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Citizen Action

#10 from 2013: Citizens Against Corruption: What Works? Findings from 200 Projects in 53 Countries

Duncan Green's picture

In the next few weeks, we will be running our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013

Originally published on May 22, 2013

I attended a panel + booklaunch on the theme of ‘Citizens Against Corruption’ at the ODI last week. After all the recent agonizing and self-doubt of the results debate (‘really, do we know anything about the impact of our work? How can we be sure?’), it was refreshing to be carried away on a wave of conviction and passion. The author of the book, Pierre Landell-Mills is in no doubt – citizen action can have a massive impact in countering corruption and improving the lives of poor people, almost irrespective of the political context.

The book captures the experience of the Partnership for Transparency Fund, set up by Pierre in 2000. It summarizes experiences from 200 case studies in 53 countries. This has included everything from using boy scouts to stop the ‘disappearance’ of textbooks in the Philippines to introducing a new code of ethics for Mongolia’s judiciary. The PTF’s model of change is really interesting. In terms of the project itself:

  • Entirely demand led: it waits for civil society organizations (CSOs) to come up with proposals, and funds about one in five
  • $25k + an expert: the typical project consists of a small grant, and a volunteer expert, usually a retiree from aid agencies or governments, North and South. According to Pierre ‘the clue to PTF’s success has been marrying high quality expertise with the energy and guts of young activists’. (I’ve now added ‘Grey Wonks’ to my ‘Grey Panthers’ rant on why the aid world is so bad at making the most of older people).
  • The PTF is tapping into a zeitgeist of shifting global norms on corruption, epitomised by the UN Convention Against Corruption (2003). The idea that ‘they work for us’ seems to be gaining ground.
  • The PTF prefers cooperation to conflict – better to work with champions within the state (and there nearly always are some, if you can find them), than just to lob rocks from the sidelines (although some rock-lobbing may also be required).
  • It also prefers action and avoids funding ‘awareness-raising’, ‘capacity building’ and other ‘conference-building measures.’

So what works? On the basis of the case studies (chapters on India, Mongolia, Uganda and the Philippines), and his vast experience of governance and corruption work, Pierre sets out a ‘stylized programme’ for the kinds of CSO-led initiatives that deliver the goods:

Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems: Review of an Important New Book

Duncan Green's picture

The last year or so has been a bit quiet in terms of big new books on development, but now they are piling up on my study floor (my usual filing system) – Angus Deaton, Deepak Nayyar, Ben Ramalingam, Nina Munk etc etc. I will review them as soon as I can (or arm-twist better qualified colleagues to do so).

But I thought I’d start off with a nice short one. Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems, by David Booth and Diana Cammack, provides a very readable 140 page summary of the ODI’s Africa Power and Politics Programme, bits of which I have previously discussed on this blog. 140 pages is wonderful – you can read it in a morning and feel a glow of satisfaction for the rest of the day. Think there’s a lesson for me somewhere there…..

The book moves from theory to the APPP’s in-depth national fieldwork in Rwanda, Mali, Niger and Uganda and back again, coming to some uncomfortable conclusions.

The book’s underlying conceptual message is that trying to understand (and reform) African politics on the basis of ‘principal-agent’ thinking has been a disaster. Instead, it is much better to think in terms of ‘collective action problems’. The difference is that the first approach ‘assumes that there are principles that want goods to be provided but have difficulty in getting the agents to perform’.

So What Should Twaweza Do Differently? How Accountability Work is Evolving

Duncan Green's picture

Yesterday I sketched out the theory of change and initial findings on the first four years of work by an extraordinary East African NGO, Twaweza. Today I’ll move on to what some NGO people (but thankfully no-one in Dar es Salaam last week) insist on calling ‘the learnings’ about the flaws and gaps in its original theory of change (described in yesterday’s post).

First, there’s a big ‘black box’ containing Twaweza’s rather large assumption that giving people information (eg about failing education systems), would lead to them taking action to change things. What issues in the black box determine whether this is true or not?

Evan Lieberman (one of Twaweza’s many evaluators, from Princeton University) called this the ’secret sauce’ – the miracle that links information to action. His team had come up with a smart attempt to identify some of the sauce’s ingredients – conditions for a →b:

Do I understand the info? →Is it new info? →Do I care? →Do I think that it is my responsibility to do something about it? →Do I have the skills to make a difference? →Do I have the sense of efficacy to think that my efforts will have an impact? →Are the kinds of actions I am inspired to take different from what I am already doing? →Do I believe my own individual action will have an impact? →Do I expect fellow community members to join me in taking action? Evan argued that only if the answer to all of these is yes, will the black box indeed turn information into action.

