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Grievance Redress Mechanisms – Do they work?

Shamiela Mir's picture

Among many tools that enable gathering of project beneficiaries’ concerns and solving them are Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs). Although the mechanisms themselves are not new, World Bank teams are increasingly encouraged to systematically include GRMs in their projects to increase beneficiaries’ participation, solve project-related disputes and ensure that projects achieve their intended results. As such, GRMs have been a topic of debate among World Bank staff.  GRMs are also called dispute resolution and conflict management/resolution mechanisms and they are considered to be one of several social accountability mechanisms. The topic is, therefore, not only timely at the World Bank but should also be of interest to development practitioners generally.

But, do they work?

The effectiveness of GRMs was discussed at last week’s presentation, Confusion, Discontent and Dissent: The Practice and Management of Grievance Redress in Bank Operations, which was jointly organized by Social Development Department (SDV), Operations Policy and Country Services (OPCS), and Post Conflict and Social Development Practice Group (AFTCS). The event brought to surface many arguments for and against mainstreaming GRMs in Bank projects. The proponents of systematizing GRMs believe that the mechanisms work when done right. GRMs will not fix everything but they are good investment as they enable issues to be acknowledged and/or resolved before they escalate. They also believe that GRMs can be developed without a huge burden on a limited budget or human resources. The general view among the proponents seemed to be that requiring a GRM setup is a great starting point in systematically incorporating beneficiaries’ views into project design, which ultimately helps projects.

The skeptics, however, raised many real-life examples of how they are difficult to design and implement. First of all, some clients do not want GRMs in their projects as they feel that GRMs expose them to public scrutiny. It was also noted that there is no evidence yet to prove that GRMs work and without such, it is premature to systematize such mechanisms into projects. Operational staff and project managers already feel overburdened with so many processes and adding another layer seems unreasonable. Some argued that the phrase ‘Grievance Redress’ itself sounds negative, and better call it something more positive (i.e., feedbacks, feedbacks for improvements). Some were concerned with a potentially large volume of feedbacks they could receive and having to allocate additional resources just to sift through them. A question was raised as to how to handle a situation where feedback is received from a source with known conflicts of interest.

All of these are valid points. The discussion ended with no real consensus among the supporters and the skeptics but a few comments seemed to wrap up the discussion nicely. First of all, GRMs are a tool and as with any tools, there are limitations. GRMs cannot be implanted – they must be an integral part of projects, meaning they have to be tailored to the context in which they are working with a solid understanding of the society and the culture of the people for whom they are intended. GRMs also require an enabling environment and changes in mindset, attitude and behavior.

It would be important to continue this debate and share knowledge as the World Bank seeks to move towards systematizing GRMs into projects. Whether they are called GRMs or some other name, I think we can all agree that listening to project beneficiaries and incorporating their views are critical in ensuring that projects meet their objectives – essentially, that they confer benefits on real people.

Photo Credit: By Stuart Miles @ Freedigital photos

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