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Citizen Engagement

Editorial decisions, economic decisions: The funders’ role in West African media

Nonso Jideofor's picture

While independent journalists are bastions in support of good government, “independence” is not always an available choice. In Nigeria, for example, in a highly competitive job market that underpays and has little respect for journalists, many sway their coverage according to explicit and implicit political pressures and are sometimes expected to take bribes. One member of the media explained it this way:   
 
“If there’s a cholera outbreak from contaminated water sources and the Ministry of Water Resources is doing an event, reporters will cover the event and not bother about the cholera outbreak itself. This is not because they don’t care; [editorial choices] have mostly become economic decisions. The Ministry will pay for the event to be covered, that is how the system works. You aren’t supposed to pay for news but you can pay to make news.”
 
In a media landscape like this one, where economic and editorial decisions are in conflict, international donors can provide vital financial support to independent media organizations, empowering them to hold governments accountable. But as my team at Reboot detailed in a report published this summer, providing strategic support requires a holistic approach, beyond program funding.    
 
Because of its flourishing media ecosystem, Nigeria is a powerful regional case study for how funders might take such an approach. Even though Nigeria formally ended state-owned media monopolies when it deregulated broadcasting in 1992, the government maintains informal control of the news through political patronage, corrupt practices, and direct threats and violence. This is true both at the federal level as well as subnational; state and local governments, to varying degrees, use these tools to bend media coverage.
 
Examples can be found across West Africa, such as in Ghana, where we learned that the practice of purchasing coverage is so widespread it has entered common parlance under the word “soli,” or solidarity money. In this landscape, independent media struggles to be truly independent.  
 
Nevertheless, the rise of the digital age is democratizing coverage control in West Africa. Citizens are breaking news and analyzing stories through social media. Their voices are transforming media—upending the traditional media models and inspiring new ones—and demanding that media uncover corruption and hold leaders accountable. This citizen-powered media landscape has in turn pushed the government to become more responsive to public discourse, potentially driving more citizen engagement.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

World Bank Group
Too often, government leaders fail to adopt and implement policies that they know are necessary for sustained economic development. Political constraints can prevent leaders from following sound technical advice, even when leaders have the best of intentions. Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement focuses on two forces—citizen engagement and transparency—that hold the key to solving government failures by shaping how political markets function.
 
Devex
The most challenging notion to take on board in the governance of today’s world is that not all that counts can be counted. We increasingly rely on numbers as shortcuts to information about the world that we do not have time to digest. The name of the game is governance “as if” the world counts. It might be a smart shortcut sometimes, but we are in deep trouble if we forget that we are doing it “as if” the world counts. Leadership should take making good decisions seriously. If the method by which we get knowledge and the method by which we make decisions is limited to what can be numbered, we are setting up a system of governance that’s systematically getting stuff that actually counts wrong.
 

World Bank’s Access to Information Policy— five+ years and going strong

Hannah George's picture

An active player in the transparency space, the World Bank just released its fifth Access to Information (AI) Annual Report. The report presents the evolution and progress of the Policy on Access to Information (the Policy) since it was launched on July 1, 2010, provides a variety of statistics, and highlights a range of transparency activities carried out in fiscal 2015. Since 2010, the Bank has pushed the frontiers to disclose more information and twice revised the Policy to keep abreast of evolving public demand—in 2013 to clarify declassification of certain Board transcripts, and in 2015 to align the treatment of the documents and records of the Board of Governors with the treatment of those of the Executive Directors. The following are select highlights from the past five years.
 
Enhanced information access. The Policy has provided the public with access to a broad range of historical and current information on operations, research, corporate matters, and Board decisions. The Bank has also received and responded to more than 3,000 access to information requests.  The number of requests declined from 700 in 2010 to 474 in 2015, due to the Bank’s proactive and systematic efforts to disclose information online. The main entry points to the Bank’s wealth of information are the Projects and Operations portal, which provides detailed information on lending operations, and the Documents and Reports repository, which contains more than 200,000 documents that are freely accessible to the public. Further, the Archives Holdings website offers a growing collection of digitized records dating to the 1940s.
 
