As we enter the last week of the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement— developed here at the Bank in partnership with London School of Economics, Overseas Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS— let’s explore the central question posed in the course: Is Citizen Engagement a Game Changer for Development?
In a blog following the London MOOC event, Duncan Edwards argued the need to think hard about the approaches we adopt in advancing citizen engagement to address development challenges.
Duncan Green recently spoke at the launch of a MOOC about Citizen Engagement, put together by the World Bank, LSE, IDS, ODI, Harvard and Civicus, and offers a review of the discussion and the sceptisim that citizen engagement can solve everything.
MOOCs are taking over. If you aren’t yet excited about Massive Open Online Courses, you should be. When I was first getting interested in development the only way to bridge the gap between reading the news and coughing up squllions for a Masters was to cycle through the rain every Tuesday evening to London’s City Literary Institute to sit at the feet of Jenny Pearce and her course on Latin America (I ended up taking over from her, and writing a book based on the course). These days I could stay warm and dry, and listen online to development gurus from around the world. The numbers signing up are colossal – Jeff Sachs reportedly has 14 million students for his MOOC on sustainable development.
As often happens, the initial surge came in the US, but it’s crossing the Atlantic. Last week I spoke at the LSE at the launch of a MOOC on ‘citizen engagement’, put together by the World Bank, LSE, IDS, ODI, Harvard and Civicus (a sort of crowd-sourced MOOC – even more funky). We spoke a few days after the MOOC went live, by which time 14,000 people had signed up from all over the world.
The discussion was pretty good and although no-one was against citizen engagement (CE), they were strikingly sceptical about the hype around it – no-one is drinking the participation-will-solve-everything koolaid any more. Some snapshots:
If you maintain even a nodding acquaintance with the contents of the global financial/business press one of the things you notice is as follows. They all promote, consciously or unconsciously, a set of policies that ‘responsible’ governments should follow if they want to stay within The Grid. And The Grid is the set of rules and norms that allow access to pools of global capital. Stay within, and money flows into your country; get kicked out, and money dries up. Now, for countries facing financial crisis, or those simply concerned about growing inequality, the worries about the devastating impact of austerity are real. Yet, the masters of the universe who control The Grid don’t give two hoots about equity, jobless youths or hungry pensioners. They simply say to these countries: “Do what you need to do to stay within The Grid or you are going to find your economy, your country languishing in the wastelands. Your call.”
Is citizen engagement a game changer for development? The World Bank, in partnership with London School of Economics, Oversees Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS, explores this question in a free 4-week course on Citizen Engagement, hosted by Coursera.
In just the last few years, we have witnessed calls from all over the world, from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to the Open Government Partnership, for governments to become more open, accountable and responsive by deepening their engagement with citizens. As a result, interest in citizen engagement programs for effective development has gained momentum. This MOOC has been developed to explore what is meant by citizen engagement and how it can be used to enhance development impact.
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.