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Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in the Middle East and North Africa Region

Franck Bousquet's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français

Time to move forward

Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in Middle East and North Africa Region Citizen Engagement (CE) is a means to empower citizens and enable them to participate—constructively and effectively—in public decisions. Since January 2011, citizens in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) have asserted their rights for a more inclusive state – a state willing to broker a new social contract that better reflects the aspirations of ordinary citizens who seek equitable progress. The ongoing transformation is challenging governments, but also development partners’ usual approaches to development and consultation. People across the Region are calling for a more inclusive process. In response, the World Bank is piloting several initiatives that support several governments to mainstream citizen engagement, either in the context of Bank funded projects or at the country level. While citizen engagement is clearly important, it has yet to be broadly integrated into development projects. As we move forward on this important agenda, a few principles need to be kept in mind, including, first,  focusing on institutions that “close the feedback loop” that should remain at the core of the CE process; and second, setting up a rigorous impact evaluation framework to allow decision makers - and development partners - to learn from pilot initiatives. Focusing on ‘how’ as much as on ‘what’ is important for success

What is - and is not - Citizen Engagement

Citizen engagement (CE) refers to transparent and effective processes for greater citizen voice and participation in the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programs and projects. It includes mechanisms to improve accountability of governments and service providers, and increase the development impact of policy and project interventions for all citizens. This is known as “closing the feedback loop”. Citizen Engagements cover a wide spectrum of interventions. They can include community-based monitoring systems, citizen satisfaction surveys and other consultative or participatory interactions that solicit feedback between beneficiaries, service providers, governments and development providers.

Opportunities for citizens to participate are not themselves sufficient to improve the quality of decisions or operations on the ground. Citizen engagement is more than public communication or consultation: it is about peoples’ participation that has direct effects on public policies or investments by Governments (national or local) or service providers.

Citizen engagement is not a new concept, but is vitally important in today’s Middle East and North Africa Region. Collecting feedback from people affected by projects is common place across donors or government-funded projects.  Mobile phones (especially in MENA), and other types of  Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) are one of several tools available to collect people’s feedback. Whether by phone or in person, institutions need to “close the feedback loop” by putting ordinary citizens as drivers of the CE process.

The importance today of citizen engagement in MENA

Throughout the Region, people are advocating today for greater inclusion and innovation. Recent political and economic transitions demonstrated that government outreach to civil society is critical to building confidence and trust. In a post-revolutionary environment of raised expectations, new governments have an opportunity to interact more constructively with citizens and stakeholders across society. Such engagement should be supported by mechanisms for genuine dialogue. When implemented effectively, citizen engagement initiatives bring new voices into the decision-making process.

Walking the Talk

Several Bank funded operations plan to integrate key elements of citizen engagement. For instance, a proposed Iraq Transport Corridors Project will facilitate CE through broadband installation along an expressway to enable citizens to receive and share information related to road usage such as travel congestion and closures. A proposed Tunisia Urban Development and Local Governance Project will facilitate CE through a national web platform that will provide public access to municipal-specific budget information and regulations. A highlight is the use of Citizens’ Report Cards at the municipal level to help in the design of new citizen “hotlines” to report municipal service problem concerns. In Yemen, the Maternal and Newborn Voucher Project, includes tools to improve outreach and feedback including billboards and community report cards. A robust grievance redress mechanism will be designed in a culturally appropriate way to ensure the greatest outreach.

The importance of setting up a rigorous evaluation framework

Citizen engagement is an emerging field and case studies are limited. What are the outcome indicators that measure the effectiveness of CE activities in transport, water, or energy? As we move towards greater accountability of government and service providers, it will be important to initiate a proper monitoring and evaluation framework that assesses the impact of pilot activities mainstreaming citizen engagement and learn from those experiences. As recently raised by President Kim, it will be important to pay attention to ‘how to deliver’ rather than simply ‘what to deliver.’ This is the challenge ahead: with effort, and a willingness to listen, the Bank can respond proactively to a region calling for change.