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Political Efficacy and Citizen Participation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Antonio Lambino's picture

A post from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), somewhere in the heart of the medieval section of this deeply multicultural city. I’m here with a team organized by the World Bank Institute (WBI), working with local partners on preparing a capacity building program for low income municipalities on increasing citizens’ participation in local governance. Colleagues from the WBI facilitated sessions on participatory budgeting and citizens’ feedback mechanisms. Two of us from the World Bank’s Development Communication Division contributed a few modules on participatory communication as a cross-cutting issue in enabling and sustaining citizen participation in local governance.

One of the things that has struck me during this workshop is the way in which the concept of political efficacy has undergirded a number of sessions and discussions. Michael Delli Carpini, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, defines political efficacy as both internal (in this context, the belief of citizens that they can actually participate in local governance) and external (a belief that one’s participation will actually make a difference). WBI’s social audit and locally generated public opinion data validate the concept in BiH. Both sources find that impediments to participation include widespread beliefs among citizens that they lack information about local governance and they doubt whether their involvement will make any impact.  Obviously, information-sharing has much to do with communication, which in turn has an essential role in increasing political efficacy among citizens, i.e., to know more about the practical steps they might take toward participating and examples of successful experiences of local participation from around the world.

All the above being said, data presented during the workshop also demonstrate that over the past couple of years, BiH citizens are increasingly motivated to participate in local governance processes that impact their own lives.  In support of this overarching goal, participatory communication and citizen feedback mechanisms and tools, such as deliberative bodies, community radio, citizen report cards, community score cards, citizens’ juries, and participatory budgeting are crucial. 

Working within the development sector’s efforts toward building twin competencies in international good practice and respect for local context, it is worthy to note that a key concept in political communication, political efficacy, finds validation in a wide variety of local contexts.  On a personal note, this experience has strengthened my belief that we all have things to learn from each other, and things to share.