Bill Lyons / World Bank
A new World Bank report addressing the widespread dissatisfaction of citizens with the delivery of essential public services and calling for accountability in public service delivery in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was released a few weeks ago.
The statistics in Trust, Voice, and Incentives: Learning from Local Success Stories in Service Delivery in the Middle East and North Africa are grim, as nearly three quarters of MENA students are scoring “low” or “below low” in international student performance tests and one third of the public health clinics in MENA countries lack essential medicines and staff.
The good news, however, is that the report also sheds light on local success stories in health and education where, to citizens. The examples from Jordan, Morocco, and the Palestinian Territories highlight the power of collaboration and mutual trust between citizens and public servants to produce better results.
Photo credit: Jbdodane
When Governor Adams Oshiomhole took office in Edo State, Nigeria, in November 2008, it was on the back of a protracted battle to retrieve his mandate through the electoral courts and through fractious politicking by labour and civil society groups.
After a scale of violence in the summer of 2009, across the oil-rich Niger Delta region, oilfields shut down and 200,000 people were displaced.
The public expected that Oshiomhole would deliver on his promise of “a citizens' government," but “quick wins” would be a challenge. After years of neglect, inaction and patronage politics, the state’s administration was untrusted, mired in dysfunction, fiscal uncertainty and debt.
By 2012, the governor had returned for a second term with an increased majority in an election widely touted as relatively free and fair. No small part of this success is due to signature efforts in ramping up capital spending, especially around roads and civil infrastructure.
As we enter the last week of the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement— developed here at the Bank in partnership with London School of Economics, Overseas Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS— let’s explore the central question posed in the course: Is Citizen Engagement a Game Changer for Development?
In a blog following the London MOOC event, Duncan Edwards argued the need to think hard about the approaches we adopt in advancing citizen engagement to address development challenges.
“This dengue has become a calamity,” Saad Azeem said in September 2011. He wasn’t exaggerating. Azeem, a 45 year-old police officer, was “at home suffering from the fever and mourning the death of his elderly father.”
Sadly this wasn’t the case just for Azeem. Everyone was affected in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan. The fever didn’t discriminate. Dengue mosquitoes were affecting the poor and the rich, the old, and the young. Out of more than 12,000 people who were infected in Pakistan, at least 10,000 resided in Lahore.
It was a disaster.
Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.
To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong: the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:
“There has been a broad recognition amongst economists that “institutions matter”: poor countries are not poor because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions”. Francis Fukuyama, the Origins of Political Order, Vol 1 (2009)
For development professionals, there is no getting away from the fact that politics shapes the environments in which we work—that our programs can and do fail when we don’t take politics into account. But despite growing evidence that political economy analysis (PEA) can contribute to new ways of working and ultimately better results, the politics agenda remains what Thomas Carothers calls an “almost revolution” in mainstream development practice.
There are many factors at play: limited staff capacity to engage with politics, bureaucratic incentives to meet lending targets, a preference for best practice solutions and institutional blueprints. Many continue to argue that it is not the business of development banks or aid agencies to analyse politics, let alone act on key findings. This resistance is posited on several arguments—or myths—which I address below.
From civil wars in Mali and Iraq to urban crime in Central America, perceptions of injustice are central to fueling violence and fragility. While we in the development community increasingly recognize that legitimate and effective justice institutions are crucial to inclusive growth in these contexts, we have often struggled to support them. The World Bank is at the forefront of developing new ways of understanding justice challenges as well as practical means to address them.
A panel on “New Approaches to Justice in FCV,” part of the 2015 Fragility Forum, highlighted new ways of understanding and responding to justice challenges.
I was lucky to recently attend a workshop on justice and governance impact evaluations in the wonderful city of Istanbul. The spark of the workshop discussions lived up to the liveliness of the location.
Some time ago I blogged about the pros and cons of impact evaluations for justice projects in developing countries. Since then, interest in impact evaluations in the justice sector has grown at the World Bank and within the larger development community.
Nearly every week, I read news stories about citizens clamoring for change in governance- citizens who want their voices heard and acted upon. In countries all over the globe, citizen groups are working (sometimes with governments and sometimes against them) to build a more citizen-centric approach to governance. Why? People—ordinary citizens—are at the heart of good governance, and governments are genuinely more effective when they listen to and work with citizens to tackle development challenges.
Engaging citizens can help improve transparency and accountability of public policies, promote citizens’ trust, forge consensus around important reforms, and build the political and public support necessary to sustain them.