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


This page in:

​​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.

Join the Conversation

Andrew Adedayo A
January 17, 2016

This is my opinion....
I think when politicians see themselves as part of the solution mechanism to the myriad of problems in society, it will be easier for the citizens to engage them. But that is not the case in most part of Africa, particularly Nigeria. The political elites at all levels of government are the problem of society. They have a way of polarizing the masses who now see mediocrity as a way of life. Local governments in Nigeria only exist on paper, because they are subject to the whims and caprice of state governors, yet the masses have accepted that as normal. The Constitutional provision recognizing local governments is faulty, which takes away autonomy from the local governments, yet the federal legislators have not deemed it fit to amend that provision. In all, development at the grassroot is hindered and the masses 'helpless'.

January 08, 2016

Hi Ravi,
I am happy to learn about this article and experience of mySociety. However, In reality, government responsiveness and active citizenry are two different entities. In my experience of working in urban and rural India using social accountability mechanisms, I found that actors in both these entities are first of all need external help to make them understand that government responsiveness and citizen action are interdependent and one has to feed into another. Given, corruption and lack of trust with government functionaries, bringing this basic level of understanding in itself takes years and it is not a straight forward solution rather a complex mechanism.

January 14, 2016

I wish our country Kenya will implement this