Ten Years of Aid Transparency – Fulfilling the Dream of Accra

originally published By Owen Barder, Vice President at the Center for Global Development, Director for Europe and a senior fellow, and Gary Forster, Chief Executive Officer, Publish What You Fund

 

Aid and development transparency has come a long way in ten years. In this, the first of a two-part blog series, we look back at the origins of the aid transparency movement. We reflect on the original vision of those who conceived the idea, and the journey to date including some of the successes achieved along the way.

We would like to start with a huge thank you to all of the incredible technocrats, bureaucrats, big thinkers and hard workers who contributed to the design, launch and initial success of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and to the broader aid transparency movement. If we’ve missed you out or misinterpreted your role please forgive us and know that we’ll be forever grateful for what you all, together, achieved, and continue to achieve.

Championing aid transparency

The landmark agreement on aid effectiveness, in Paris in 2005, acknowledged that foreign assistance is far more effective when it backs a developing country’s own priorities, uses country systems, focuses on results, and is accountable to the local population. A small but vocal group of reformers, mainly in the UK, began to point out that none of this was possible unless everyone could see what happens to aid. Judith Randel and Tony German, the founders of Development Initiatives (DI), were among the earliest people to highlight this, long before it became widely accepted.

It soon became clear that there could be a broad coalition for aid transparency. Champions included those who wanted to build support for aid in donor countries, because citizens would trust aid more if they could see where it went; those who believed that governments and parliaments needed more information about aid to manage their public services efficiently with scarce resources; those who believed the aid system was wasteful or corrupt, who wanted to use the sunlight of transparency to disinfect; those who believed that the costs of coordination and planning were being driven up by the lack of easily accessible information for donors and others in the aid industry; and those who believed that with more information, evidence and analysis could make aid work better.

Many of the most vocal activists were deeply frustrated that developing country governments and their people get so little information about what was being done in their country. There was a huge amount of evidence from decades of work in aid effectiveness about the impact of aid at best having less impact than it should or could be, and at worst undermining the very institution and process that really will cause change. There was also a constant stream of examples about wasteful duplication and overlap, because nobody knew where aid was being spent and for what purpose – ranging from water points in Tanzania to vaccinations in Indonesia

All these different views converged on the same goal: to get as much information about aid as possible published, in a way that all these different constituencies could use. But how could we do that without giving priority to one or other of these views, and so risk splintering the coalition?

 

The open data standard

That was partly what led us to the open data standard. Our idea was that information should be published once, minimising the burden on donors, and then used in many different ways for all these multiple purposes, all of which were valid. We wanted transparency to be agnostic about how the information would be used. If donors were asked to provide information for particular constituencies for particular purposes, they would have too much power to decide who and what should get precedence; but an open data format would make the same information easily available to everyone, without having to justify themselves to governments.

 

The road to Accra

The Accra meeting in 2008 was the obvious time to launch an initiative. It was the next in the series of meetings on aid effectiveness, and an emerging theme for the meeting was that “ownership” had to mean more than government. The meeting in Accra promoted the view that for aid to be effective, it had to address the priorities of, and be accountable to, the citizens and civil society of the countries to which it was given. And we argued that this was possible only if those citizens had access to information about how that aid was being used.

Looking back on the big aid effectiveness agreements, you could say that Rome was largely about efficiency, Paris was largely about value for money and Accra was about power. But it is difficult to persuade those who have power to share it with those who do not. Our aim was to smuggle in transparency as a technical-sounding change with longer-term implications for the balance of power in aid. It is difficult to argue against aid transparency: there are few publicly-defensible reasons to keep aid information hard to find and impossible to make much sense of.

We all knew that aid transparency would not, by itself, make aid better, still less reduce poverty or change the balance of power; but we all believed it could catalyse wider changes that would.

Publish What You Fund, founded by Martin Tisne,emerged mainly from a group if people from a variety of different backgrounds, all of whom saw aid transparency as a means to an end. The arrival of Karin Christiansen brought a fresh dose of energy born from years of working with ODI in Ministries of Finance on aid flows and budgets, coupled with newly learnt campaigning skills from ONE.

The team at DI was already immersed in development data, the team at DFID was looking for something specific to announce in Accra that would make a real difference to country ownership and aid effectiveness, and began initial advocacy and technical work on the open data standard that would become IATI.

