A straightforward way for local governments to engage more with their citizens

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​​Photo: © Jonathan Ernst/World Bank

A neighborhood road a minute walk away from my house in the southern plains of Nepal used to be paved. When I was a kid, it was usable during all seasons. Not anymore.
A few years ago, I’m told, residents worked with the municipal officials to get drinking water to their houses. Officials broke the road so they can connect drinking water pipes from the nearby main highway to neighborhood homes.
That road has yet to be repaired. When I asked my parents and neighbors why it has taken so long for the road to be repaired, they responded by saying the municipality officials have ignored it.
The town’s municipal officials said locals haven’t contacted them yet about that road and there are other projects the municipality is working on. The broken road in my neighborhood isn’t one of those projects. To put it gently, public services in my hometown remain in dire condition.
Would things have been different if residents of my hometown engaged more with their local government? Maybe.

Perhaps more important question is why haven’t citizens of my hometown engaged more frequently and actively with the local officials? Sadly locals say it’s because the officials are not responsive.
Good news is there is a way for local governments to shape citizens behavior . When citizens are actively contributing to the agenda and participating responsibly, everyone will benefit.
So how can governments encourage citizens to frequently interact with them?  Well, by responding to citizens positively as often as they can.
Don’t take my word for it. Earlier in 2015, researchers at the World Bank collaborated with mySociety, a UK based civic tech organization, to analyze 400,000 reports that asked public officials to fix local problems.
Researchers analyzed reports by users from fixmystreet, a website that lets residents of the UK to “report, view, or discuss local problems.”
According to the paper, 54% of users who get response are more likely to report again.
While these findings may seem intuitive, they are the first ones to systematically demonstrate the effect of responsiveness on future participation.
As governments struggle to regain trust, and budgets shrink, governments have an important lesson to learn from this report. By positively responding to citizens’ queries consistently, governments are encouraging responsible citizenry, and in the long run regaining trust.
The findings highlight the importance of government responsiveness for fostering an active citizenry, “while demonstrating the value of incidentally collected data to examine participatory behavior at the individual level.”

What do you think? Tell us in the comments.


Ravi Kumar

Team Leader, Data Use and Literacy Program

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