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The Inside-Outside Strategy

Sina Odugbemi's picture

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 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.

So long!



Submitted by Rushda on
Sina, I have worked on both the sides of the fence, and though the inside outside theory sounds fine, it would practically not work. For starters there is an apprehension from both ends about the intentions of the other. The government objective is rightly placed -- they look at the larger picture of development. As a result they get obsessive about plugging loopholes even before framing a program. They are apprehensive about corruption and nepotism ruining their implementation. So they get too rigid and too tight fisted from their end. The civil society organizations, are so busy trying to lobby and canvass support from the government officials for their small causes that they loose sight of the need for an integrated development of the community. They are more focussed on the establishment of the institution of the organization than the possibility of real wholistic development of the community. The external variables in the scenario, or the multilateral agencies, are the ones who can make the most difference. But they are so busy trying to balance between the civil society and the government, and trying to maintain a detached third party image, that they become observers rather than being active advisors. We have so much of effort being spent on the insiders trying to cultivate outsiders, and outsiders trying to influence insiders, that very little actually gets done. Strangely, it is due to this paradox that Foucault classifies the state and its society as being contradictory forces that act against themselves. And worse, Foucault makes sense.

Submitted by Sina on
Thanks for your comment Rushda. However, I have to say that I disagree. In my opinion, real change is a combination move although it is true that for civil society groups the danger of cooptation is real. It is no reason not to try though.

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