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South Asia

The Public and Its Pundits

Antonio Lambino's picture

The public needs its pundits.  Those with expertise on various topics, ranging from financial derivates to pop psychology, serve as “opinion leaders” on the important and not-so-important issues of the day.  From personal experience -- talking to family, friends, and colleagues -- I notice that we tend to repeat what we hear from them on various topics, whether consciously or not. 

We know from applied communication research that, over time, people tend to retain bits and pieces of information while forgetting their sources.  How many times have we made authoritative statements and when asked where we got the information, say something like “I don’t remember from where exactly but I’m pretty sure that… “  This is normal because we can’t be expected to keep track of each and every information source.  And we can’t be expected to come up with our own erudite analysis of each and every public issue either.  Hence, we need pundits.  But we should also keep in mind that not all of these experts on all things public are created equal.  We could very well be mouthing off as hard fact something a pundit shared as her or his own misinformed opinion. 

Accountability Alchemy

Darshana Patel's picture

A self-help group member shows us her paralegal identification (Medak District, Andhra Pradesh).Alchemy is well known as the science of turning invaluable substances into gold.  But it symbolizes transformation of the most radical kind.  (From the Arabic word al-kimia, alchemy literally means "the art of transformation.")

So what does accountability have to do with radical transformation? According to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) , a government agency in Andhra Pradesh, India; accountability is key to ensuring transformation of the poor.   

SERP is implementing the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project, locally known as Indira Kranthi Patham (IKP) in all the 22 rural districts of Andhra Pradesh. IKP is the longest running livelihoods program financed by the World Bank in South Asia but what makes the project unique is not large-scale spending. It is the slow, intentional process of building institutions of and by the poor that no amount of money alone has been able to accomplish.  The idea behind this project is that accountability and sound governance practices must be embedded in the norms and culture of institutions rather than treated as after-thoughts.

Talking with Teeth: Micro-Planning with Community Scorecards

Darshana Patel's picture

Village youth decribing the social accountability process before a village elected official.Coming together is a process
Keeping together is progress
Working together is success

This message, written on the wall of a public building in Gureghar village in the district of Satara in Maharashtra, India, implies the significant changes that have taken place at that village.  Since mid-2007, 178 villages including Gureghar have been part of an innovative social accountability process that has redefined relationships between citizens, service providers and local government.  Although micro-planning has been happening for over 2 decades in Maharashtra, the innovation in this pilot project is that micro-planning has been combined with a community scorecard process to strengthen relationships of accountability at the village level. 

Breathing Life into a First Generation Right

Darshana Patel's picture

The RTI truck makes a stop in Hiware Bazar, a town in Ahmednagar District.The Right to Information (RTI) truck leaves the city of Pune, India and makes it way through all the neighboring towns and villages at a slow but steady pace.   The main features of this truck are the placards hanging outside of it.  Written in the local language, Marathi; they explain what the Indian RTI Act is and what it can do for citizens.  The truck makes stops in local meeting places such as markets and town centers to educate citizens about RTI through videos and written materials. 

RTI is considered to be widely used in the state of Maharashtra where this truck operates.  On a recent trip, I understood just how prolific RTI in Maharashtra is.

What in the World is 'Rude Accountability'?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I have just read a fascinating paper published by the Institute of Development Studies in the UK and written by Naomi Hossain. It is titled 'Rude Accountability in the Unreformed State: Informal Pressures on Frontline Bureaucrats in Bangladesh' [IDS Working Paper Volume 2009 Number 319]. The paper describes and analyzes what happens when poor peasants in Bangladesh are being poorly served by frontline service providers like doctors and teachers in an environment where the institutional accountability mechanisms do not work. So, what do these poor peasants do? They get angry and they show it. They speak rudely to these doctors and teachers who normally expect deference. They embarrass them. They get local newspapers to name and shame them.They even engage in acts of violence like vandalism. And their reactions often produces results, particularly the media reports. This is what Hossain calls 'rude accountability'.

The “State-Sponsored” Public Sphere

Darshana Patel's picture

In India’s 2 million villages, public meetings at the village level called Gram Sabhas (GSs) have provided a structured, institutionalized space for dialogue between the local government and its citizens.  In a recently released paper on the topic, Vijayendra Rao and Paromita Sanyal have coined these GSs as “state-sponsored” public sphere.  In fact, these meetings are mandated by national legislation. 

In India, these public meetings not only offer a space to dialogue and feedback between citizens and local power holders, they also pair it with real decision-making on how to manage local resources for beneficiaries for public programs.  This is the most striking feature of the GSs.  While the government provides data on families living below the poverty line that could be eligible for local resources, the GSs are required to have these lists ratified by those attending the meeting.  Citizens can directly challenge the data in “a forum where public discourse shapes the meaning of poverty, discrimination and affirmative action.”

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