Something Is Changing
Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.
At the heart of the upheavals that swept across the Middle East region during the Arab Spring was the call for more transparent, fair and accountable government. In the aftermath of the uprisings, specialists are left to address the issue of transition to democratic rule. In doing so, they have to answer the following questions: how can we systemize the culture of accountability and democratic governance? How can we channel the popular energy of street mobilization into a powerful institution that keeps duty-bearers in check?
- social accountability
- Social Development
- Middle East and North Africa
- Yemen, Republic of
- West Bank and Gaza
- United Arab Emirates
- Syrian Arab Republic
- Saudi Arabia
- Iran, Islamic Republic of
- Egypt, Arab Republic of
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:
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:
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.
Of all the steps on the World Bank – civil society engagement continuum, policy dialogue has experienced the greatest advances over the years. As highlighted in the latest edition of the World Bank–Civil Society Engagement Review of Fiscal Years 2010–12, this interaction expanded over the past three years via a wide range of issues and events including Food Roundtables, book launches, and CSO conferences. It was the unprecedented number of CSO representatives who attended the Annual and Spring Meetings in recent years, however, which most clearly exemplified the growing intensity of the policy dialogue.
Not many years ago, CSO voices at the Annual Meetings were more likely heard outside the security perimeter protesting a variety of Bank policies. Today, CSOs are coming inside in growing numbers to actively participate in the weeklong Civil Society Program. While only a handful of CSO representatives attended the Annual Meetings a decade ago, by 2011 this number had surpassed 600. CSOs came to dialogue with the heads of the Bank and the Fund, hold bilateral meetings with Executive Directors, engage the media, network with other CSOs, and organize policy sessions. Several participatory methodologies and new events embedded in the Civil Society Program have improved the quality of WB - CSO civil society participation at the Meetings:
The growing number of CSO representatives who attended the Annual and Spring Meetings most clearly exemplifies these intensifying relations. While less than 100 CSO representatives attended the Annual Meetings a decade ago, by 2012 over 600 participated in the weeklong Civil Society Program. The World Bank also held nearly two dozen consultations at the global level on sector strategies, financing instruments, and research studies over the period, conducting more than 600 public consultation meetings throughout the world and gathering the views of some 13,000 stakeholders. The World Bank also continued to actively engage specific constituencies, such as trade unions, foundations, and youth.
The Review also highlights important examples of operational collaboration in the areas of health, education, disaster recovery, and environmental protection. At the country level, innovative joint initiatives were undertaken—such as establishing a regional network on social accountability in Jordan, monitoring World Bank projects in Nigeria, and earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti. The report shows that there was civil society involvement in 82 percent of all 1,018 new projects funded from 2010 to 2012.
“Ghaas Katne Khurkera, aayo joban hurkera…” (A Nepali folk song)
It would be an injustice to my childhood if I said that this song wasn’t a part of my growing up. Even before I knew the title of the TV drama, I knew this song by heart. I, along with my friends, would happily play and sing along to it. This was a famous song from a tele-series played by Nepal’s most celebrated comedians Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya. Like this song, Madan Krishna and Hari Bansha, endearingly abbreviated as “MaHa” has been a household name to most Nepalis, either in Nepal or residing abroad.
They have, however, been different from other Nepali comedians- their comedy stand-ups or dramas have heavy dose of social morals in their highly creative and hilarious skits. After a break of two years, they are now back on TV with one such creation that infuses issues of social accountability with comedy. The tele-drama is titled “Aan” - A Nepali expression for opening mouth – metaphor for eating/misusing government resources.
“The subject is very dry. This is not like soap operas where the characters have highly dramatic lives. We have to heavily rely on artists’ performances as it should be technically sound to fetch audience attention,” says Hari Bansha Acharya, the producer and the actor for “Aan”. “We have previously worked on anti-corruption but this is the first time we are reflecting the real scenario at the village, district and national level. This is a virgin topic for TV and we hope we will be able to bring the kind of result that we are anticipating.”
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.