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Citizen Participation

Citizen Engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations: Really?

Najat Yamouri's picture

Citizen Engagement (CE) mechanisms are most effective when the operating environment is conducive. A well-informed citizenry, an enabling regulatory framework, such as freedom of association, access to information, and petition rights, as well as institutional structures including well-organized media and a dynamic CSO-landscape rooted in communities all play an important role in making CE mechanisms function more effectively.

How about where such conditions are not available—like in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Are there any benefits in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in such situations? Can CE mechanisms still help citizens engage with the state constructively when the state clearly lacks the capacity to respond?

Task teams at the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been grappling with these questions since launching a pilot initiative three years ago to strengthen citizen engagement throughout its operations, responding to an increased demand for voice and participation in the region. The new MENA strategy also put citizen engagement at the center of one of its main pillars, to renew the social contract. Citizen engagement was no longer an option—it had to be integrated across projects even in contexts where institutional capacities were extremely weak and state’s authority was often contested.

Despite the initial trepidation, the actual integration of citizen engagement in fragile situations defied all expectations. True, the absence of conducive environments did pose additional challenges in making public institutions more responsive and accountable. However, these deficiencies were easily compensated for. CE mechanisms filled crucial gaps of state institutions, whether they were non-existent, weak, or compromised, by delegating tasks such as monitoring and prioritization of needs to communities.

Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank

Citizen engagement also helped in some contexts to reinforce positive interactions between the state and citizens. There is emerging consensus among scholars that state legitimacy is enhanced not by service delivery per se but by the opportunities the process provides for citizens to interact with the state positively. And citizen engagement provides exactly that by getting citizens involved in identifying priority needs, registering complaints, voicing disagreements, and providing feedback etc.

In other words, MENA’s experience in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in fragile and conflict-affected situations has highlighted the transformative potential of citizen engagement, not only in improving development results, but also in addressing issues at the heart of fragility and conflict. CE mechanisms tend to empower citizens by giving them the space and channels to hold the state accountable. It facilitates a gradual change in stakeholders’ mindset with citizens realizing that they can influence the quality of services and resource allocations—issues that are typically at the heart of societal tensions.

When citizens engage with government officials, the state becomes visible and citizens gain more knowledge about government processes as well as constraints that affect government performance. They also gain skills that help them better negotiate and communicate with the government in presenting their demands more coherently. Such interactions often tend to strengthen the vertical link between the state and society.

Furthermore, citizen engagement can also strengthen horizontal links in society by increasing face-to-face interaction among community members. This enhances social cohesion by promoting trust across community members and improving social cooperation.  By promoting collective action, citizen engagement activities also engender a sense of community, generating consensus and a common understanding of problems as well as potential solutions. Such collaboration strengthens associational links and helps build social cohesion.

For instance under the Municipal Development Program in West Bank and Gaza, citizens in each targeted municipality participate in planning committees on Strategic Development and Investment Planning. This process allows citizens to voice their priorities, have insights into the budget making process and participate in decision making regarding how resources are allocated and used. While improving the quality of services this process has also increased inter-community collaboration.  

In sum, while implementing citizen engagement activities in fragile situations is inherently challenging and complex, it can foster a constructive state-society relationship by reassuring citizens that procedures are fair, providing more information on constraints, and enhancing their skills in communicating with the government. Citizen engagement can also help strengthen social cohesion by developing a capacity for constructive engagement through cooperation and reciprocity. Our experience has shown that far from considering CE mechanisms in fragile situations as challenging and risky, they should be embraced for their potential to address dynamics that are at the heart of fragility and conflict.

Strengthening citizen engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Yes, really! It is happening in MENA. 
Watch a video, "Citizen Engagement in the Palestinian Cash Transfer Program": English | Arabic

Citizen engagement activities in MENA countries affected by fragility and conflict were supported by the Korean Trust Fund for Economic and Peace Building Transitions.

Connecting the dots for accountability

Brendan Halloran's picture
A Quechua leader addresses the Minister of Health at the 2nd National Conference on Health in Peru.  Photo credit: ForoSalud

In the past decade, efforts to promote more open and accountable governance have proliferated. These endeavors have taken on many shapes and sizes, from international multi-stakeholder initiatives to community-level citizen action, and everything in between. 

Most often, these approaches have sought to leverage elements of transparency and information along with some form of citizen engagement or participation, with the goal of influencing government actions to be more responsive and accountable.  

