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Learning from the Last Five Years: CommGAP and Good Governance

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

As CommGAP draws to a close, I've been reflecting a bit on what I've learned from the program over the last five years and the many interesting research, practice and policy questions still left to be explored.


For me, CommGAP was one of the first programs to take a critical look at the phenomenon we call "good governance" by drawing linkages between the related but conceptually distinct strands of accountability, transparency, access to information, citizen voice and mobilization, civil society capacity building, media development, public opinion formation, democratic deliberation, and state capacity/ resilience/ legitimacy. I still remember a conversation I had with Sina at a conference many years ago, asking him how he envisioned the "connective tissue" between all these concepts. The CommGAP program, in a sense, was Sina's answer, and I've been lucky to be able to help articulate some of this work.


By highlighting communication as an underlying construct upon which these cornerstones of good governance rest, the program has helped to reconceptualize these often separate moving parts into an interlocking whole. In the process, it has illuminated the importance of the public sphere writ large to efforts to improve governance in developing countries. CommGAP's many publications in this area will continue to live on the web, and can be accessed here.


But this merely highlights the work that still needs to be done in the realm of first socializing and then operationalizing these linkages within development practice. Convincing development thinkers, policymakers and practitioners that these are worthy concepts has been, and will continue to be, an uphill climb. Even in the wake of the amazing events in the Arab world over the last year, there remain those who are skeptical about the importance of anything other than traditional economic outcomes in development. Operationalizing the public sphere-related conceptual work will also require convincing project leaders, sector managers, field missions, and others to commit concrete resources. For these concepts to work in practice, they will require more than a theoretical or policy-related grounding; they need to be fleshed out in concrete tools that can be easily applied on the ground, incorporated into existing practices, and used to demonstrate results.


Luckily, this work is happening already, both within the Bank and within broader development practice. But there is much more that needs to be done. Hopefully, the broad array of work generated by CommGAP can provide a platform upon which others can build.

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