As the rain beat down on a corrugated iron roof during the rainy season in Addis Ababa, Owen produced a first draft of a declaration to be made in Accra, and worked with colleagues at DFID and DI to refine the details and get donors onside. Romilly Greenhill, then at DFID, stewarded the draft through the UK government and she and DFID colleagues then worked tirelessly to build support from other donors. DFID deserves considerable credit for their leadership across the aid sector to build the coalition for aid transparency. Karin galvanised developing countries, civil society and open government campaigners.

The idea was enthusiastically embraced, at a memorable sundown meeting on the beach in Accra, and then in the halls and communiqué of the formal conference.

 

Turning the vision into reality

Once the open standard had been endorsed in Accra, the hard work began of giving substance to the commitment, and continuing to broaden support. A huge part of the vision, energy and technical know-how was provided by the heroic efforts of Simon Parrish, who had joined DI from DFID’s information systems team. Simon died far too young in 2016; but even then it was clear what a difference he had personally made to the world. None of this would have happened without his kindness, his common sense way of deploying his expertise, his integrity and his patience.

 

Our vision was an open data standard, easy to access, free to use, that would underpin any conversation about aid. There would be a single version of the truth, shared between governments, civil society and citizens. A bit like accounting standards, the aid information standard would vastly reduce the costs of collecting, publishing and using information about aid. The information costs that made it hard for aid to be accountable, coordinated, complementary, and efficient would be swept away as more and more of the international development community adopted IATI. Or so we hoped.

 

Ten years on

A huge amount of progress has indeed been made over the last ten years. The establishment of the original, agreed IATI Standard provided a foundation on which organisations could publish a range of aid and development data. Publication rates have increased with more than 800 organisations publishing data on IATI by July 2018, encompassing more than one million activities. Organisations have adapted their internal systems to track and report on the necessary budget and activity-related information and have reported better internal communications and clearer understanding of their own success (or otherwise) in achieving project objectives.

As the advocacy organisation for aid and development transparency, in October 2011, Publish What You Fund piloted the Aid Transparency Assessment to assess ‘what good transparency looks like?’ among major bi-lateral aid and development donors, namely information that is detailed, timely, comprehensive and comparable. This was later developed into the aid transparency index. The launch of our fifth Index in June 2018 illustrated just how far we’ve come with 93% of the 45 donor organisations featured in the Index now publishing in the IATI Standard. Of these organisations, 50% publish their aid data monthly, up from 25% in 2016.

 

The next challenge

Although publishing timely data is, of course, to be applauded, it is not enough in itself. To be of value, it also needs to be comprehensive and cover all aspects of aid and development projects, including, but not limited to, financial and performance-related data.

The aid and development effectiveness movement has had an uphill struggle in recent years, and this has made the context for transparency in this area more challenging. To help fulfil development needs and ambitious global objectives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and an estimated global aid and development finance gap of $2.5 trillion, now more than ever, more and better aid and development finance is required. This is especially true at a time when some donors’ budgets are being reduced.

One of the chief highlights of the 2018 Index was the strong performance of development finance institutions (DFIs): with the Asian Development Bank (AsDB) taking the top spot and DFIs dominating the ‘very good’ category overall, underscoring that organisations operating with different business models can still do so transparently. Nevertheless, the involvement of a growing number of diverse aid and development actors, including DFIs and others from the private and humanitarian sectors, presents a transparency challenge.

Publish What You Fund, therefore, continues to urge organisations – in the private and public sectors – to share detailed, timely, comprehensive and comparable data so this can happen. Only when the missing pieces of the data transparency jigsaw are provided can open data be used and transformed into the life-changing first step required to make aid and development activities more effective and hold organisations and donors to account for significant and lasting change.

We applaud the fact that unprecedented amounts of timely, open and comparable data are now made available by most major international donors. But it is only when this information is accessed and put to use by donors, government representatives and civil society, will the original promise of the aid and development transparency movement be truly fulfilled.

Short-Changed: How the IMF’s tax policies are failing women

Originally published here

In recent years the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral institutions have placed an increased emphasis on gender inequality and the need to address it. This trend has peaked since the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by the international community in 2015. Yet so far, its approach has been largely instrumental, promoting gender equality as a vehicle for achieving increased economic growth, and proposing simplistic solutions like facilitating women’s access to paid jobs. The IMF – like other institutions – has failed to acknowledge that the macroeconomic and tax policy advice it gives to countries reflects and reinforces patriarchal power structures, entrenching, rather than transforming, gender inequality.

