How can citizens’ actions help build a society that is more open, accountable and inclusive? In about a week, social accountability stakeholders from across the world will convene at World Bank headquarters to discuss just that, at the Global Partners Forum of the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA).
Delivering pension or disability services may sound mundane, but if you have seen the recent award-winning movie, I, Daniel Blake, it is anything but. As the film poignantly demonstrates, treating citizens with respect and approaching them as humans rather than case numbers is not just good practice -- it can mean life or death. In the film, Mr. Blake, an elderly tradesman with a heart condition, attempts to apply for a disability pension. In the process, he navigates a Kafkaesque maze of dozens of office visits, automated phone calls, and dysfunctional online forms. All of this is confusing and often dehumanizing.
The use of technology to promote citizen engagement has been described as “the next big thing”, and is often associated with adjectives such as “disruptive”, “transformational,” and “revolutionary.” Yet, in contrast with the deluge of blog posts and tweets praising technology’s role to promote smarter and more participatory governments, one finds limited evidence on the effects of technology on citizen engagement practices.
Civic Tech – Assessing Technology for the Public Good is a new book that – we hope – contributes to addressing this knowledge gap. The book is comprised of one study and three field evaluations of civic tech initiatives in developing countries. The study reviews evidence on the use of twenty-three digital platforms designed to amplify citizen voices to improve service delivery. Focusing on 23 empirical studies of initiatives in the Global South, the authors highlight both citizen uptake and the degree to which public service providers respond to expressions of citizen voice.
The saying goes, ‘water is life’, and how so true! But water also drives economic and social development. Clean water supply is vital for health, hygiene and livelihood. Water is essential for agriculture and critical to energy production – and much, much more.
However, more than a billion people currently live in water-scarce regions, and as many as 3.5 billion could experience water scarcity by 2025. Water scarcity is a recognized cause of conflict and migration and is among the top global risks. To be sure, conflict and migration likewise contribute to scarcity of water!
In an effort to address this issue, the World Bank Group and the United Nations embarked on a three-year partnership that led to the publication of a new report titled Securing Development: Public Finance and the Security Sector. It is a sourcebook providing guidance to governments and development practitioners on how to use a tool called “Public Expenditure Review (PER)” adapted to examine the financing of security and criminal justice institutions.
The introduction of “citizen engagement” into law is an idea that is gaining popularity around the world.
New provisions in Kenya’s recent Constitution enshrine openness, accountability and public participation as guiding principles for public financial management. Yet, as citizen engagement practitioners know, . Experience has shown that in the absence of commitment from leaders and citizens and without appropriate capacities and methodologies, public participation provisions may lead to simple “tick the box” exercises.
Thanks to the support from the Kenya Participatory Budgeting Initiative (KPBI)* and the commitment from West Pokot and Makueni** County leaders, participatory budgeting (PB) is being tested as a way to achieve more inclusive and effective citizen engagement processes while complying with national legal provisions. The initial results are quite encouraging.
There are few better ways to reveal whether a government’s rhetoric matches reality than examining how it raises and spends public money. Are funds being spent on the things it said they would be? Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, are government budgets accountable?
The traditional model for how accountability functions is rather simple. "Horizontal accountability" describes the oversight exerted over the executive arm of government by independent state bodies such as parliaments and supreme audit institutions. "Vertical accountability" describes the influence citizens hold through the ballot box.
Between elections and outside of formal institutions, however, opportunities for influencing how governments manage public resources are limited. As a consequence, this simple vertical/horizontal model has proved increasingly inadequate for capturing how budget accountability works (or doesn’t) in the real world; this is especially true in developing countries, where democratic processes and formal oversight institutions can be somewhat fragile and ineffective.
Over the last couple of years a small team of us have worked on an initiative to incorporate the regular, systematic feedback of citizens into the design and execution of World Bank programs. I would like to share some of our experiences working together with governments, civil society organizations and citizens in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa on this citizen engagement initiative.
First, citizen engagement is not new. For instance, the early work by Robert Chambers, “The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal and Michael Cernea’s “Putting People First” date from 1980s and early 90s and were quite inspirational for many of us who have worked issues of gathering and acting on citizen feedback.
At the same time, something important has changed. There has been an increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater say in public decision-making, and a desire among many governments to be more inclusive and responsive to citizens’ needs. Also, the rise of innovations in technology has provided citizens with new and unprecedented opportunities to directly engage policy makers and demonstrated the potential to facilitate “Closing the Feedback Loop” between citizen and governments.
From a business perspective, local disputes can lead to more than US$20 million per week in losses for large-scale mines. To say nothing of the broader costs – in terms of lives lost and development stymied – when local discontent develops into violent conflict.
In response, a growing number of mining companies and governments have rolled out “Community Development Agreements” (CDAs), an umbrella term covering formal arrangements for local development between a company and designated communities. CDAs can run the gamut of the community-company relationship, including among other areas, socio-environmental impacts, benefit sharing, employment, monitoring and grievance redress.
CDAs have spread quickly in national law and policy. with nine countries currently in the process. The CDA model, it seems, is an emergent “best practice” and initiatives ranging from the Ruggie Principles to the International Council on Mining and Metals have reiterated their value.