Actually it’s worse than that – they missed some pretty big ones (‘do I have the time to do this, on top of everything else?’ ‘Will I run any personal risks if I do this?’). It’s a hell of an intimidating set of conditions and, as was pointed out, the danger is that accountability proponents will just latch onto one of the steps, then wonder why nothing is popping out at the outcome end.

'Citizens Against Corruption: Report from the Front Line'

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Prepared by Partnership for Transparency Fund

Citizens Against Corruption: Report From The Front Line tells the story of how groups of courageous and dedicated citizens across the globe are taking direct action to root out corruption. Based on extensive practical experience through the work over more than a decade supported by The Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF), this book shows how ordinary people are no longer prepared to accept the predatory activities of dishonest officials and are successfully challenging their scams.

Author Landell-Mills, co-founder and first president of PTF, states: “This book draws on over 200 case studies that describe impressive initiatives undertaken over the past decade by 130 civil society organizations (CSOs) in 53 countries which engage directly with public agencies to stop the bribery and extortion that damages peoples’ lives and obstructs social and economic progress.”

He adds, “This book challenges the notion that, at best, civil society can only have a marginal impact on reducing corruption. Quite the opposite; it argues that CSOs have demonstrated again and again that their impact can be game-changing.”

Examples from some of the poorest countries in the world show how a single CSO initiative can save several million dollars. Several million such initiatives can transform the way government does business, making public agencies accountable to those they serve.  The message is clear: aid donors need to radically rethink their assistance for governance reform, tilting it dramatically in favour of supporting CSOs.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

BET
Like Water for Internet: Ory Okolloh Talks Tech in Africa

“Last week, ahead of her trip to Washington, D.C., to speak to the World Bank about Africa’s private sector, the 35-year-old Policy Manager for Google Africa took to her Twitter account and asked her followers, “What should I tell them?”

The responses came in fast and varied from rants about corruption in multinational corporations to comments about infrastructure and energy. For the most part, Okolloh didn’t engage the responses, but she did re-tweet them for all to read and she made sure to add the World Bank’s twitter account to the dispatches so that the behemoth institution could also see what Africa’s tweeting populace had to say.”  READ MORE

Citizens and the State: Working Across the Demand and Supply Dichotomy

Darshana Patel's picture

Citizens are assigned various roles in the development process (service users, project beneficiaries, and consulted stakeholders). But how can citizens move from being just users and choosers of social services to makers and shapers of policies and processes so that they can ultimately lead their own development?

“The most effective citizens are the most versatile: the ones who can cross boundaries. They move between the local, the national and the global, employ a range of techniques, act as allies and adversaries of the state, and deploy their skills of protest and partnership at key moments and in different institutional entry points.”  Blurring the Boundaries: Citizen Action Across States and Societies

#10: Placing a Value on Social Media

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011

Orginally published on January 19, 2011

Lately, there has been a great deal of debate about the $500 million investment by financial giant, Goldman Sachs, and a Russian investor in the social networking site Facebook.  Sachs justified their investment by saying the company is worth $50 billion dollars.  Many financial analysts think this high dollar amount is ludicrous and unjustifiable because Facebook has not yet generated a great deal of profit.  However, the question many people are debating, and have been debating for some time, is: what is the true value of social media?

Clearly not 'Rational, Calculating Welfare Maximizers'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Sometimes you see a set of human beings in action and you say to yourself: these are far braver souls than I am. That has been my reaction to the astonishing efforts of thousands of active citizens in countries like Libya, Yemen and  Syria over the last several months. These hardy souls have kept up a struggle for a different set of governance arrangements where they live...knowing full well that each day they participate they are likely to be beaten, arrested or killed. Yet  they have kept it up, day after day, week after week, month after month. In Libya, help came from the skies above, but citizens have still had to do the heavy lifting. They still are.

The People versus the Leviathan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

 "Only fools, pure theorists, or apprentices fail to take public opinion into account."

Jacques Necker (1792) finance minister to King Louis XVI of France.
 

Recent events confirm, once again, that public opinion is the basis of power, and the very definition of legitimacy. If it comes to pass that the preponderance of the citizens of a country come to despise or hate their rulers...an event that occurs over a period of time and is the outcome of  experiences, debate and discussion ... that crystallization of public opinion is a serious development, one capable of leading to momentous consequences. The regime in question becomes a hollow leviathan. One can only hope that autocratic leaders as well as the cynical technocrats who advise them are paying attention to the lessons of both recent and ongoing struggles between citizens and a variety of autocracies. 

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