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Community Empowerment

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

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

Integrity Idol: How a reality TV show is changing minds about public service

Roxanne Bauer's picture
In an age when celebrity culture and corruption appear to be omnipresent, it’s quite refreshing to be reminded that there are good people doing good work day in and day out.  These people work in our school systems, hospitals, charities, and as part of government bureaucracy.  Yes, bureaucracy.   

As Blair Glencorse states, “bureaucrats and civil servants can serve citizens in the way that they are supposed to.”  With this in mind, the organization he founded, Accountability Lab, created Integrity Idol, a global campaign run by citizens in search for honest government officials. It aims to “highlight the good people in the system” as way to establish a culture and expectation of honesty and personal responsibility in government postings. Integrity Idol began in Nepal in 2014, spread to Liberia in 2015, and now includes Pakistan and Mali.

The process of selecting an Integrity Idol is participatory from beginning to end. Local teams of volunteers travel across their countries gathering nominations from citizens, hosting public forums and generating discussion on the need for public officials with integrity. From the long list nominees, five are selected in each country with the help of independent panels of experts. These finalists are then filmed and their episodes are shown on national television and played on the radio for a week, and citizens can vote for their favorites through SMS short-codes and on the website. The winner in each country is crowned in a national ceremony in the capital.

Here, Glencorse discusses Integrity Idol back in 2014, when the program was just getting started in Nepal.  Nominations are now open in Pakistan, Nepal, and Mali. To nominate a candidate in one of these countries visit www.integrityidol.org.
 
Integrity Idol: How a reality TV show is changing minds about public service

How to help communities protect their lands

Rachael Knight's picture
Kenya Land Alliance facilitates a meeting
with the community of Chara, in Tana
River county

The scale of the global land grab is staggering. While international actors have made excellent progress establishing complaint boards, issuing principles for responsible investment, and securing commitments from multi­national corporations, these protections do not chart a clear course of action that communities can follow to protect their lands and natural resources before an investor arrives seeking land. 

The problem is that once an investor arrives to “consult with” a community, it may be too late.  After a deal has been made in capital city conference rooms or in clandestine meetings between chiefs and company representatives, communities are forced on the defensive. At this point, all they can do is try to mitigate the negative impacts of investors' plans rather than assertively proclaiming their legal rights, demanding that the investor abide by FPIC principles, and then choosing whether to reject the investment or accept it on terms that ensure that the community benefits and prospers.

Meanwhile, many of the “investors” grabbing land are national or local elites unaccountable to international  institutions  –  the cousin of the President or the nephew  of the Minister – who operate with complete impunity, protected by powerful connections to government, the judiciary and the police. Such individuals do not answer to shareholders or complaint boards, and are not the least bit concerned with principles of corporate social responsibility. If a community’s land claims  are unrecognized or undocumented – and if the community’s leadership is weak or corrupt – the easier it is for these elites to manipulate their power to claim what land they want.

To have a fighting chance against elites’ bad­faith actions, communities must proactively take steps to know and enforce their rights, prevent their leaders from transacting land without community approval, and seek legal recognition of their land claims.  And they must do so before elites and investors arrive. 

Solomon Islanders rising up Jacob’s Ladder of opportunity

Evan Wasuka's picture



Geographically, the capital of Solomon Islands, Honiara, is a hilly city, a maze of ridges and valleys.

In front of me, concrete steps descend 30 meters down the face of a ridge, winding their way down in a gravity-defying manner; nothing else stands on the slope, it’s simply too steep.

The steps are part of a system of footpaths that link communities of thousands of people below to the main public road above.

Over the past 60 years as Honiara has developed, so too have informal settlements. These are often located at the bottom of steep valleys without basic services such as roads, water and electricity.

PPP-powered access to water — and much more

Melvin Tan's picture
Note: This blog entry was adapted from an original submission for the PPIAF Short Story Contest. It is part of a series highlighting the role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in projects and other transformative work around the world.

One of the most salient features of a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement is the flexibility to use out-of-the-box solutions in resolving the many challenges in day-to-day operations. As a result, the PPP setup gives operators the liberty to come up with innovative solutions for more effective and efficient delivery of the most basic services.
 
