Last week I was a panelist at a civil society organization seminar during the World Bank Annual Meetings on the topic of “Engaging with Citizens for Greater Development Impact.” The task for the panel was to discuss good practices in citizen engagement to make governments and service providers (including the private sector) more accountable so that policies and project interventions have greater impact for all citizens. The other panelists included representatives from Civicus, Plan International, and the Bank and International Finance Corporation.
The invitation to this event made me reflect on a fundamental question: Is it realistic to expect citizens to hold service providers accountable given the huge asymmetry of power between the two, or are we setting unrealistic expectations that citizen engagement interventions can improve development outcomes?
As I searched for answers, I was reminded of the story of the mighty warrior, Goliath, and the shepherd boy, David, who stepped up to fight him when no one else dared. No one in his or her right mind would have given David a chance against Goliath. However, we all know how the story ends — David hurls a stone from his sling with all his might and hits Goliath in the center of his forehead, causing the mighty to fall. Can we have similar happy endings in citizens vs. almighty service providers?