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August 2009

Quote of the Week

Antonio Lambino's picture

"When real people argue about politics with friends and associates, they probably will not formulate new arguments or articulate reasons entirely by themselves as deliberative theory advocates.  After all, even those pundits who argue as 'professionals' are mostly rehashing preexisting political arguments.  But citizens do need to be skilled at picking among these competing arguments, and at circulating them among themselves, trying them out in informal conversation and discarding those that do not ring true.  The marketplace of ideas will not work properly if political elites are the only ones involved."

                  - Diana C. Mutz (2006, pp. 149-150)
                    Hearing the Other Side:
                    Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy   

 

Photo credit: The Brookings Institution

Citizen Inspectors General to the Rescue

Fumiko Nagano's picture

According to The Financial Times, the U.S. government’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board plans to launch in October what the FT calls “the most complex government website in history." The Recovery Board, an independent body headed by Chairman Earl Devaney, is tasked to oversee the outflow of the US $787 billion stimulus package to jumpstart the ailing economy, and the state-of the-art website is intended to engage citizens in tracking the use of taxpayer money.

What caught my attention is the premise behind this initiative—that citizens know best what is happening in their own communities. In an effort to rein in waste, fraud, and abuse of stimulus funds, the Recovery Board is putting into practice the principles of accountability and transparency through partnership with citizens. The Board understands that to carry out its mandate successfully, it needs to equip citizens with information so that they can help the Board do its job. As Mr. Devaney explains, “The website will unleash a million citizen IGs [inspectors-general].”

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing or the Nature of the Beast?

Darshana Patel's picture

Public deliberation as a political ideal represents the next frontier in democracy building. Public deliberation calls for dramatic changes in how political decisions are made. Through deliberative processes, citizens and not elected representatives, make decisions on how to manage their own resources. These decisions are reached according to the exchange of reasons and arguments that appeal to shared objectives or values. Decisions resulting from deliberation are more informed and rational. Under deliberative processes, political truths emerge not from competing ideas but through dialogue between citizens. Deliberative processes produce information as a by-product, not a precondition for participation.

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

On this blog we've seen several posts on the merits of new media in governance - I'm specifically referring to posts from my colleague Fumiko Nagano, from Silvio Waisboard, and from Kristina Klinkforth. All three authors are very careful, or outright dismissive, when it comes to the abilities of new information technology, specifically social networking sites, to aid the empowerment of citizens and to support democracy. Based on research, common sense (and my own addiction to Facebook) I want to challenge my colleagues by saying: On the web, it's all about efficacy and voice.

Building Coalitions: If Not through Mutual Interests, then through Mutual Gains

Antonio Lambino's picture

It’s easy to say that we need to build broad coalitions to bring about sustainable pro-poor change.  Easier said than done.   In a piece entitled “Connecting Nature’s Dots”, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that

“We’re trying to deal with a whole array of integrated problems – climate change, energy, biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation and the need to grow enough food to feed the planet – separately.  The poverty fighters resent the climate-change folks; climate folks hold summits without reference to diversity; the food advocates resist the biodiversity protectors.”

Why the disconnect?  One of the reasons Friedman and his interviewees offer is that when it comes to environmental preservation, the farther humans are from experiencing nature, the harder it is for us to make the connections among environmental issues and other relevant policy and practice domains. 

Negative Framing

Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's response to the blog post "Shock and Awe? The Effects of Negative Framing":

In  political matters, the focus should move away from attitudes; since Robinson (1976) study investigating negative news effects, we have known that low involvement citizens (involvement with the issue) are influenced first by information or cognitive change, which produces behavioral change, which eventually produces attitudinal change. While high involvement citizens move from cognitive change to attitudinal to behavioral. The power of negative information has more to do with cultural expectations, however.  Within western democracies, research has shown that negative information is far more attention-getting than positive information.  In addition, people not only attend to the information, but they talk about the information with others, creating a spiral effect, in that when people talk about negative information with others, they may serve as influentials, bringing news to those who have not attended to the news through the mass media, or they may assist in concretizing the significance of news reports, through their discussions with others.  For this reason, negative information tends to be more suasive, and as a result, people retain the information; furthermore, because of its cued negativity, they are able to access that information far more readily than positive information.  In short, negative information saves time, money and  
effort; it is far more economical, efficient and effective than positive information, within western democracies (see Lau's considerable research).   
 