Location of Laguna Province in the
Philippines. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the Philippines, Laguna Water — a joint venture company formed as a result of a PPP between the Provincial Government and Manila Water Philippine Ventures formerly known AAA Water Corporation — is benefitting immensely from that flexibility since it took over the operations of the province-run water system in 2009. Although primarily tasked to improve the provision of water and wastewater in the three cities of Biñan, Sta. Rosa and Cabuyao — collectively known as concession area — Laguna Water’s sustainable business model allows it to participate on matters related to community development (including job generation), as well as programs centered on health, safety and environmental protection.
 
As a staunch advocate of sustainability, Laguna Water takes pride in having significantly improved access to piped, clean and affordable water to 62 percent of the population of the concession area— a far cry from the 14 percent when it started its operations in 2009. The joint venture’s PPP framework has been instrumental in putting in place water infrastructure that provides easier access and better services to customers. Today, Laguna Water is the biggest water service provider in the entire province, and is also ahead in its service-level targets on coverage, water quality and water loss reduction. 
 
Here are some details about our PPP-empowered approach.

The Accountability Lab: Building a community

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Blair Glencorse of the Accountability Lab discusses the importance of community-driven development and how filmmaking can engage people in accountability goals.

Many organizations and development professionals have found that reaching initial benchmarks is sometimes easier than sustaining them. However, with clear goals, development progress can be sustained in the long-run.

According to Blair Glencorse of the Accountability Lab, setting goals that are context-specific is critical. The Accountability Lab, he says, meets “people where they are, not where we want them to be,” and takes into consideration the varying levels of literacy, numeracy, and other practical skills of their clients when designing a program.

At the same time, a program is only as strong as its supporters so encouraging community members to speak up is equally important.

Taking a holistic approach, the Accountability Lab works with young people in Liberia, training them to create documentaries on issues related to accountability.  The up-and-coming filmmakers then present the documentaries to their communities at film festivals to spread awareness and get people involved in tackling the tough issues.
 
VIDEO: Accountability Lab: building a community

 

Challenges for Community Radio in India's Rural Development

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) talks of challenges emanating from the economy’s transition to a higher growth path, the structural changes that come with it and the expectations it generates. One pertinent challenge in India, in the context of economic growth at the rate of 8%, is the extent of progress towards the multi dimensional process of inclusive growth. Without doubt, the latter should result in lower incidence of poverty, significant improvements in health care, universal access for children going to school and increased access to skilled development.

These parameters are more critical for an estimated 833 million people in India who continue to live in rural areas and a very large proportion of whom, both men and women, are either wholly or significantly still dependent for their livelihood on farm as well as non-farm activities. A plethora of centrally sponsored flagship rural development programs such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) have been given special impetus aimed at building rural  infrastructure and providing basic services with the aim of reducing poverty. These are mandated to be implemented by the provincial governments through institutions of local self governance in the gaze of the well oiled administrative district machinery and increasingly in collaboration with the civil society.

An unprecedented injection of public funds during the 12th Plan Period through decentralized governance, calls for a renewed focus on the dynamics of grassroots empowerment that could enable rural communities to access information about their rights and entitlements made available under these programmes, both by law and policy. This consequently also has implications for accountability in the reach and impact of the public delivery system that the poorest approach. The key question, thus is, what kind of an accessible communication medium, amongst today’s robust social media, should be utilized during the next four years extensively to sensitize and empower the poorest in rural areas in partnership with civil society?  Secondly, what are the governance challenges that need to be identified in the above partnership to make the benefits of the envisaged inclusive growth more transparent, participatory and bottom up?

What’s the Link Between Social Development Practice and Communication? Some Techniques and Approaches

Sabina Panth's picture

In development practices, the process of information gathering and dissemination has remained in the domain of social development.  While the process itself contributes to social development through knowledge transmission and critical consciousness (topic for another blog post), the tools and techniques required for effective use and dissemination of information comes from the communication school.  Yet, rarely do we find social development experts with communication training and vice-versa.   My recent exposure to CommGAP’s work and my decade long experience as a social development professional have impelled me to examine areas where communication and social development are intertwined and where they complement one another.  In this blog post, I wish to sketch an outline of a research work that I wish to undertake on the subject for feedback and suggestions from readers and practitioners in the field.