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Citizen Engagement

Transparency & Social Accountability: Where’s the Magic?

Kate Henvey's picture

Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the basic principle at the heart of International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid, giving citizens in developing and donor countries the information they need to hold their governments to account for use of those resources.

Last week, as Publish What You Fund (PWYF) released their second Aid Transparency Index (ATI), which assesses adherence of the world’s major donors to their IATI commitments, the question turned from one of how institutions performed on the index to one of how aid transparency enables effectiveness, accountability and social change in real terms.

Kicking off the conversation, Duncan Edwards of the Institute of Development Studies challenged the basic assumption that because better data/information is accessible, citizens, governments and institutions will use it in their decision making processes. The common narrative in open development projects is flawed, Edwards claims, it simply cannot be proven that to “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” 

AidData, along with several other voices, countered that while open data is certainly not sufficient to provoke positive change it is a necessary baseline to catalyze better development outcomes. 

Transparency can only lead to greater social accountability if citizens understand what data means and if there is genuine public debate about a country’s development spending. The panelists at the October 24th Brookings Institution launch of the 2013 ATI report suggested how transparency can catalyze positive change:

Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Mwanachi, a Swahili word that means ordinary citizen, is the name of a governance and transparency program that was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development for five years in six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leonne, Uganda, and Zambia. This program is the focus of a new report entitled Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa by Fletcher Tembo, who served as Director of the Mwanachi program since its launch in 2008. The report acknowledges the important role of several actors in in strengthening citizen demand for good governance, including civil society, media, elected representatives, and traditional leaders. At the same time, it challenges common notions of effective citizen-state relations that focus on a preoccupation with actors and actor categories. Instead, it argues that effective social accountability programs should focus on relationships and contextual realties that are driven by 'interlocution processes.' In other words, processes that address the complex web of incentives and actions through actors that are selected for their game changing abilities.

When do Transparency and Accountability Initiatives have impact?

Duncan Green's picture

So having berated ODI about opening up access to its recent issue of the Development Policy Review on Transparency and Accountability Initiatives (TAIs), I really ought to review the overview piece by John Gaventa and Rosemary McGee, which they’ve made freely available until December.

The essay is well worth reading. It unpicks the fuzzy concept of TAIs and then looks at the evidence for what works and when. First a useful typology of TAIs:

‘Service delivery is perhaps the field in which TAIs have been longest applied, including Expenditure Tracking Surveys, citizen report cards, score cards, community monitoring and social audits.

By the late 1990s, moves to improve public finance management the world over led to the development of budget accountability and transparency as a sector in its own right…. An array of citizen-led budget TAIs has developed, including participatory budgeting; sector-specific budget monitoring (for example, gender budgeting, children’s budgets); public-expenditure monitoring through social audits, participatory audits and tracking surveys; and advocacy for budget transparency (for example, the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s Open Budget Index). Many of these initiatives focus ‘downstream’ on how public funds are spent; less work focuses on T and A in revenue-generation, although this is growing with recent work on tax justice.

Media & Information Literacy is Gaining Momentum

Johanna Martinsson's picture

In recent years, Media & Information Literacy (MIL) has been increasingly recognized as a critical element in good governance and accountability. This is partly due to the rapid growth in technologies, which has contributed to a changing media landscape and new forms of citizen engagement.  To thrive in this environment, citizens need the critical abilities and communicative skills to effectively access, analyze, and evaluate information.  These skills will help citizens make informed decisions and form opinions that can impact their daily lives and the communities they live in, as well as minimize risks associated with the very same technologies, such as security, safety, and privacy. With its empowering effect, MIL can foster a citizenry capable and aspired to demand better services, hold leaders accountable and engage as active stakeholders in governance reform. Yet, MIL has struggled to gain the momentum needed to become part of the development agenda. However, this might be about to change.

Will Midterm Evaluations Become the Dinosaurs of Development?

Milica Begovic's picture

I argued a few months back that information we get from story-telling is fundamentally different to what we get from polls and surveys. If we can’t predict what’s coming next, then we have to continuously work to understand what has and is happening today. (See: Patterns of voices from the Balkans – working with UNDP)

Methods we’re all used to using (surveys, mid-term evaluations) are ill prepared to do that for us and increasingly act as our blindfolds.

