Feedback matters: How an education operation in Bihar, India is building better accountability systems

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Around the world, public service delivery systems have strived to be more citizen centric. A decade ago, India’s Second Administrative Reforms Commission termed citizen centric administration as “The Heart of Governance” and identified accountability of government departments as a key goal. One of the mechanisms to enable citizens’ participation in governance is to build effective systems to redress public grievances. The term ‘grievance’, perhaps a remnant of its traditional use, narrowly represents formal complaints. Grievance redressal systems can also help with citizens seeking information, giving suggestions, demanding better services, and thereby participating in decision making for improved government accountability in service provision.

The case of India’s Bihar state elucidates this approach. Bihar State Educational Infrastructure Development Corporation (BSEIDC) is an agency implementing the upgradation work for almost two hundred teacher training institutions in the state supported by the World Bank’s Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness in Bihar Operation. BSEIDC is a state-owned corporation employing an array of experts in civil works for educational institutions. In a meeting with Principals of more than one hundred teacher education institutions as well as BSEIDC experts, Mr. Sanjay Singh, the Managing Director of BSEIDC, posed a question – “What can we do to ensure that construction of buildings equipped with amenities such as furniture, and other peripherals translate into responsive, inclusive, and accountable teacher training institutions?”

The answer to this question is complex. Infrastructure investments, both in buildings and higher-order digital infrastructure, continue to be a need for the education sector in India towards its goal of ensuring universal access and quality in education service delivery. The World Bank operation in Bihar responds to this need by supporting the upgrade of teacher training infrastructure and integrating technology with teachers’ education. However, there are two crucial challenges to this.

One, high-quality public infrastructure development requires effective consideration of end users’ needs, inclusion of diverse stakeholders, and proactive communication and on-site coordination. Centrally developed blueprints often overlook the local needs of principals, faculty members, and even students about academic buildings, hostels, and rest of the institutional campus. This is because the process of collecting user feedback is time-consuming and painstakingly detailed. User needs either remain unaddressed, or crop up much later during technical sign-offs and handovers of the infrastructure leading to delays. For agencies such as BSEIDC, it is difficult to meaningfully coordinate with a diverse range of stakeholders, and capture viewpoints and user needs during on-going construction.

The second challenge is around creating “responsive, inclusive, and accountable teacher training institutions.” This delves into issues beyond core infrastructure development, on how a vibrant learning environment could be fostered at the institutional level. Capturing diverse viewpoints of various stakeholders becomes even more crucial in managing this.

To mitigate some of these challenges, BSEIDC needed a system that allowed capturing beneficiary voices and made the accountability trail transparent. This was the genesis of an online portal called the “Grievance Redressal Portal.” The portal was a clever revamp of traditional pen-and-paper based complaint management, and allowed capturing feedback and identifying problems before they became serious or wide-spread.

In this design, grievances/suggestions are received online, through letters, phone calls or emails, and logged into a central portal. Each input is categorized and assigned for time-bound resolution in a three-tier system: Grievance Redressal Officer at the BSEIDC Headquarters, Executive Engineers at Divisions, and Principals at teacher education institutions. The resolutions are dispatched to the user through letter or email, as well as posted on the portal. To enable outreach, BSEIDC also invested time and resources in extensive dissemination of the portal amongst the principals, faculty members, students, and field engineers. The principals were not only trained but also encouraged to use the portal for flagging their issues. This worked, and within two quarters of the portal launch, about 80 grievances/suggestions were registered. Approximately one-third of these came directly from the principals of teacher education institutions, highlighting the success of ‘human element’ of project interventions.

Well-designed and implemented grievance management systems can significantly improve project management and operational efficiency. They can generate public awareness about the project and its objectives, help in mitigating risks, and provide project staff with pragmatic suggestions/feedback that allows them to be more accountable, transparent, and responsive to beneficiaries. They can also help in assessing the effectiveness of internal organizational processes and increase stakeholder involvement in the project.

The World Development Report 2017 highlights the need for accountability mechanisms to perform new functions and create an enabling environment for citizen agency. The effort in Bihar demonstrates a step in this direction by shifting the traditional mindset of ‘complaints’ and enabling citizen participation. To sustain these efforts, it will be necessary to make the government institutions responsive in the long run and build public trust. This will require complementing the initial gains with interventions such as continued beneficiary engagement and capacity building of key stakeholders. In addition to launching the portal, the government of Bihar is also considering investments in developing leadership and management skills among principals of teacher training institutions. This might further bolster the efforts in creating well-functioning, inclusive, resourceful and responsive teacher education institutions.

[This blog is the second publication in a series of blogs on technology initiatives under the World Bank supported Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness in Bihar Operation. The first blog on improving service delivery in education through community participation can be accessed here.]


Sanjay Kumar Singh

State Project Director, Bihar

Shabnam Sinha

Lead Education Specialist, INDIA for the World Bank Group

Kanchan Parmar

Social Development Specialist

Kumar Vivek

Education Specialist

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