Macroeconomic policies, such as taxation, can play a central role in transforming gendered power relations and challenging patriarchal structures and institutions, by facilitating systematic investments in public services, infrastructure and social protection. This should form part of wider strategies to meet national, regional and global commitments on women and girls’ rights, including tackling economic inequality and violence, and the financing of wider development.

Gender responsive tax and expenditure policies should be at the heart of the IMF’s efforts to tackle gender inequality, but they currently are not. In its 2018 publication, How to Operationalize Gender Issues in Country Work, the IMF has recognised for the first time that its macroeconomic policy advice may have ‘differential gender impact[s]… that could exacerbate gender inequality’. However it has not yet effectively systematised the process of investigating the gendered impacts of its policy advice at country level. The guidance note doesn’t mention tax as an area where there are differential impacts, nor has it put forward any guidance on what the alternative policy advice might resemble.

Macroeconomic policies, including taxation and spending, are neither gender neutral nor apolitical. In fact, decisions around how resources are raised, managed and allocated are inherently gendered and political. This is both in terms of who makes the decisions and the ways they impact upon particular countries and groups of women and girls within those countries. In this way, tax is a profoundly feminist issue.

This briefing argues that the IMF must urgently analyse the differentiated impacts of its tax policy advice on men and women, particularly women living in poverty. We believe the IMF should switch its focus away from largely regressive indirect taxes, such as

Value-Added Tax (VAT), towards more progressive taxes that are directly linked to income and wealth, such as Personal Income Tax (PIT), Corporate Income Tax (CIT), Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Property Tax.

If the IMF was to make its tax policy advice consistent with an objective to reduce gender inequality, then advice should be grounded in evidence for taxes which will be gender-just and progressive and play the most meaningful role in redistributing wealth to ensure the rights of all women and girls are fulfilled. Progressive taxes ensure that individuals as well as businesses with higher incomes pay a higher share of their income or profits in tax. Because gender discrimination means that women generally earn less than men and have less profitable and productive enterprises, a progressive system of taxation would prevent women on low incomes from being locked into, or pushed further into, poverty because of heavy tax payments. It would also support the fulfilment of their wider social and economic rights by funding quality, gender responsive public services, infrastructure and social protection.

Summary recommendations to the IMF and national governments

  1. The IMF and national governments should contribute towards the creation of an enabling macroeconomic environment for women’s rights by adopting an evidence-based comprehensive approach to defining, identifying and addressing how its taxation and wider policy advice impacts upon different groups of women.
  2. Minimise and mitigate the regressive impacts of indirect taxes such as VAT and taxes on the informal economy, and commit to pursuing a progressive, gender-just approach to tax that effectively redistributes wealth and contributes to the achievement of women’s rights by taxing those with the most ability to pay.
  3. Commit to ensuring that tax revenue is allocated and spent in order to meet global commitments on women’s rights, including women’s economic rights and ending violence against women and girls, and that this is done in a way that is democratic, transparent and accountable.

Making Budgets work for Gender Equality in Ethiopia

This article was originally published on the GPSA Knowledge Platform by Lucia Nass

Despite strong legal frameworks for gender equality, Ethiopian women still have a lot of catching up to do. They occupy a low status in society and their developmental outcomes are still well below those of men. Ethiopia has started to support Gender Responsive Budging (GRB), but is this creating the desired effect on gender equality?

The Ethiopia Social Accountability Program phase 2 (ESAP2) introduced GRB tool in almost a quarter of Ethiopia’s 1000 districts across five public services: education, health, water, agriculture, and rural roads. We guided over 110 local organizations to help communities assess the standards and budgets of basic services they received, prioritize necessary improvement, engage in dialogue with service providers and local government, and realize the agreed reforms.

Initially, very few CSOs chose to work with the GRB tool because it provided limited implementation guidelines and also gender expertise was not well developed among the CSOs. The ESAP team invited an Ethiopian gender consultant and engaged with CSOs, communities, and government gender experts in an action research process to make a new GRB tool that would work for social accountability at local government level.

