What follows is a discussion of two of the many challenges that often bedevil efforts to bring out pro-poor social and political change and an approach that is a way of dealing with them. You know the deal: well-meaning technocrats try to introduce a bit of governance reform...by stealth. Then it runs into trouble- usually due to vigorous attacks by vested interests likely to lose out if the reform succeeds - yet the potential beneficiaries are not organized, do not even know that they might benefit from the reform. And so the reformers are defeated. Or the reform, if it has already been introduced, is reversed or stalls. The problem is that many technical specialists are uncomfortable with the public sphere and all it entails: people, the media, controversy and debate, 'noise'. But unsupported reforms tend to become orphans and street urchins.
Now to the other side. Many social movements and other civil society organizations working to bring about pro-poor social and political change love the public sphere. It is where they define themselves, make their claims, build support, and work to transform public opinion, all in order to generate pressure for change. Unfortunately, many such organizations tend to treat those in government as enemies...the Deadly Others. Work with officials and parliamentarians to pursue a reform and many other civil society activists are likely to label you a sell-out, a turn-coat and worse. Part of the reason is fear, and this is because of the regularity with which activists are co-opted by the powerful in many countries and they abandon their projects for the spoils of high office. That fear is understandable.
The point, however, is this: effective, sustainable reforms will often need the collaboration of forces within and outside government. This is what many students of politics call the Inside-Outside Strategy. For instance, it has just become more widely known to what extent the great American civil rights leader , Dr Martin Luther King, and President Lyndon B. Johnson quietly worked in tandem in order to secure landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The New York Times story on this - plus an excerpt from recently declassified transcripts of some of the phone conversations between the two men - is a compelling read. The logic of the inside-outside strategy is unanswerable. If you start a reform within the government, it is wise to build wider support; and if you push for change from the outside you need to transform public opinion all right, but you also need to find allies within the state. In the real world, that is how things get done.