Why stories?

As I started working through the stories we collected, this question has become even stronger.

To give you some background, we started testing whether stories could help us:

Open Data, Open Policy: Stepping Out of the Echo Chamber

Milica Begovic's picture

Recently, I participated in several events that look at the space between empowered government (gov2.0) and empowered citizens (citizen2.0 both individuals and civic groups and NGOs).

One discussion was around tapping into networks of empowered citizens clustering around different issues for open policy making (Masters of Networks, Venice) and another on getting human-readable stories from data (Open Data on the Web, London).

Then, there was a question on how open data and modern technologies can improve environmental sector governance (#ICT4ENV, Cetinje), or strengthen political transparency and accountability (Point 2.0, Sarajevo).

Different countries, different venues, different leading institutions – but a common set of issues that I struggle with and that, I hope, will emerge as topics in some future events (one of those, shaping up to be the policy making 2.0. deluge in Dublin, is coming up this month).

Is It Time for a New Paradigm for "Citizen Engagement"? The Role of Context and What the Evidence Tells Us

Simon O'Meally's picture

The meteoric rise of "citizen engagement"

Almost all development agencies promote some form of citizen engagement and accountability, often framed as 'voice', 'demand-side governance', 'demand for good governance' or 'social accountability'.   The current World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, recently put it that, "citizen voice can be pivotal in providing the demand-side pressure on government, service providers, and organizations such as the World Bank that is needed to encourage full and swift response to citizen needs".  There has, in turn, been a mushrooming of useful operational guidance on different "tools" for social accountability - i.e. steps, inputs and methodologies - that guide discrete interventions, ranging from citizen score cards to participatory expenditure tracking.

One might, however, be forgiven for thinking that some of the debates on citizen engagement need an injection of realism; especially as contextual factors can make or break a "tool's" implementation.  A review of experience to date would be one good place to start.

Policy Makers and Network Science: Time to Bridge the Divide

Milica Begovic's picture

Last week I attended Masters of Networks, an event that analyzed how a greater understanding of networks can be used to make better policies, especially in the digital era. Many questions built in policy making both from the procedural and substantive perspective involve networks dynamics:

  • How does information spread?
  • Who participates in decision making?
  • How do we collect evidence?
  • Who influences behavior change?

Alberto Cottica, the mastermind behind the event, had a vision of putting two groups of people who traditionally don’t mingle much in the same room – policy makers and network scientists – to see what emerges as a result. Policy makers presented a variety of policy problems, and network scientists helped better frame the problems and address them through applying principles from network theory.

I had the privilege of presenting my perspective of what policy making in the digital era looks like (slides will be put on Slideshare soon). I will summarize below the main points from my intervention, but, more interestingly, reflect on feedback from the group.

My presentation consisted of three elements:

Connecting Social Media to the Policy Cycle

Jude Hanan's picture

Here are some fact and figures:

- 62% (that’s six in ten) of online citizens now use social media.

- Facebook has 1 billion registered users and is still growing, mostly in developing countries.

- China has the most people online – 456 million (only 34% of population).

- And nearly 1 in every 5 minutes spent online is now spent on social networking sites.

The business case for using social media in communications is clear: Social media is faster, often cheaper and, for the most part, offers a better way to connect. For communicators, social media is (or should be) an intrinsic part of every campaign or project.

#10 from 2012: Technology Drives Citizen Participation and Feedback in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Tiago Carneiro Peixoto's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on May 29, 2012

A common theme in the field of open government refers to the use of technologies as a means to foster citizen engagement. A closer examination, however, shows that most initiatives facilitated by information and communication technologies (ICT) have been characterized by low levels of citizen engagement.

In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande do Sul stands out as an exception. For instance, in a recent web-based policy crowdsourcing initiative supported by the ICT4Gov Program of the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the Open Development Technology Alliance (ODTA), “Governador Pergunta” (“The Governor Asks”), citizens were invited to co-design solutions to address health challenges in the state. The process has generated over 1,300 proposals, with more than 120,000 votes cast on the prioritization of the different proposals.


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