CSOs start with identifying and mobilizing local gender and budget expertise, which can support the social accountability process. In Ethiopia, this usually involves the Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office; the Financial Transparency and Accountability expert; and experts from the sector offices. They also timed social accountability activities to the budget cycle, so that citizens can influence budget decisions and review. Before conducting gender analysis, awareness is raised among service providers on the government’s gender policies for service delivery. Then gender analysis of service access and benefits is facilitated where community members are involved in comparing the impact of basic services on women to that of men. Citizens and service providers are then brought together to discuss local budgets and set priorities for gender equitable spending on public services. This leads to prioritization of spending on improvements that promote gender equality. Citizens subsequently monitor that service improvements indeed benefit women and men as agreed during the budget discussions.

Interestingly, the CSOs had already completed a full cycle of the SA process before the new GRB tool was introduced. Focusing on the same services, the communities’ priorities changed. All six pilots show that new issues were prioritised. In Debre Markos town, GRB highlighted sexual harassment of school girls. The community had already identified the need of a fence to protect students from residents who could wander into the school yard at any time. The gender analysis highlighted the negative impact of drinking houses in terms of the harassment of school girls by their customers. The issue was raised during the interface meeting, and local authorities subsequently moved the drinking houses to the other end of town.

Pilots encountered secondary schools with no separate toilets for boys and girls, and agricultural extension services that focus solely on crops grown by men. Ethiopia’s basic services may on paper appear gender neutral, but in practice they are not. Gender analysis can demonstrate how service delivery that is seemingly “gender neutral” does in fact perpetuate gender bias. We learned how to integrate gender analysis with each step of a social accountability process at local government level. Our GRB tool brings abstract gender policies to life for men and women, service providers and district officials.

We hope that our work will inspire SA practitioners to develop GRB for local government budgets. This publication explains how we developed the tool and gives more detail to the results achieved for gender equality in basic service access and benefits.

Engaging government differently: social audits and service delivery

This video tells us about a success story of the first Collaborative Social Audit in South Africa in 3 informal settlements in Wattville, Ekurhuleni Gauteng, South Africa.

 

In 2016, Albert Van Zyl of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) wrote the following blog on social audits in South Africa:

Are Social Audits Soft on Government?

In contrast to campaigns that are more inherently confrontational, social audits invest heavily in unpacking and decoding government budget policy and processes. They often start by examining official documents to understand what service delivery commitments the government has made and what viable counter proposals might look like. This is not to say that social audits can’t form part of larger campaigns that use a variety of tactics to get the government to respond. But this engagement is firmly rooted in the facts and figures that the government itself releases in official documents.

None of this makes social audits “soft” on government, it is simply a different style of getting and holding the attention of government so as to engage on an issue of importance. Most participants felt that social audits embody a style of advocacy worth preserving. They pointed out the power of social audit fundamentals, such as community ownership as well as using evidence and official commitments to engage with government. Given that this advocacy approach is based on a deep understanding of budgets and policies, social audits can in some cases actually be harder on government — and should certainly be harder to ignore.

Does Credibility Matter?

Despite being firmly rooted in evidence, not everyone gives social audits the respect they are due. Parts of the South African government have chosen to question the validity of audit findings and quibble about the rigor of the data collection and analysis. Civil society organizations have sometimes responded by tightening up these aspects of their social audits. In other cases, such as with Equal Education’s school sanitation audit, CSOs have appointed highly regarded independent observers to vouch for the rigor of the process.

Yet, as one participant pointed out, “legitimacy does not guarantee accountability.” Ultimately these challenges by government are motivated less by a concern for scientific rigor, and are more about wriggling out of the tough questions asked about how well officials are doing their jobs. Independent observers and solid methods may make it harder for the government to dismiss the findings of social audits, but they do not guarantee accountability. For that CSOs need to use other tactics, like generating media coverage and mobilizing popular support.

Who Sets the Agenda for a Social Audit?

The questions of who decides which issue to focus on is a crucial one because community ownership is such essential part of a social audit. At the same time, social audits are so information and knowledge intensive that focusing on a single issue often makes them more effective. In the first few social audits conducted in South Africa, membership based organizations, like the SJC and Equal Education, used social audits as part of ongoing campaigns where the agenda had already been set. This made it easy to decide on the issue and get the relevant communities’ commitment.