Governance structure and appeals. The Policy has established two robust bodies to manage the appeals process—the AI Committee and the external AI Appeals Board. A new chair of the AI Committee was appointed last fall, Stefan Koeberle, Bank director of strategy, results and risk. In 2015, the membership of the AI Appeals Board was renewed with the selection of a new member and the re-appointment of two previous members. The number of appeals submitted to these bodies has been low, possibly indicating that proactive disclosure and the system for responding to requests are working well. The appeals mechanism ensures that the Bank implements the Policy effectively.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

UNDP
This paper suggests that reform-minded public officials can improve development results by using citizen engagement in a variety of ways: to elicit information and ideas, support public service improvements, defend the public interest from ‘capture’ and clientelism, strengthen the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of citizens and bolster accountability and governance in the public sector.  Based on analysis of five case studies exploring recent citizen engagement initiatives in different parts of the world this paper posits that there are no blueprints for the design and implementation of such initiatives or standardised and replicable tools. Instead it suggests that successful and sustainable citizen engagement is ideally developed through “a process of confrontation, accommodation, trial and error in which participants discover what works and gain a sense of self-confidence and empowerment”.
 
The Guardian
As a reporter in the Bosnian war, in 1993 I went to Belgrade to visit Vuk Drašković, the Serb nationalist politician and writer who was then leading the mass opposition against the Slobodan Milošević regime. Drašković had drawn liberal as well as ultra-nationalist support in Serbia for his cause. As I was leaving his office, one of Drašković’s young aides pressed a folded bit of paper into my hand. It turned out to be blank except for a date: 1453 – the year Orthodox Constantinople fell to the Muslim Ottomans. Friends of mine who had worked in the former Yugoslavia during the Croatian and Bosnian wars had similar experiences in Zagreb and Sarajevo, though the dates in question were different. It seemed as if the “sores of history”, as the Irish writer Hubert Butler once called them, remained unhealed more than half a millennium later – at least in the desperate, degraded atmosphere of that time and place. And yet, while alert to the possibility that history can be abused, as it unquestionably was in the Balkans in the 1990s, most decent people still endorse George Santayana’s celebrated dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 
 

Washington’s Metro — the costs of carelessness

Brian Levy's picture

This is the second post in a three-part series from Brian Levy on the manner in which the media, activists and politicians talk about the role of government. This post reveals how multiple layers of government and inattention to quality controls leads to deterioration in performance.

June 22, 2009 WMATA Collision
June 22, 2009 accident on Metro's Red Line
For those who are so disposed, finding instances of government dysfunction can be like shooting fish in a barrel. But the resulting back-and-forth cycle of blame, defensiveness and recrimination can be a dangerous distraction from the crucial task of  getting public agencies that play a central role in our daily lives to work better. Take the example of Washington’s Metro.

Each year, as part of my teaching at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, I select a ‘live’ example of the challenge of public management. This year, Washington’s Metro seemed to be a good case to choose — barely a week has gone by without one or another crisis of Metro management making it into the headlines.

The Metro case demonstrates vividly the costs of carelessness in our discourse about government. (In a complementary blog post, I drill more deeply into how this ‘Great Gatsby’ government discourse works. ) But it also points to a possible way forward — how a combination of public entrepreneurship and active citizenship potentially can be leveraged to foster a sustainable turnaround of performance. (For additional detail on the recent Metro experience, here is a link to an article published in the Washingtonian, a few days after I taught the case at SAIS.)

In the beginning, Metro looked like a success story. It opened its doors to passengers in 1976; its 117 miles of track, over 215 million trips per year (and up-front $9.3 billion capital investment) made it the second largest system in the United States. Washingtonians came to expect a streamlined, comfortable, reliable, and aesthetically pleasing commute. In 1987 and again in 1997, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority won ‘Outstanding Achievement’ awards from the American Public Transportation Association.

But beneath this success something else was incubating.  By 2001, the key management tasks had become routine operational ones – but Metro’s long-time (1996-2006) general manager, Richard White, was not one to sweat the details. “He was a frequent visitor on Capitol Hill…He drove to work….He was part of the regional dialogue about highways and land use and everything else….[he] didn’t spend much time mingling with the rank and file”. The system began to decay. In 2006, the Metro board terminated his contract, three years early.

