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.
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. , 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, 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.
As a college sociology professor, I am expected to inspire and stimulate my students through lectures, class discussions and individual and group assignments, as well as my professional behavior. Also, I am obliged to evaluate my students by giving them papers, tests and quizzes, sometimes projects. In my classes, we explore fundamental sociological concepts, methods, and theories used to interpret the patterns of human society. We emphasize on the connection between theory and practice in examining social interaction, cultural diversity, social structure, and current global issues. Overall, my goal is to train my students to become better citizens of our global village. In sociology we focus on “WE,” instead of “I.”
At the end of each semester, when the final bell has been rung, I like to see what impressions, if any, were made on our students. In the academic process, the students have the opportunity to evaluate the class, and I, as a teacher, have the opportunity to grade their work.
However, from time to time there are also some unexpected rewards for a college sociology professor that occur when students apply the teachings to inspire the teacher and their classmates. This happened to me at the end of the fall semester of 2014. At that time, one of my female students, Faith Muthiani, volunteered to make a short video clip as her final class assignment. I was puzzled and a bit worried as it would be her first video production. The result was mind boggling. When she set up the equipment for the presentation, we could all tell from her body language that she put her heart, mind and soul into this project. She entitled her work: “Your Voice Matters,” and it turned out to be something extraordinary, something deeply moving.
If you’re interested in advancing sustainable development for the world’s poor, pause a moment to reflect on these two quotes:
“the very understanding of development has dramatically shifted, from a narrow focus on economic transformation (summarized by either growth rates or industrialization) to a more holistic view.” (pg. 4)
“Effective state structures have always depended on deliberative spaces that include both key actors within the state apparatus and powerful private interlocutors. In the 21st century, deliberation has become even more crucial, because the state faces a set of tasks that require bringing in deliberation in a way that goes well beyond established traditions.” (pg.51)
These ideas come from a new book, Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies, available in the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository. The book marries two fields that rarely intersect: deliberative democracy and development studies. The study of deliberation emerged as a critical area of study over the past two decades while the field of development has seen growing interest in community-led development and participation premised on the ability of groups to arrive at decisions and manage resources via a process of discussion and debate. Despite the growing interest in both fields, however, they have rarely engaged with one another– until now.
Patrick Heller and Vijayendra Rao edited the book, with essays from leading professors and economists working in the fields of international studies, sociology, and political science.
Often it is the simple things that make major impacts, and engaging citizens for better development results is a very simple concept. However, at a time when participatory approaches such as crowdsourcing, feedback, transparency and citizen engagement are increasingly popular and seemingly effective, we are bound to ask if engaging citizens does in fact improve development results. As simple as the concept of citizen engagement is, designing and implementing successful citizen engagement approaches and interventions in practice is especially complex.
Is citizen engagement a game changer for development? The World Bank, in partnership with London School of Economics (LSE), Oversees Development Institute (ODI), Participedia and CIVICUS, explores this question in a free 5-week course on Citizen Engagement, hosted by the World Bank Group Open Learning Campus, envisioned as a single destination for development learning.
The course provides a holistic overview of citizen engagement through interactive videos, resources, and activities. It explores underlying theories and concepts of citizen engagement, examines the role it can play in improving policymaking and public service delivery, and investigates the impact of new technologies, particularly in developing countries.
It is several days after the earthquake in Nepal. A small group of Nepali women sit on the side of the road in a village in Dhading district, 26 kilometres from Kathmandu. In this village, many people lost their homes and several died in the earthquake.
The women are listening attentively to a radio programme, Milijuli Nepali meaning ‘Together Nepal’. After it finishes, one of the women starts asking the others questions: What did they think to the programme? Did they learn anything? What else would they like to hear to help them cope in the aftermath of the earthquake? The women start discussing some of the issues raised around shelter and hygiene, they like the creative ideas suggestions, particularly as they comes from a source they like and trust - the BBC. They give the researcher their ideas for future programmes and she writes them down.
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on January 08, 2014
Inspired by Jeremy Adelman’s wonderful biography of Albert Hirschman (Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013), I’ve read and reread Hirschman’s masterpiece, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, (Harvard University Press, 1970) and his follow up essay “Exit, Voice, and State” (reprinted in The Essential Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013). Although Hirschman produced these works over 40 years ago, his simple model of flight (“exit”) or resistance (“voice”) in the face of unsatisfactory economic, political or social conditions remains highly relevant for policymakers and development practitioners concerned with eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and improving basic services accessible to the poor.
Hirschman’s ideas provide much cause for reflection within the context of present-day Indonesia. Indonesia has enjoyed over a decade of macroeconomic stability and economic growth. From 2000 to 2011 GDP expanded by 5.3 percent per year, and the official poverty count halved from 24 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2012. This period also saw notable improvements in health and education. Access to education has become more widespread and equitable. Girls are now as likely as boys to graduate from secondary school. In health, Indonesia is on track to meet Millennium Development Goals for reducing both the prevalence of underweight children under five years old, and the under-five mortality rate.
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.
It’s all very well writing for wonks, but what about the poor comms people who have to make all those clever ideas about nuance, context, complexity etc etc accessible to people who don’t spend all day thinking about this stuff? Oxfam America’s Jennifer Lentfer has a good piece on this on her ‘How Matters’ blog, discussing her work with a class of international development communications students.
Her central question – ‘How can a new generation of communications professionals embrace nuance without turning the public off? (After all, nonprofits are competing against cat videos)’
Women's group. Kenya. Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank
It has been nearly two decades since the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. The conference was a milestone in the advancement of women’s empowerment, because it highlighted the pertinent issues women face. We have come a long way since 1995. From the implementation of gender equity policies in the workplace to coordinated action on violence against women and human trafficking, we have seen commendable progress.