More recent social audits, like that conducted by Ndifuna Ukwazi in Wolwerivier, brought in an external organization to assist the community with the social audit. This made the agenda question a lot more difficult to deal with. Facilitating organizations know focusing on a single issue increases the impact of a social audit, but communities are faced with such a myriad of service delivery problems and interest groups that it can be hard to agree on a single issue.

This poses some interesting questions about how social audits can be replicated across South Africa. The situation where external organizations help communities to conduct social audits seems almost necessary for them to become more widespread.  But can effective social audits only be conducted as part of campaigns with well-developed agendas? Or can they be adapted to help new campaigns refine their agendas?

“How do we bring about a social audit revolution?”

One participant in the workshop posed this very question. The excitement over social audits has spread rapidly among South African civil society, and also in government and the donor community. This has resulted in numerous requests for social audit training. But, as many participants warned, social audits are not a silver bullet for solving all of South Africa’s service delivery issues and they don’t lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all approach. Where a service delivery problem is caused by insufficient budget rather than poor implementation, for example, a social audit may not be the best way to proceed.

The SJC, NU, Planact, and Equal Education have done an admirable job of promoting the practice in South Africa, choosing slow steady growth in the number of audits and organizations conducting them over letting a thousand flowers bloom. They have also created a social audit guide and formed a Social Audit Network to support such new initiatives. This network is now planning to coordinate the growing body of experienced social audit practitioners to ensure that new auditors have access to old hands.

Social audits are a powerful tool. But knowing how and when to use them, and understanding their underlying principles, are key to their effectiveness. While they may not always be the quickest way to prompt the government to respond, the kind of changes they stand to deliver could well be revolutionary.

This blog post was originally published on the IBP website

Who are ‘the people’? – Making citizen participation models work for poor and marginalised groups

Authored by  on the 17th Sep 2018

Citizen participation in local governance

Many countries are now embracing participatory local governance models – various forms of state decision-making processes that mandate local representatives to include and consult with citizens. These provisions are increasingly enshrined in policy and law, as many countries pursue ambitious decentralisation agendas. They can take a wide variety of forms, such as:

  • public consultations on local development plans
  • town hall forums to share information or receive inputs during annual budget-making
  • open local government meetings that permit citizen observation and Q&A sessions
  • allowing civil society representatives to shadow financial audits of government offices or projects.

Barriers to participating effectively

This trend shows enormous promise, and is a celebrated success of proponents of inclusive governance practices. However, most of these citizen participation opportunities involve at least some notable barriers to entry. Participating effectively in these spaces may require:

  • overcoming social norms around the public role of women, minorities, and youth
  • defying class hierarchies
  • understanding complex local government processes
  • finding free time to prepare for and attend meetings
  • taking risks to challenge public leaders.

These factors make it more likely that citizens with greater resources, privilege, and social status are more likely to dominate these spaces.

The will of the people?

The views and priorities articulated in citizen participation spaces are often interpreted as the voice of ‘the people’ and this is a problem. Development priorities requested by citizens become ‘people’s plans’, and financial allocations advocated by citizen groups become ‘people’s budgets’. But in many cases, these might be better labelled ‘the plans of dominant class people’ or ‘men’s budgets’.

The questions we must address are: who is speaking for ‘the people’ in participatory governance models, and whose views are standing in for the views of ‘the public’?

These questions were central to the study tour CARE Bangladesh hosted in July, on the JATRA project funded by the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), for 25 participants from 12 countries in the Local Governance Initiative and Network (LOGIN).

Establishing pro-poor and gender equitable citizen forums

The analysis and mapping process, described in the first blog in this series, is used to categorise hamlets and neighbourhoods into three categories: primary elites, secondary elites, and excluded or marginalised areas. CARE facilitates the creation of a citizen forum in each union, made up of representatives of poor households and vulnerable groups, half of whom are women.

Citizen forum members are nominated from each of the areas identified in the third category of communities – those who are not from primary or secondary elite areas. These communities are most often landless and dependent on large land-holders for temporary labour opportunities. They are often characterised by being in more remote locations, having fewer and worse roads, longer distances to travel to schools and health facilities, and poorer sanitation.

Representatives from these areas rarely run for office or win elections, resulting in their under-representation in decision-making spaces. However, CARE has worked in many of these areas progressively for more than 10 years, especially investing in ‘natural leaders’ from among poor households and women’s solidarity groups, building up a cadre of socially-aware and publicly active citizens prepared to take on roles in the citizen forums. In this sense, JATRA’s citizen forums benefit from long-term investment in social capital among marginalised groups.