Some healthy scepticism about ‘Citizen Engagement’ (and why I’m excited about MOOCs)

Duncan Green's picture

MOOC logoDuncan Green recently spoke at the launch of a MOOC about Citizen Engagement, put together by the World Bank, LSE, IDS, ODI, Harvard and Civicus, and offers a review of the discussion and the sceptisim that citizen engagement can solve everything.

MOOCs are taking over. If you aren’t yet excited about Massive Open Online Courses, you should be. When I was first getting interested in development the only way to bridge the gap between reading the news and coughing up squllions for a Masters was to cycle through the rain every Tuesday evening to London’s City Literary Institute to sit at the feet of Jenny Pearce and her course on Latin America (I ended up taking over from her, and writing a book based on the course). These days I could stay warm and dry, and listen online to development gurus from around the world. The numbers signing up are colossal – Jeff Sachs reportedly has 14 million students for his MOOC on sustainable development.

As often happens, the initial surge came in the US, but it’s crossing the Atlantic. Last week I spoke at the LSE at the launch of a MOOC on ‘citizen engagement’, put together by the World Bank, LSE, IDS, ODI, Harvard and Civicus (a sort of crowd-sourced MOOC – even more funky). We spoke a few days after the MOOC went live, by which time 14,000 people had signed up from all over the world.

The discussion was pretty good and although no-one was against citizen engagement (CE), they were strikingly sceptical about the hype around it – no-one is drinking the participation-will-solve-everything koolaid any more. Some snapshots:

Is a ‘populist’ a shameless demagogue?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

If you maintain even a nodding acquaintance with the contents of the global financial/business press one of the things you notice is as follows. They all promote, consciously or unconsciously, a set of policies that ‘responsible’ governments should follow if they want to stay within The Grid. And The Grid is the set of rules and norms that allow access to pools of global capital.  Stay within, and money flows into your country; get kicked out, and money dries up. Now, for countries facing financial crisis, or those simply concerned about growing inequality, the worries about the devastating impact of austerity are real. Yet, the masters of the universe who control The Grid don’t give two hoots about equity, jobless youths or hungry pensioners. They simply say to these countries: “Do what you need to do to stay within The Grid or you are going to find your economy, your country languishing in the wastelands. Your call.”
 

Is citizen engagement a game changer for development? Free online course starts March 15, 2015

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Engaging Citizens is Critical to DevelopmentIs citizen engagement a game changer for development? The World Bank, in partnership with London School of Economics, Oversees Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS, explores this question in a free 4-week course on Citizen Engagement, hosted by Coursera. 

In just the last few years, we have witnessed calls from all over the world, from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to the Open Government Partnership, for governments to become more open, accountable and responsive by deepening their engagement with citizens. As a result, interest in citizen engagement programs for effective development has gained momentum. This MOOC has been developed to explore what is meant by citizen engagement and how it can be used to enhance development impact.
 

14 Ways for Aid Agencies to Better Promote Active Citizenship

Duncan Green's picture

As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a series of 10 case studies of Oxfam’s work in promoting ‘active citizenship’, plus a synthesis paper. They cover everything from global campaigns to promoting women’s leadership to labour rights. They are now all finished and up on the website. Phew. Here’s the accompanying blog which summarizes the findings of the exercise (with links to all the papers). Huge thanks to everyone who commented on the draft studies when they appeared on the blog.

Programme design

1. The right partners are indispensable

Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners. Usually this means local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh). They often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power and will carry on working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

2. Start with the ‘power within’

Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their ‘power within’ – their self confidence and assertiveness – especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building this ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organizations that enabled poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice with which to confront and influence those in power. This approach has led to some impressive progress in what are often the most unfavourable of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Many in Emerging and Developing Nations Disconnected from Politics
Pew Research
In recent years, high-profile protest movements have erupted in several emerging and developing countries, roiling, and sometimes overturning, the political status quo in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Brazil, Thailand and other nations. Millions have demonstrated, and activists have pioneered new forms of online engagement.  However, a recent Pew Research Center survey finds that many people in these nations remain relatively disconnected from politics. Although most vote in elections, few take part in other forms of political participation.
 
21st-century censorship
Columbia Journalism Review
Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”  It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom. 
 

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