Nine Lessons for Bridging the Gap between Cities and Citizens

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 Jerry Kurniawan / World Bank

Recently, the lack of economic and social opportunities in many urban areas have triggered that the urban poor express a greater demand for a voice in local decision-making that affect their lives. An increasing number of city governments are realizing that open and responsive public institutions are imperative to achieving better and more sustained development results.
Important questions however remain: What is the impact of open government approaches to improving public services to poor communities?  What are some examples of where the emerging Open Government approach has made a difference in the lives of the urban poor?

These are some of the questions which were discussed during a high-level panel on Cities and Citizens: Game Changers for Inclusive Development hosted last week during the Annual Meetings. At the center of the discussion was how to move towards collaborative governance model that is based on a relationship of trust between citizens, civil society and local policy makers. 
Moving towards a citizen-centered model of government is critical for achieving better results.  
But what does this mean in praxis? What are some of the bottlenecks and pitfalls of such an approach? 
Here are nine lessons learned from our work on Open Government and Citizen Engagement programs  around the world.

  1. Open Government is more than just making Government more open and transparent.  It is about rebalancing the “governance” and power structure between government institutions, civil society, the private sector and citizens.
  2. Openness and accountability of government is the basis for building a relationship of trust for effective civic participation. It can fundamentally alter the relationship between government and citizens.
  3. Open Government programs are not effective if they are not embedded into a much broader institutional and cultural changes within government and fully integrated into the governments overall economic and social development goals.
  4. New technologies can be powerful enablers to strengthen existing transparency and social accountability mechanisms that empower citizens and traditionally excluded groups. Technologies by themselves, however, are not transformational; they need to be closely embedded into the different local socio-political context and amplify existing social accountability and governance processes.
  5. Enhancing the capabilities of the urban poor, youth and minorities to engage in policy debates is equally important as strengthening the capacity of government institutions to effectively respond to citizen engagement.
  6. Effective Open Government programs not only enhance the openness and responsiveness of governments however also fosters the inclusiveness of institutions.
  7. It’s critical to recognize that Open Government initiatives are not just about learning how to better listen to citizens.  It’s also about how to become more responsive to them and their expressed needs.
  8. Civil society plays a central role in enhancing government accountability.  They can form effective bridges between government and citizens. Improved government openness does not translate automatically into the effective uses of information by citizens. CSOs are critical ‘infomediaries’ that can strengthen the capabilities of poor communities to better access information, evaluate and act upon the provided information. 
  9.  A genuine process of political and institutional reforms can grow out of an effective alliance between reform-minded policymakers, civil society and private sector leaders. Thus, open governance reforms need to be driven by the local socio-economic, political and cultural context.
These are just some early lessons we have learned. Many questions remain open on how to foster collaborative governance models and how to promote inclusive institutions that can effectively respond to the needs of citizens
What do you think? Tell us in the comments.


Soren Gigler

Senior Governance Specialist, Innovation

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