Using citizen forums to make law a reality

The citizen forums are then supported by CARE to play a critical role in preparing poor and marginalised communities to claim their rights and maximise the participation spaces available to them. Many of these opportunities were established by the country’s 2009 Local Government Act, which decentralised more planning and decision-making to the lowest level of elected government and created a legal framework for citizen voice and public transparency.

Among other provisions, the Local Government Act 2009 mandates local councils to hold two rounds of public planning and budgeting meetings in each fiscal year (in each ward): the first to consult community members on local priorities, and the second later in the year to share a progress update on implementation and expenditure. The act also requires local councils to include members of the public in each of their mandated sectoral standing committees, with quotas for women, which have a role in planning and overseeing key local services.

Citizen forums in action

Since the enactment of the law, CARE Bangladesh has focused on helping poor and marginalised citizens to make the most of the provisions of the law. Throughout the programme cycle, the citizen forum became a central vehicle for this.

CARE trained citizen forum members on the act, its provisions, and the various ways local governments are required to consult with, include, and respond to citizens.

We also trained citizen forums on the process for Bangladesh’s annual planning and budgeting cycle: how much money local governments receive for which purposes and how to analyse the best opportunities for influence.

Citizen forum members then work with their home communities to prepare for public budget meetings, to foster interest, to build confidence by explaining government processes, and to help communities plan their shared priorities and select their spokespersons.

Making strategies, solving problems, ensuring accountability

In the JATRA project, CARE then supported citizen forum members to prepare for and take up seats reserved for the public on prominent local government committees. This means they have a say in strategy-making and problem-solving on issues related to health, education, local sanitation, nutrition, women’s rights, disaster risk reduction, and more.

CARE also trained citizen forums to conduct social audits, run community score card processes, and participate in Union Parishad evaluations. During social audits, the forum establishes a social audit committee of poor citizens and guides this committee through a structured review of an unsatisfactory public infrastructure project.

These social audits have resulted in greater accountability measures for contractors, the commitment of additional funds to upgrade facilities, and creative solutions for persistent problems like annual flooding in important public places.

Community score cards are used by citizen forums to assess the effective allocation and use of annual local council budgets, grading the use of the budget against the plan and against the Union’s sectoral priorities. After consulting with their home communities, citizen forum members participate in the Union Parishad annual evaluation and give a red, yellow, or green rating for each councillor on their performance against a set of key indicators. Councillors strive to improve their ratings, and can be seen deliberately taking actions to improve year on year.

Participation of marginalised groups

The work of the citizen forums has stimulated broad participation from people from poor households and from women in annual planning and budgeting meetings.

Prior to the project these meetings were either not happening at all or achieving close to the legal minimum of 5% of citizens attending. By the end of the project more than 12% of the total voting population of each area were attending these public meetings, with the increase being driven by greater interest from marginalised communities and poor women. Although many women in rural Bangladesh claimed that attending meetings related to the local government’s budget is a man’s responsibility, by the end of the project nearly half (49.6%) of the attendees of open budget meetings in the project area were women.

Demonstrable influence of marginalised groups

Since the projects began, representatives of poor households and neighbourhoods have put forward a significant number of well-developed and well-evidenced proposals to local government, many of which have been funded and implemented.

By 2017, 56% of the demands or issues raised at public budgeting meetings in the project area came from people from poor and excluded communities, 20% of which were placed by poor and marginalised women.

Changing long-standing social norms

Through their work, citizen forum members develop regular face-to-face relationships with elected representatives and local elites, a rarity for anyone from their communities. During the study tour, one long-serving Union Parishad chairman directly credited his local citizen forum for upending the class-based social norms that were preventing people from their communities from approaching and making demands of their local governments.

Community members from poor areas now feel they have allies with access to government and are more willing to approach their Union Parishad members directly or with the support of their citizen forum. Local leaders are increasingly receiving feedback from typically-overlooked constituents and have begun to recognise this group as an organised political force that they must be accountable to.

The new visibility and consolidated voice of the poor is shifting Bangladesh’s elite-driven politics and centring the voices and priorities of previously-excluded people. CARE has found that citizen forums are an effective vehicle for pro-poor and gender equitable participatory local governance when they are:

  • specifically designed to be representative of their own particularly marginalised areas and groups
  • supported to become experts on local government processes in their areas
  • promoted to seize citizen participation opportunities themselves
  • focus on mobilising, organizing, and building the skills of their own communities

The voice of ‘the people’ is then amplified from those at the margins.

