Nearly every week, I read news stories about citizens clamoring for change in governance- citizens who want their voices heard and acted upon. In countries all over the globe, citizen groups are working (sometimes with governments and sometimes against them) to build a more citizen-centric approach to governance. Why? People—ordinary citizens—are at the heart of good governance, and governments are genuinely more effective when they listen to and work with citizens to tackle development challenges.
Engaging citizens can help improve transparency and accountability of public policies, promote citizens’ trust, forge consensus around important reforms, and build the political and public support necessary to sustain them.
As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a series of 10 case studies of Oxfam’s work in promoting ‘active citizenship’, plus a synthesis paper. They cover everything from global campaigns to promoting women’s leadership to labour rights. They are now all finished and up on the website. Phew. Here’s the accompanying blog which summarizes the findings of the exercise (with links to all the papers). Huge thanks to everyone who commented on the draft studies when they appeared on the blog.
1. The right partners are indispensable
Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners. Usually this means local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh). They often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power and will carry on working in the area long after the programme has moved on.
2. Start with the ‘power within’
Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their ‘power within’ – their self confidence and assertiveness – especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building this ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organizations that enabled poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice with which to confront and influence those in power. This approach has led to some impressive progress in what are often the most unfavourable of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Many in Emerging and Developing Nations Disconnected from Politics
In recent years, high-profile protest movements have erupted in several emerging and developing countries, roiling, and sometimes overturning, the political status quo in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Brazil, Thailand and other nations. Millions have demonstrated, and activists have pioneered new forms of online engagement. However, a recent Pew Research Center survey finds that many people in these nations remain relatively disconnected from politics. Although most vote in elections, few take part in other forms of political participation.
Columbia Journalism Review
Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.” It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom.
Ending extreme poverty is achievable, but the World Bank Group cannot do it alone. It needs strategic and meaningful collaboration with governments, the private sector, and civil society partners that have local expertise, experience, and connections.
The Bank Group currently engages with hundreds of civil society organizations (CSOs) every day in various stages and areas of its development activities. How is its engagement efforts perceived by civil society and other stakeholders? Is citizen/civil society engagement a vital ingredient for successful reforms? How can the institution engage more effectively?
Recent data from the annual World Bank Group Country Opinion Survey, with input from over 9,000 stakeholders around the world, shed light on these important questions.
As part of ongoing efforts to better understand the needs of global stakeholders and partners, the Bank Group undertook Country Opinion Surveys in 42 developing countries from July 2013 to June 2014 (as part of an annual program that conducts surveys with opinion leaders in all client countries every three years). 9,255 opinion leaders from government, bilateral/multilateral agencies, civil society, academia, media, and the private sector participated in the survey and shared their views regarding the Bank Group’s work and relationships on the ground.
I joined Facebook in 2007. For years, I would boast that I got all my news from Facebook and the Daily Show, an American satirical television program, which delivers fake news reports. I should be embarrassed to admit this, but perhaps it was inevitable. I certainly didn't feel connected to news sources, or government press services, so Facebook and fake news somehow felt more authentic and trustworthy than the traditional means of accessing information.
Recently, the lack of economic and social opportunities in many urban areas have triggered that the urban poor express a greater demand for a voice in local decision-making that affect their lives. An increasing number of city governments are realizing that open and responsive public institutions are imperative to achieving better and more sustained development results.
Important questions however remain: What are some examples of where the emerging Open Government approach has made a difference in the lives of the urban poor?
Something Is Changing
Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.
The World Bank Group is developing a framework to more systematically mainstream citizen engagement in Bank Group-supported operations with the goal of improving their results. The framework will build on experience from existing efforts and highlight additional context-specific opportunities to engage with citizens and seek beneficiary feedback.
The Bank would like to learn from the wealth of global experience in citizen engagement. Specifically, what works, when, why and how? Please share your experience through this short online survey. The team working on this would very much appreciate your input, which will help inform the framework.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Infographic: The Decline of Global Internet Freedom
Two years after the Internet went dark in protest of a proposed U.S. Internet censorship bill, four out of five people worldwide still don't have access to an uncensored Web. In celebration of the second annual Internet Freedom Day, Golden Frog released an infographic (below) chronicling the worldwide struggle for Internet freedom. "Everything you love about the Internet is at risk," the software firm said, painting a bleak picture of global Web sovereignty. Few countries can claim "mostly unrestricted" access; the U.S., U.K., Australia, and bits of South America, Western Europe, Africa, and Asia (specifically Japan) can freely roam the World Wide Web, without fear of government oppression or censorship. Almost half of the world, however, falls under heavy restrictions READ MORE
Rescuers Sift Through Social-Media Noise to Direct Typhoon Response
Wall Street Journal
In disasters like the typhoon that slammed into the Philippines, sifting through a barrage of confusing and conflicting on-the-ground reports is one of the first problems facing rescue teams. Social-media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can make matters worse. All too often, users recycle what others have posted or retweeted without adding any fresh information. Sorting through all the noise is too much for individual agencies to handle on their own. So Swiss-born Patrick Meier is gearing up to attack the problem with a new approach called social mapping: Using a combination of volunteers and algorithms to filter the chaos and to provide rescue teams with a detailed, data-driven map of what they should be doing, and where. READ MORE
As rapid innovation and adoption of new communications technology sweeps across the globe, one thing is certain: the trend for increasing demand from citizens to have a greater say in public projects. It’s an opportunity and a challenge, depending on how you look at it. The World Bank can do more to step up to the challenge of managing this kind of complexity more smartly. Typically, we are seeing disputes relating to land, water and governance issues. These trends are not going away. So what can we do about it? Well the short answer is—plenty.
“We are witnessing this incredible transformation in the Middle East and North Africa region that is still unfolding,” said Inger Andersen, the World Bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa Region, speaking at an event on innovations for resolving disputes in development in Washington.
“It is a different reality now,” said Andersen. “Hearing the peoples’ voice inside the programs and projects is a major breakthrough for us. The work we are now doing in the region is reaching millions via Twitter, Facebook, and social media outlets. It is a real challenge to ride on the transparency wave across the region while adhering to our policies at the Bank.”