From citizen feedback to inclusive institutions: 10 lessons


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Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Over the last couple of years a small team of us have worked on an initiative to incorporate the regular, systematic feedback of citizens into the design and execution of World Bank programs. I would like to share some of our experiences working together with governments, civil society organizations and citizens in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa on this citizen engagement initiative.

First, citizen engagement is not new. For instance, the early work by Robert Chambers, “The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal and Michael Cernea’s “Putting People First” date from 1980s and early 90s and were quite inspirational for many of us who have worked issues of gathering and acting on citizen feedback.
At the same time, something important has changed. There has been an increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater say in public decision-making, and a desire among many governments to be more inclusive and responsive to citizens’ needs. Also, the rise of innovations in technology has provided citizens with new and unprecedented opportunities to directly engage policy makers and demonstrated the potential to facilitate “Closing the Feedback Loop” between citizen and governments.

In 2013, citizen engagement became a strategic priority for the World Bank.  The institution committed to a corporate goal of achieving 100 percent beneficiary feedback by 2018 in all World Bank Group operations with clearly identifiable beneficiaries.
While this goal is a real opportunity to move the citizen engagement agenda forward, it also raises many challenges for our daily work. For instance, how can the World Bank’s effort enhance the participation of people in local decision-making processes in a sustainable manner? Can citizen engagement initiatives go beyond listening to people and in fact make the development process and institutions more inclusive? Can it give citizens the opportunity to co-design and co-implement programs in partnership with governments, civil society and the international donors?
Here are 10 lessons learned:  
1. We need to go beyond citizen engagement and rethink our very model of governance.  More specifically, we need to move beyond traditional models of governance -- where citizen input is received just once per election cycle, or sometimes not at all -- to one that is more open, inclusive and responsive to citizens, and where citizen input is sought on a regular basis, including from the most marginalized groups.
2. Citizen engagement can enhance development results. Engaging citizens can improve the delivery and quality of public services , enhance the management of public finances, and bring about greater transparency, accountability and social inclusion, resulting in tangible improvements in people’s lives.
3. Citizen engagement allows us to broaden the development dialogue to include the views and perspectives of traditionally marginalized groups, leading to more inclusive institutions—governments, development organizations, and donor agencies alike. This can strengthen public consensus for important reforms, and provide the broad political support and public ownership necessary to sustain them.
4Citizen engagement signifies a cultural change in the way we go about development , whereby local communities drive the process of development that shapes their lives. We see the most sustainable results when citizens become active agents rather than passive recipients.
5. To make citizen engagement meaningful, governments and citizen groups need to work together  to develop institutionalized methods of receiving and responding to citizen input.
6. Empowering citizens to make their voices heard is not enough.  We have to go beyond just listening to citizens; rather, we need to support governments to build institutional systems that incorporate citizen voices in decision-making processes, and thereby increase the responsiveness of government programs to people’s real needs.
7. We need to rethink why people participate. This is critical for building citizen engagement programs that work. It is common to employ what we call the rational choice model – the idea that participation will increase if participation benefits are higher than participation costs. This is to some extent true, but many studies have shown that citizens are strongly driven by psychological and intangible factors, such as a sense of civic duty and belonging. We need to devote resources to increasing a sense of citizenship amongst both citizens and government. 
8. We need to rethink the frequent assumption that government and citizens are necessarily in opposition  to each other— that governments want to be secretive and closed, and that citizens inherently distrust their governments. In fact, we’ve seen a plethora of actors in both governments and civil society who seek to work together in partnership to solve major development challenges.
9. We need to rethink whether existing approaches from North America and Europe are in fact replicable or transferable to developing countries.  We have learned that it is essential to place citizen engagement initiatives into the local socioeconomic, political and cultural context.
10. Finally, we need to rethink how we implement citizen engagement programs to have a larger impact.  We have learned that citizen engagement programs tend to be much more effective when implemented within a much broader context of government reforms.
To learn more about the impact of citizen engagement on development, see our new publication: Closing the Feedback Loop and sign up for our MOOC on Citizen engagement


