Almost daily, headlines in the world’s leading newspapers are full of examples of public sector failures: public money is mismanaged or outright misused; civil servants are not motivated or are poorly trained; government agencies fail to coordinate with each other; and as a result, citizens are either deprived of quality public services, or must go through a bureaucratic maze to access them.
Dr. Amber N.W. Raile, Dr. Eric D. Raile and Dr. Lori Ann Post present Guide to Generating Political Will and Public Will – PPW Toolkit.
Dealing effectively with social problems requires collective action and coordinated commitment. Those persons most affected by social problems typically constitute weak or powerless constituencies that lack real representation in the halls of power. Consequently, coalitions of stakeholders must make firm commitments if conditions are to improve for the disenfranchised. Helping these immobilized and resource-deprived groups often entails short-run tradeoffs and sacrifices for others in a society, even when social interdependence dictates that sustainable long-run solutions are ‘win-win’ for most or all. Without strong mutual accountability mechanisms, stepping back from the social and policy changes necessary to address these complex issues is simply too easy and too tempting.
Long-term, effective change in complex issue areas typically happens only if the government and key public stakeholders are pushing in the same direction. Political action to address social problems and their deleterious outcomes is not enough to effect large-scale change if opposed or undermined by the public. Efforts originating with the government often coincide with laws that demand change, but not all citizens feel compelled to obey. Similarly, social change efforts driven by nongovernmental entities will flounder if government opposes or refuses to reinforce the change. To achieve success in the fight against adverse outcomes of social problems, the government and large segments of the public must be willing to recognize the problem, understand the problem in a similar way, and agree on solutions.
I heard econ rock star Thomas Piketty speak for the first time last week – hugely enjoyable. The occasion was the annual conference of the LSE’s new International Inequalities Institute, with Piketty headlining. He was brilliant: original and funny, riffing off traditional France v Britain tensions, and reeling off memorable one liners: ‘meritocracy is a myth invented by winners’; ‘It’s difficult to be an honest country in today’s world. Britain used to be an honest country.’
He started with a mea culpa for the lack of attention in his best selling Capital in the 21stCentury to inequality in developing countries. The good news is that he is now putting that right, with research under way on inequality in South Africa, Brazil, the Middle East, India and China. He gave us a preview on the first three.
His overall conclusion? "Official measures vastly underestimate inequality". The most common reason for this is that inequality stats are drawn from household surveys, but samples of households typically miss the few megarich ones, and so underestimate the money at the top. He prefers to use tax and income data, which he has now got access to from governments because of his newfound fame. Even that data doesn’t tell the whole story, as it misses tax evasion, for example, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Right to Information (RTI) laws can be a useful instrument for improving transparency – if the political will for implementation is sustained, and if the broader governance environment provides the enabling conditions for the exercise of the law. A research project that studied the implementation of RTI laws in a number of countries showed that implementation has been very uneven across countries. In some countries, RTI laws had been leveraged effectively for extracting information in a number of important areas, ranging from public expenditures, to performance and procurement, and exposing instances of corruption. In other countries, the existence of an RTI law had little impact in any of these areas, and oversight and capacity building mechanisms had either not been set up, or not functioned effectively.
The findings of the study are not surprising. The implementation gap between de jure and de facto reforms in countries faced with capacity constraints and political economy challenges is well-known. Yet, international agencies have pushed policy reforms without adequate attention to the constraints and challenges of implementation. The pressure to win support and legitimacy with international aid agencies has been an important driver of the adoption of RTI laws. The right has also been recognized in international human rights conventions, and more recently has gained increasing international attention (for instance, the existence of a law is one of the considerations for membership in the Open Government Partnership). Further, pressure from domestic constituencies has also propelled political actors to champion the law. But, once passed, capacity limitations, the erosion of political will, and active resistance have been important impediments to realizing the potential of RTI.
In thinking about global advocacy and the journey of norms in development, a recent article in the July/August 2012 issue of Fast Company by Ellen McGirt caught my attention. The feature story is about a new kind of women’s movement entitled “The League of Extraordinary Women”. This loose network of 60 influential women, mostly Americans, includes artists, academics, business executives, government officials, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists, who are committed to changing the lives of girls and women around the world. The initiatives they have developed focus on specific issues, including education, HIV/AIDS, maternal health, microloans, women’s rights, and mentoring to develop future leaders and entrepreneurs. The list of 60 includes a few high-profile and famous women such as Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.
Deliberations around public budgets can sometimes bring out the worst in parliamentarians but impassioned responses rarely come from citizens themselves. Perhaps it is because budgets come in the form of tomes, with tables upon tables of data and very little context. Even though those tables reflect social services and entitlements that impact us all, simply disclosing this information does not necessarily mean that these documents will be understood or the resources well spent.
The Budget Transparency Initiative (BTI), led by the World Bank’s Social Development Department and funded by the Governance Partnership Facility, has introduced a methodology to disclose, simplify, and analyze budgets at various levels to not only bring this information closer to citizens but also create enabling spaces for them to provide feedback.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011
Originally published on July 20, 2011
Last week, more than 59 governments and 100 civil society groups joined the Government of Brazil and the United States to announce the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Washington, DC. The initiative brings together nation states, civil society, and the private sector to address problems that Governments are unable to solve alone. Rather than seeing citizens and civil society groups as competitors, governments from the North and South asserted that private actors, commercial and non-profit, are essential partners in solving complex social problems. And this requires a new social contract, a shift from eGov to WeGov.
"The most effective citizens are the most versatile: the ones who can cross boundaries. They move between the local, the national and the global, employ a range of techniques, act as allies and adversaries of the state, and deploy their skill of protest and partnership at key moments and in different institutional entry points."
This quote and other interesting nuggets come via a new report on citizen engagement from the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Citizenship DRC) at the UK's Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Thought-provoking and based on a decade of research spanning 150 case studies in nearly 30 countries, the new report contains a wealth of organized thought on both the changing role of citizens in development and the shifting sands of citizen-oriented development policy. In fact, I found myself highlighting so many different portions, I'm just going to split this post in two.
The 9th of December the UN celebrates the anti-corruption day. It is clear that this is a global issue and a cross-cutting one. It concerns virtually all countries, even if in different degrees, and it can be found in all sectors of the development arena; e.g. health, rural development, agriculture, sanitation and many more. Corruption is not an issue that concerns only the rich; on the contrary, the poor are those who suffer the most from corrupt practices, in a number of ways. First of all, corruption subtracts money from the tax revenues which are the main source of social programmes and services. Secondly, the money the rich pay to corrupt officials are usually passed back as increased costs to consumers, and the poorest ones are the ones that will pay the higher price. Finally, corruption affects not only multimillion deals but spread throughout the social realm like a cancer and I know of bribes asked (and paid) to obtain jobs with a salary of forty dollars a month.