna Ganeva and Yana Papazova

The aim of the research project is to discover new channels, not simply to communicate new policies, but to find possibilities for citizens’ engagement with public policies in the fields of education, health, unemployment. Through sociological survey (financed by OSI based on the methodology of Keller & Berry) we will find out who are the Influentials in our society, we will describe their social profile and their opinion on the state of society. This is an opportunity to understand better our society today, but also to find trends shaping our future.
The project objective is to influence the public debate changing its scope and engaging new voices, those of the Influentials; to make the Influentials publicly influential. The Influentials will be the sounding board for checking which policies are reasonable and potentially able to engage citizens. We will conduct consultations with the identified influentials aiming through deliberations to check the support for the existing reform policies in education and health and also to test policy proposals. 
Finally, we will organize one closing conference aiming to present new perspectives in understanding the society, new topics for debate, and new instruments for effective public policies.
Background: Recent economic analyses and forecasts show that economic prospects are not bright throughout the region. Continued recession in Bulgaria in 2010 will increase the social costs significantly. The main risk facing the Bulgarian society is the combination between economic crisis, dysfunctional political system and total mistrust in the elites. This can lead to major crisis of governability.
We need to find new instruments for positive engagement of the citizens. How and whom to address to conduct effective policies? The strategies exploited till now have been to communicate reforms from above; to build consensuses among political, economic and expert elites; to focus mainly on NGO activists as a tool to mobilize the society. Even falling in love with charismatic leaders does not lead to positive civic mobilization and lasts shortly. We need new strategies and tools to engage citizens with formulation and implementation of public policies. Our hypothesis is that an alternative channel for citizen engagement exists: the Influentials . The concept behind Influentials is - citizens are influenced by individuals of their own social group. Thus we are looking for those individuals who horizontally influence their own communities, who are addressed for advices, the first who embrace new ideas and practices. Their opinion today turns into the public opinion tomorrow. We believe the Influentials are a hidden, but trusted, and effective channel to communicate and formulate new public policies and anti-crisis measures.

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