Social Networking Sites: Getting People to Speak Their Minds

Fumiko Nagano's picture

On Facebook, I have noticed an interesting trend: some of my friends who are normally introverted and shy in person are a lot more vocal and seem to have fewer qualms about voicing their opinions on the site. They post status updates sharing their thoughts on issues, comment on others’ posts, and provide links to websites, articles, photos and videos about topics that they deem important, even creating interest-specific groups to attract those who are keen to participate in online discussions on key causes. Part of this phenomenon might be psychological. Maybe we feel a certain degree of safety on social networking sites because they give us the option not to have to engage in physical, face-to-face interactions with those who might disagree. On these interfaces, there is no need to worry about potentially negative consequences arising from differences in opinion, such as ridicule, humiliation, confrontation, and isolation. If social networking sites can embolden even the shiest of us to voice our true opinions, could they be the answer to breaking the spiral of silence on contested issues?

Sometimes Silence Speaks

Darshana Patel's picture

One of the objectives of CommGAP and this blog is to strengthen citizen voice in the public sphere, particularly of those who are often marginalized in public spaces.  This voice in the public sphere is important for any advocacy effort or social movement and also an essential right for every individual. As one part of the process of building this voice, participation in various decision-making and policy processes is seen as an integral part of development work. In fact, it has been a development buzzword since the late 1970s.  But sometimes participating can be a setback.

Shock and Awe? The Effects of Negative Framing

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Framing is about presenting an issue in a specific light and from a specific perspective. Framed messages are usually intended to make the audience focus on certain aspects of an issue but not on others. In terms of governance and accountability, framing is a useful technique to design communication in a way that mobilizes the public. For instance with regard to corruption: to mobilize public opinion on corruption one could focus on successes in fighting corruption, on negative effects of corruption, on corrupt individuals or individual champions against corruption etc. Negative framing, negative messaging in general, is a frequently used approach when trying to motivate people to become active. It's not clear, however, that it really works the way it's supposed to.

Trustee vs. Delegate: A False Dichotomy?

Antonio Lambino's picture

A large number of posts on this blog have revolved around citizen engagement in the policymaking process.  Some have centered on public participation in public sector budgeting.  We have featured, among others, a deliberative poll in Zeguo Township, China, participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and a book on participatory budgeting with examples from six countries, including India, Mexico, South Africa, and Croatia.  We have also talked about the much touted success of newspaper publication of education sector budgets in Uganda.  Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys found that public access to budget information led to a strong and significant reduction in corruption.

In my mind, these examples break down the wall which 18th century political philosopher Edmund Burke erected between the “trustee” vs. “delegate” models of democratic representation (he favored the former). 

Quote of the Week

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"A group ‘makes up its mind’ in very much the same manner that the individual makes up his. […] not only one mind but all minds are searched for pertinent material, which is poured into the general stream of thought for each to use as he can. In this manner the minds in a communicating group become a single organic whole. Their unity is not one of identity, but of life and action, a crystallization of diverse but related ideas."

Charles H. Cooley, 1909,
in Social Organization: A Study of the Larger Mind

Accountability Alchemy

Darshana Patel's picture

A self-help group member shows us her paralegal identification (Medak District, Andhra Pradesh).Alchemy is well known as the science of turning invaluable substances into gold.  But it symbolizes transformation of the most radical kind.  (From the Arabic word al-kimia, alchemy literally means "the art of transformation.")

So what does accountability have to do with radical transformation? According to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) , a government agency in Andhra Pradesh, India; accountability is key to ensuring transformation of the poor.   

SERP is implementing the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project, locally known as Indira Kranthi Patham (IKP) in all the 22 rural districts of Andhra Pradesh. IKP is the longest running livelihoods program financed by the World Bank in South Asia but what makes the project unique is not large-scale spending. It is the slow, intentional process of building institutions of and by the poor that no amount of money alone has been able to accomplish.  The idea behind this project is that accountability and sound governance practices must be embedded in the norms and culture of institutions rather than treated as after-thoughts.

