Published on Voices

Engaged Citizens, Responsive Governments, Better Services for People?

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The World Bank recognizes the value of engaging with citizens to improve delivery of basic services and get real time development solutions to our clients and their people. In light of its work in the area of technology-enabled enabled citizen feedback, the World Bank Institute is holding a series of events on digital engagement.

We are trying to find out how clear is the path to ensuring citizens’ voices are heard and included in government actions. On March 6, we discussed “Maximizing the Impact of Mapping and Crowdsourcing.”
We learnt that mapping and crowdsourcing are no longer “the new shiny technology tools."  There is more and more access to ready-made technologies to engage with constituents, gather their feedback, visualize it, and share the resulting data. And as maps and feedback mechanisms become more common, the conversation will -and should - become more about relationships, incentives, and trust. We hope this series of discussions helps us move beyond focusing on specific mapping and crowdsourcing technologies, to focus more on engagement, ownership and sustainability.
Mapping, crowdsourcing, and other feedback technologies can be effective. There is emerging evidence of successful and unsuccessful approaches that have helped to informally establish methodologies for success - and reduced risk of failure- (see case studies shared at the event). More important is how we replicate what works and how we ensure that engagement can inform better public services not just for a neighborhood, but for a city, and/or a national government. Where community mapping and crowdsourcing have proven effective is at a local level. The question is, “Is there room for governments, traditional development actors, and the private sector to invest, support, and take on these projects despite their own structural incompatibilities?”
What we have learnt so far:
  1. Ensuring the sustainability of community mapping and crowdsourcing projects is difficult when donors and stakeholders change directions and resource flows accordingly. Integrating mapping and crowdsourcing in the conceptualization, design, and implementation of projects not only helps connect “problem havers” with the “problem solvers” but also identifies areas of need that have gone unnoticed.
  2. Communities often find their own solutions to problems with better information. Part of the answer is to accelerate and support that. The role of the information intermediary is important when demand and supply are ever changing. Admittedly, governments and donors are not all knowing and neither are their citizens. This creates space for mappers and crowdsourcers to serve as, and help information intermediaries, or ‘infomediaries’. These efforts need to be linked with CSO, donor, and government work by design. The resulting inclusive process, with more in-time access to information, and constituent demand will provide a better environment for effective decision-making. If the role of the infomediary changes over time, where does it start and when does it end?
  • However, infomediaries, governments, and donors must standardize their approach with more sharable and accessible authoritative data (open data) and open technologies (opensource). Presumption of disclosure must be the norm.
3 . Communities don’t scale, but move at their own speed. There is no “cookie-cutter model” for scaling and replicating successful mapping and crowdsourcing activities. Beyond being more inclusive in our approach and connecting the right players to ensure sustainability, we need to be more adaptive.
  • Development actors need to adapt project timelines to respect the sometimes lengthier community timelines. In addition, the idea that mapping and crowdsourcing projects can compensate for a lack of resources because "communities will volunteer" is a myth. We need to make sure that we have the right incentive structures in the current local contexts.
4. Projects should engage citizens in a non-technocentric way from start to finish to be truly inclusive. A blend of appropriate technology and data to accelerate and support a community’s work is preferred.
  • Though such an online and offline approach from conception, to implementation, to monitoring is lengthy and complicated, the benefit in terms of ownership, buy-in, and sustainability pays off over the longer term. This reinforces the idea that projects need on-the-ground engagement with local partners if they are to succeed.
  • That said, the World Bank’s role as a convener for civil society actors and public and private sector counterparts to engage constructively is becoming increasingly important. And much more remains to be addressed if we are to turn these conversations into real behavioral change.
So join us on April 9 at 2:00-3:30 PM EST, at the World Bank Spring Meeting high level session for a second discussion on: “Closing Feedback Loops: From Engaged Citizens To More Responsive Governments.” Our panel of representatives from government, development agencies, civil society, and the private sector hope to address questions such as;
  • How can we turn citizen engagement approaches, tools, and movements into more responsive governments and better services?
  • How do we ultimately change the nature of the relationship between a government and its citizens?
We will live stream the event and you can find us on Twitter at #wblive, to discuss further how #DigitalEngagement will #OpenGovNow. This discussion will also serve to launch a new World Bank report on technology-enabled citizen engagement and closing the feedback loop. It will be engaging!


Stephen Davenport

Global Lead, Anticorruption, Openness, and Transparency

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