Original publication can be accessed here

PSAM Social Accountability Conference 2018

Exploring what it takes to enhance social accountability practice.

The conference theme aims to interrogate the challenges of working in the social accountability field and specifically the elements which allow for successful social accountability practice, where practitioners are able to enhance the interaction between the state and the public. The conference will explore the manner in which social accountability practice is impacted by context, by power, by the ecosystem of actors within the sector and by actors we may consider outside of the ecosystem.

Download the conference PROGRAMME

You can link to a livestream of the plenary presentations and panels on the 11th and 12th September here

Summary of events to be livestreamed during the PSAM Social Accountability Conference 2018

DO MULTISTAKEHOLDER INITIATIVES DELIVER ON ACCOUNTABILITY?

Originally posted by BY THE INTERNATIONAL BUDGET PARTNERSHIP on MAY 03, 2018

A number of multistakeholder initiatives (MSIs) have brought together governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and private sector firms to hash out a variety of difficult governance issues. Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency work to encourage transparency and accountability reforms in a rapidly expanding number of countries around the world.

But while the breadth of these MSIs is inarguable, how deep do reforms really go? What tangible changes are they driving at the country level? These are some of the questions that Dr. Brandon Brockmyer of the Accountability Research Center has been investigating. We recently spoke to Brandon about his research.

IBP: Can you give us a quick outline of your findings in terms of the effectiveness of MSIs?

Brandon: Overall, what I found is that global MSIs are quite good at encouraging participating governments to proactively disclose information about their activities and performance, even in cases where governments are disclosing this information for the first time. However, MSIs are notably lesseffective at encouraging participating governments to become more responsive to requests from citizens for information that they are not already publishing. This allows governments to retain control of the agenda, deciding what information to disclose.

MSIs help to improve proactive government transparency when two core conditions are in place: First, nongovernmental actors (i.e., civil society and the private sector) must be treated as full and equal partners in MSI decision making and implementation. Second, participating civil society organizations must have the technical expertise to steer disclosure in the right direction, as well as the resources to regularly attend meetings.

IBP: One of the interesting findings is that it seems MSIs are quite effective at advancing transparency, but broader improvements to accountability so far have been more elusive.

Brandon: Currently, global MSIs are designed to tackle transparency directly, while most of these initiatives address accountability only indirectly. This approach seems to assume that there is a straightforward, linear relationship between the two. I think my research findings support a more general consensus emerging in the field that transparency gains alone are unlikely to drive gains in accountability. Disclosed information needs translation, aggregation, benchmarks, and simplification to be useful to potential users. Demands for greater accountability require collective action that can be difficult to organize, especially given that civil society groups vary across regions, sectors, and funding levels and often have different priorities when advocating for government action. And even if these groups can come together to make coherent demands, citizen voice alone may not be an effective channel for changing the incentives of public sector actors, or for gaining greater influence over public resource allocation.

If global MSIs want to tackle the challenge of accountability more directly, their activities probably need to be more purposefully embedded within existing national pro-accountability coalitions. I think this could be done in several ways:

  1. Pro-reform actors—national and local civil society groups, government reformers, and international NGOs that are already invested in the MSI approach—could expand processes for civil society consultation and participation beyond political and economic centers.
  2. National MSI agendas need to be customized so that they resonate with broader civic and social constituencies.
  3. Since MSIs are voluntary, reformers need to petition independent audit institutions, ombudsmen, courts, and legislatures to monitor and support compliance with MSI guidelines and respond with inquiries and sanctions when problems are uncovered through these processes.
  4. If MSIs succeed in facilitating disclosure, newly released information needs to be embedded into existing channels of public discourse and decision making.

IBP: Many of IBP’s civil society partners are also trying to push their governments to improve transparency and accountability. Did you find any evidence where CSOs were able to use MSIs to advance their agendas?

Brandon: Yes, but it really depends on the specific agenda. CSOs that are already working toward greater government transparency will often find natural allies in the government and private sector by engaging with global MSIs. In these cases, MSIs offer a powerful way to advance their agendas. However, for those CSOs that value transparency primarily as a tool for advancing a broader social or environmental agenda, participation in a global MSI may be a costly distraction. In fact, I found that participating governments sometimes use MSIs to “openwash”— that is, to project a public image of transparency and accountability, while maintaining questionable practices.