More voices mean smarter cities

Stephen Davenport's picture
Urban cityscape.  Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

With the ink barely dry on the Sustainable Development Goals, naturally the just-completed Open Government Partnership annual summit focused on how greater openness can accelerate progress toward the goals.
The open government agenda is most closely linked to the ambitious Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which among other targets includes the objective of ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.” Though progress in this area is maddeningly difficult to quantify, evidence increasingly shows that participation, the next transparency frontier, matters to development outcomes. Making the target explicit, it is hoped, will galvanize efforts in the right direction.
There are many issues one could propose to tackle with citizen engagement strategies, but to narrow the topic of discussion, let’s consider just one: enabling smart growth in the world’s exploding cities and megacities.  Estimates suggest that by 2035 most of the world’s extreme poor will live in urban areas.

Why Aren’t Young People Voting in the Tunisian Elections?

Christine Petré's picture

As Tunisia approaches the country’s Presidential elections on November 23, the ‘Arab Spring’ birthplace has a lot to be proud of, having safely wrapped up its first Parliamentary elections since the new constitution was ratified. However, election observers indicate that, as expected, the youth, the revolution’s driving force, remain reluctant to cast their vote. 

Challenges for State Partnership with Grassroots Nongovernmental Organizations in India

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Local participatory development is a strategy that is being deployed by governments in developing countries to achieve a variety of socio-economic goals. These include sharpening of poverty targeting, improving service delivery, expanding livelihood opportunities and strengthening the demand for effective governance. Without doubt, an engaged citizenry involved in achieving these goals, especially in rural hinterlands, could hold the government more accountable.

According to the World Bank there are two major modalities for inducing local participation- community development and decentralization. While the former supports the efforts to bring villages, neighbourhoods or household groupings in the process of managing resources without relying on formally constituted local governments, the latter refers to efforts to strengthen village and municipal governments on both the demand and supply sides.

However, what is critical for effective as well as inclusive governance is a state- nongovernmental organization partnership wherein the ‘demand side’ enables citizen participation through access to information and empowerment. Further, that it fosters outcome oriented mechanisms for deliberative decision making at the grassroots.  

Making All Voices Count – Promising New Initiative (and Source of Funding)

Duncan Green's picture

A big new initiative on citizen voice, accountability etc was launched last week. OK it’s a bit obsessed with whizzy new technology, and light on power analysis and politics, but it still looks very promising, not least because it is being run by three top outfits – Hivos, IDS and Ushahidi. It is also a potential source of funding for work on accountability, whether programmes, research or campaigns – applications close 8 November.

Here’s the blurb from the website:

Making All Voices Count is a global initiative that supports innovation, scaling-up, and research to deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness.

This Grand Challenge focuses global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions, including those that use mobile and web technology, to ensure that the voices of citizens are heard and that governments have the capacity, as well as the incentive, to listen and respond.

Quote of the Week: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“When talking with young leaders in Brazil and elsewhere, I like to tell them this: Even when you are discouraged with everything and everyone, don’t give up on politics. Participate! If you do not find in others the politician you seek, you may find him or her in yourself.”

- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A Brazilian politican who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011.

Open Government sees Promise after Kenya Elections

Robert Hunja's picture

After an impressive turnout in Monday’s presidential elections, one thing is clear about Kenya: citizens are energized and ready to participate in shaping the future of their country.

Despite concerns of violence, voters in Kenya were undeterred and turned out in historic numbers Monday - over 70% participation - to cast ballots in the country’s first presidential election since 2007.

The remarkable level of participation had election officials calling the turnout “tremendous,” as polling places were kept open hours later than scheduled to accommodate lines that stretched “nearly a mile long.” Voters formed lines at polling places well before 6:00 a.m. when the polls opened, and many waited for up to 10 hours to cast their ballots.

While this election is a significant success, its true impact on the everyday lives of Kenyans will depend of how the new administration governs. Kenyans should be able to participate in the decision-making processes of their new government in as robust of a manner as they did when electing it.

This will be particularly important as Kenya embraces fairly radical decentralization of political and resource management to the county level as mandated by the new constitution. More open and participatory processes will be crucial to maintaining accountability and effectiveness at the county level.

#8 from 2012: How Does Your City Make You Feel?

Darshana Patel's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on April 4, 2012

Cities are often associated with mixed emotions. They can sometimes make us feel insecure, disconnected and lonely, even in a crowd; while, in other moments, they provide the setting for the happiest events in our lives. 

Whether we are conscious of it or not, urban spaces have a huge impact on how people participate in public life. Regular readers of this blog know that the original concept of the public sphere originates from the agora in ancient Greek city-states. The agora was a physical place where people gathered to deliberate and exchange their opinions – a true marketplace of ideas. The modern public sphere has now shifted more into the virtual realm, through various technologies and social media.

#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.