Soren Gigler

Senior Governance Specialist, Innovation

Dhirendra Krishna
December 30, 2015

In India, practical implementation of participation in institutions of self-governance, involves review of compliance with law by Panchayati Raj Institutions at Village, Block and District level. Each State Government has framed laws relating to the Panchayats, in the Constitution of India. If the legal framework is implemented in letter and spirit, institutions of democratic decentralisation will work as effective self-governing body. Following issues can be raised in Rajasthan, for example, to examine the compliance with law:
1. INTRODUCTION: Rajasthan Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad Act was enacted in 1959 which provided for a three tier structure of local self governing bodies at district, block and village levels and enhance decentralisation of powers. Consequent to 73 rd Constitutional Amendment, the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act (RPRA), 1994 came into effect from April 1994, which delineated functions and powers of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
➢ Constitution of India
➢ Rajasthan Panchayat Act 1994
➢ Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Rules 1996.
➢ Orders issued by the Government of Rajasthan, regarding Powers, Authorities and Responsibilities of Panchayats.
Compliance with the legal framework is the responsibility of Panchayat authorities at Village, Block and District levels. They are required to have internal control systems for ensuring compliance. Auditors perform test-check to identify deviations from law, if any.
➢ Elected representatives to Panchayat at Village, Block and District levels, along with officers appointed to assist them, are required to comply with the
• Constitution of India
• Panchayat Act approved by the State Legislature
• Rules and regulation framed by the State Governments and
• Schemes framed by the State Government .
➢ There should be internal control systems to ensure that any non-compliance is included in agenda of meetings of the Panchayat authorities and the administrative actions to ensure compliance is stated in the minutes of the meeting.
➢ Compliance Audit by Internal Auditor, auditor checking the accounts and test audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, results in highlighting non-compliance with law and other irregularities. Comments by Audit should be included in the agenda of meeting and corrective measures recorded in the minutes of meeting of Panchayat authorities.
➢ Citizens have access to all public records under the Right To Information Act 2005 and can bring non-compliance with law to the notice of Panchayat authorities
➢ Compliance Audit involves checking the compliance with the legal framework by the authority being audited. Compliance with law is the statutory responsibility of Panchayat authorities and the elected representatives. Auditor can only highlight whether internal controls are adequate to ensure compliance with the legal framework. Audit Report would highlight the areas of non-compliance, where corrective actions are to be taken by Panchayat authorities.
➢ Guideline for compliance audit placed below is illustrative, to enable the Auditor to focus on critical areas. Test check the records is limited to high risk and vulnerable areas, in view of time constraint by the Auditors.
➢ Auditors are expected to play a constructive role and assist in financial management. Only major deficiency in compliance of Act and rules are highlighted in the Audit Report.
o Transparency, to provide assurance to citizens that Panchayat authority complies with provisions of law.
o Public Accountability in reporting deviation in compliance.
o Good governance, avoiding fraud and misuse of funds.
➢ Do Panchayati Raj Institutions enable people’s participation in planned development and local governance?
➢ Have Panchayati Raj Institutions been endowed with power, authority and finances to enable them to function as self-governing institution?
➢ Have these institutions been entrusted with preparation and implementation of planned schemes for economic development and social justice?
➢ Are there constraints in institutional capacity building that hampers Panchayat becoming a self-governing institution?
➢ Are meetings of Gram Sabha regularly held?
➢ What are the issues included in agenda of meetings?
➢ Are decisions minuted and there is follow-up of decisions?
➢ Do they monitor implementation of development schemes?
➢ Has State Government devolved functions and finances to enable them to work as institution of self-governance?
➢ Does Village Panchayat/ Block Panchayat/ District Panchayat consider suggestions of Gram Sabha? Is their audit evidence regarding implementation of such suggestions?
➢ Is data collected and compiled by Gram Sabha the basis for planning?
➢ Are priorities decided by Gram Sabha are basis for allocation of scarce funds? Is there audit evidence of decisions, based on priorities decided by Gram Sabha ?
➢ How does Gram Sabha contribute in implementation of development plans prepared by Central and State Governments?
➢ Is Gram Sabha able to mobilize voluntary services and funds for projects of common interest ?
➢ Are decisions of Gram Sabha about location of streetlights, water taps, sanitary units, garbage disposal bins and other such public utility services implemented?
➢ Is Gram Sabha instrumental in generating public awareness in issues such as cleanliness, environmental protection, pollution control, protection from social evils, etc.
➢ How is Gram Sabha discharging their duties envisaged in law ? Is there a system of feedback from the beneficiaries of services and are corrective actions taken ? Is their effective system of dealing with complaints?
➢ Does Gram Sabha submit periodical reports to Village Panchayat ? Is opinion of Village Panchayat minuted for corrective actions ?
o Has the government issued notifications, to enable Panchayat to perform as self-governing institutions as envisaged in the Constitution of India and West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973, as amended from time to time ?
o Are the notification backed by effective administrative decentralization, to enable Panchayat to perform their legal duties ?
o How does the State Government monitor the performance of Panchayat?

Ershad Ahmad
November 12, 2019

I found this article useful.Institutions should move beyond tokenistic citizens engagement to meaningful and impactful engagement