Media For Ethnic Minorities - Media Segregation?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Hürriyet, a Turkish newspaper that has a special edition that is published in Germany for the Turkish diasporaWe're using the summer to work hard on putting the finishing touches on our forthcoming publication, Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform, edited by Pippa Norris from the Harvard Kennedy School. In this book, we will discuss the news media's roles as watchdog, agenda setters, and gatekeepers to the public forum. We will present studies and cases from all over the world that show the effect that media can have, but also what constraints can hinder the media in fulfilling these roles. When we started putting this work together, I was struck by how little examples and evidence we could find on the media as public forum, as a platform that gives voice to diverse social groups, even those on the margins of society. Now that I'm proofreading the final chapters, I'm reminded of a study I was once involved in that looked at the media's role for Turkish migrants in Germany - a group that qualifies as marginalized indeed.

In the End, It’s About What People Want

Fumiko Nagano's picture

The potential that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have to contribute to economic growth in developing countries is undeniable. In terms of what ICT in general and e-government in particular can do specifically to improve governance and accountability, we often hear about their positive impact on government transparency and responsiveness, on government efficiency and effectiveness, and finally, on citizen access to information, services, and opportunities.

Quote of the Week

Antonio Lambino's picture

"... Empowering people means more than just giving them elections. It means enlarging their contact with government, and habituating them to the direction of their own affairs. People empowerment, by direct participation in government or by indirect involvement through NGOs, was the surest means of making government mirror the aspirations of the many rather than merely advance the interests of the few. 

It is on the work of people empowerment that I now devote the greater portion of my time... to put in the hands of ordinary people the quite ordinary, but organized, means of effecting major changes in their lives. 

This was the force that toppled dictatorships and tore down the Berlin Wall. Can it be made to build up? In the past, the idea was to give the people just enough political power to make a mistake at the polls; in the future, the idea should be to empower them to decide meaningfully, and throw the full weight of their numbers behind their choice. "


                                                                            - H. E. Corazon C. Aquino, 1933-2009
                                                                              President Of The Phillipines, 1986-1992
                                                                              Fulbright Prize Ceremony
                                                                              U.S. Department of State
                                                                              Washington, D.C., October 11, 1996

Photo credit: Lilen Uy, featured on the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism website

Soft Power: Talking to the People

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

East Germans gathering in front of the "Erfurter Hof" to see West German Chancellor Willy BrandtWatching current international events unfold, we increasingly see how foreign policy acknowledges the role of the public in politics. Since the 1990s scholars have used the term "soft power" to describe a certain kind of international diplomacy, and it seems that this kind of cooperative diplomacy gains more and more weight on the international stage. The term "soft power" was coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye in his 1990 book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power and he developed his concept further in Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, published in 2004.

Talking with Teeth: Micro-Planning with Community Scorecards

Darshana Patel's picture

Village youth decribing the social accountability process before a village elected official.Coming together is a process
Keeping together is progress
Working together is success

This message, written on the wall of a public building in Gureghar village in the district of Satara in Maharashtra, India, implies the significant changes that have taken place at that village.  Since mid-2007, 178 villages including Gureghar have been part of an innovative social accountability process that has redefined relationships between citizens, service providers and local government.  Although micro-planning has been happening for over 2 decades in Maharashtra, the innovation in this pilot project is that micro-planning has been combined with a community scorecard process to strengthen relationships of accountability at the village level. 

Breaking the Impasse: Public Participation in Budget Disputes

Antonio Lambino's picture

California’s recent budget debacle is not an isolated case.  An opinion piece entitled "Budgets by the People, for the People" by Chris Elmendorf and Ethan J. Leib in The New York Times reports that since 2002, 14 States in the U.S. have experienced delays in budget approval.  They also suggest a solution.  The key to resolving budget deadlocks is citizen participation. 

Here’s what they propose. 

Quote of the Week

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"Public opinion contains all kinds of falsity and truth, but it takes a great man to find the truth in it. The great man of the age is the one who can put into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is, and accomplish it. What he does is the heart and the essence of his age, he actualizes his age. The man who lacks sense enough to despise public opinion expressed in gossip will never do anything great."

 

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1822, in Philosophy of Right