Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.
To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong: the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:
Cross posted from the Private Sector Development Blog
In 2013, investment commitments to infrastructure projects with private participation declined by 24 percent from the previous year. It should be welcome news that the first half of 2014 (H1) data – just released from the World Bank Group’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, covering energy, water and sanitation and transport – shows a 23 percent increase compared to the first half of 2013, with total investments reaching US$51.2 billion.
A closer look shows, however, that this growth is largely due to commitments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and more specifically in Brazil. In fact, without Brazil, total private infrastructure investment falls to $21.9 billion – 32 percent lower than the first half of 2013. During H1, Brazil dominated the investment landscape, commanding $29.2 billion, or 57 percent of the global total.
“There has been a broad recognition amongst economists that “institutions matter”: poor countries are not poor because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions”. Francis Fukuyama, the Origins of Political Order, Vol 1 (2009)
For development professionals, there is no getting away from the fact that politics shapes the environments in which we work—that our programs can and do fail when we don’t take politics into account. But despite growing evidence that political economy analysis (PEA) can contribute to new ways of working and ultimately better results, the politics agenda remains what Thomas Carothers calls an “almost revolution” in mainstream development practice.
There are many factors at play: limited staff capacity to engage with politics, bureaucratic incentives to meet lending targets, a preference for best practice solutions and institutional blueprints. Many continue to argue that it is not the business of development banks or aid agencies to analyse politics, let alone act on key findings. This resistance is posited on several arguments—or myths—which I address below.
Give people the ability to engage, and they will change the world. Or will they?
The massive expansion of political voice and social activism over the past several decades -- ranging from the mushrooming of citizen-led initiatives for transparency and accountability, to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and the eruption of protest movements in countries as diverse as Brazil, India, Turkey and Mexico – has generated great enthusiasm about the transformational potential of popular participation.
The reality, however, is more complex than that.
Think back to the Arab Spring and the extraordinary mobilization of so many people who managed to topple one authoritarian regime after another. The streets were theirs, but in most of these countries ousting dictators has turned out to be much easier than building political systems that are more democratic and open for citizens to engage. While much in demand,
I recently prepared a module on Citizen Engagement and Development Outcomes for a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on “Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development?”, just launched by the World Bank Group and partner organizations in both Washington, DC and London.
Two decades ago, when I interned at the French Embassy’s economic mission in Moscow, I was asked to look into bankruptcy laws and their implementation. The Embassy wanted to advise French companies on how to get business done in the new Russia—we are talking mid-1990s—when there were no reliable guidebooks on how to navigate the transition to a market economy.
So I was asked to read recently approved, Western-inspired bankruptcy laws, given a phone book and asked to find two dozen companies around Moscow. I was to meet with their CEOs and find out how insolvency and bankruptcy procedures actually worked in practice.
I came away with one key finding: In fact, the distortions brought about by hyperinflation, bartering and the transition from Soviet to Western accounting meant the liquidity and solvency ratios that underpinned the institution of bankruptcy had essentially become meaningless.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a rising middle-income region, and its citizens rightly expect quality public services. Yet too often they experience disappointment: students attending local schools are insufficiently prepared for the 21st century economy, and those needing health care too often find public clinics with no doctors or medicines.
Few in positions of authority are held accountable for such shortcomings. This situation both undermines the potential for improvement and heightens people’s unhappiness with the delivery system.
For the first time in history, the majority of people now live in cities, and . This rapid urbanization is a phenomenon almost entirely concentrated in developing and emerging countries- in fact, , and at a much faster pace than developed countries urbanized in the past.
What does this ‘metropolitan century’ mean for cities, governance, and development?
From a business perspective, local disputes can lead to more than US$20 million per week in losses for large-scale mines. To say nothing of the broader costs – in terms of lives lost and development stymied – when local discontent develops into violent conflict.
In response, a growing number of mining companies and governments have rolled out “Community Development Agreements” (CDAs), an umbrella term covering formal arrangements for local development between a company and designated communities. CDAs can run the gamut of the community-company relationship, including among other areas, socio-environmental impacts, benefit sharing, employment, monitoring and grievance redress.
CDAs have spread quickly in national law and policy. with nine countries currently in the process. The CDA model, it seems, is an emergent “best practice” and initiatives ranging from the Ruggie Principles to the International Council on Mining and Metals have reiterated their value.
I like entertaining my western friends with stories of growing up in the post-communist Kazakhstan limbo, when everything ended, but nothing had yet started. Stories of how my friends and I would collect old newspapers to trade for books and Moscow magazine subscriptions. And later on, selling empty milk bottles back for some cash to buy candy and chewing gum in the newly opened Chinese shops. The audience goes “oohh” and “ahh”, and oh do I feel like I’ve seen a lot and know what life is like!
I have to admit – attending the Fragility Conflict and Violence (FCV) Forum 2015 that took place at the World Bank HQ last week was an experience that changed my perspective on hardships of life in developing countries. There are developing countries and then there are fragile and conflict-affected countries.
A few weeks ago, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) concluded a three-day visit to the Bank with a presentation by its Chief Economist, Stefan Dercon. ‘Aid is Politics’ traversed the big picture debates in economics, politics and development with ease, but the focus was the practice of aid.
Once we’re on the ground at scale, we become part of the politics. Not only do domestic politics shape the impact of our interventions, our programs today affect politics tomorrow. Economic policy, although seemingly about ‘removing market failures and correcting distortions’, impacts upon the distribution of rents or income, at times adversely affecting political equilibria by benefitting already powerful groups.
Since walking away from politically fraught environments is not an option (aid practitioners are “the intervention squad”), we need to constantly analyze, adapt programing to politics, be creative, make political engagement endogenous, and try to nudge aspects of the political settlement to a better place.
Although Stefan gave a lively presentation, what struck me was not the content -- over the last decade, a virtual consensus has formed in development praxis that political drivers shape development outcomes, and that effective interventions require both deep understanding of the distribution of power and resources in a given country and the flexibility to adapt to changing context. Most striking was the mission underlying Stefan’s comments.