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Citizen Demand for Good Governance

Does “Rational Ignorance” make working on transparency and accountability a waste of time?

Duncan Green's picture

Guest post from Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam America (gosh, they do have august sounding job titles, don’t they?)

As the poorest half of the planet sees that just 62 people have more wealth than all of them, collective frustration at extreme inequality is increasing.  To rebalance power and wealth, many in our community are turning to transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion.  Interrogate that “development consensus,” however, and opinions are fractured over the benefits and costs of transferring power from the haves to the have-nots.

Social Media Information OverloadIn truth, our theories of change often diverge.  Most development organizations may agree on the need to advocate for more Investment, Innovation, Information, strong Institutions and Incentives, but some organizations are genuinely committed to only one of those “I’s”, and that can be problematic:  Oxfam often finds itself choosing and moving between the relentless positivity of politically benign theories of change (e.g. we just need more “investment” or “innovation”), the moderation of those who focus exclusively on transparent “information” with no clear pathway to ensure its political relevance, and the relentless negativity of activists that think the only way to transform “institutions” or realign the “incentives” of elites is to beat them up in public.

Oxfam’s challenge is to be both explicit in our theory of change and show sophistication and dexterity in working across that spectrum.  If Oxfam’s theory of change is based on a citizen-centered approach to tackling global systemic challenges like extreme inequality, then our opportunity may be engaging the “rational ignorance” of citizens and consumers.
 

Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Mwanachi, a Swahili word that means ordinary citizen, is the name of a governance and transparency program that was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development for five years in six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leonne, Uganda, and Zambia. This program is the focus of a new report entitled Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa by Fletcher Tembo, who served as Director of the Mwanachi program since its launch in 2008. The report acknowledges the important role of several actors in in strengthening citizen demand for good governance, including civil society, media, elected representatives, and traditional leaders. At the same time, it challenges common notions of effective citizen-state relations that focus on a preoccupation with actors and actor categories. Instead, it argues that effective social accountability programs should focus on relationships and contextual realties that are driven by 'interlocution processes.' In other words, processes that address the complex web of incentives and actions through actors that are selected for their game changing abilities.