IBP: IBP engages with initiatives like OGP and GIFT, particularly at the global level, while at the same time supporting many local CSOs at the national and local level. What insights do you have about bridging these big global movements with the nitty-gritty challenges that CSOs face on the ground?

Brandon: I think it’s critical that CSOs considering engaging with global MSIs have a realistic sense for how MSI activities and outputs might fit into their own broader reform strategies. Conversely, it’s equally important that global MSI architects work to tailor activities and outputs to fit the needs of pro-reform actors in participating countries.

IBP is well placed to inform both sides of this equation. IBP can educate CSOs about how global MSIs work, so the CSOs can make informed decisions about whether to get involved. If CSOs decide to participate, IBP can also serve as an invaluable resource for effective strategies and tactics for using global MSI processes to achieve their domestic goals. Simultaneously, IBP can use its influence within these global initiatives to advocate from a CSO perspective for MSI membership rules, events, and training opportunities are optimally geared toward producing the types of transparency and civic participation that CSOs identify as critical for their broader reform strategies to work. Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember that the reform process is likely to unfold somewhat differently across various contexts. As a result, IBP can guide MSIs toward offering participating members a more useful toolkit, but MSIs must still avoid being overly prescriptive.

Admittedly, this is a tough balance to strike. But by embracing the fact that not every global MSI will be a good fit in every context, IBP can help global MSIs improve their credibility, and help national and local CSOs avoid pointless opportunity costs.

“These materials were developed by the International Budget Partnership. IBP has given us permission to use the materials solely for noncommercial, educational purposes.” Original article can be found here https://www.internationalbudget.org/2018/05/multistakeholder-initiatives-accountability/?utm_source=Master+List&utm_campaign=5213845fc0-03_15_2018_IBP_Newsletter_English_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5799ba65dd-5213845fc0-221019005

Going viral: what social media activists need to know

Originally posted on The Conversation by author Shahla Ghobadi, University of Manchester on the 17th of July 2018

File 20180712 27039 rcq2a.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Sign displaying the #metoo and #timesup message at the Women’s March in San Francisco in January, 2018.
Shutterstock/SundryPhotography

 

Inspiring stories of social activism, such as the Civil Rights movement and the fight against climate change, abound in history. And it is generally thought that the new social media era has helped cases of activism to succeed. But our research has revealed some major threats, which activists need to understand if they are to be successful in getting their message across to the masses.

Social activism refers to a broad range of activities which are beneficial to society or particular interest groups. Social activists operate in groups to voice, educate and agitate for change, targeting global crises.

Take, for example, environmental groups such as Greenpeace which aim to curb climate change by targeting governments and major manufacturers with poor environmental records. Or the anti-sweatshop movement, which started with a group of activists in the 19th century organising boycotts aimed at improving the conditions of workers in manufacturing places with low wages, poor working conditions and child labour.

Online social activism

These days the voices of dissent have increasingly been carried via the evolving medium of the internet. From #Metoo, #TimesUp and #WeStrike to #NeverAgain and #BlackLivesMatter, social activists wield the power of the internet to pressure powerful organisations.

The group 350.org, for example, is made up of climate change activists. The group uses online campaigns and grassroots organising to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects. Its aim is to get society moving closer to clean energy solutions that work for all.

Online activism allows activists to organise events with high levels of engagement, focus and network strength. On the one hand, researchers suggest that the anonymity offered by online communication provides the possibility of expressing the views of marginalised minority groups that might otherwise be punished or sanctioned. Online activities reinforce collective identity by reducing attention to differences that exist within the group (such as education, social class, and ethnicity).

The online threats

But other research argues that while this modern form of activism may increase participation in online activities, it might merely create the impression of activism. Or it may even have negative consequences, such as creating social stereotypes including those about feminists and environmentalists or getting social activists arrested as is the case in authoritarian countries.

The aim of our research was to develop insights that would obtain better outcomes from online activism, targeting some of society’s most important issues. During our study, we collected data from three YouTube cases of online activism. Our findings suggest that online activism delivers a temporary shock to the organisational elites, help organise collective actions and amplify the conditions for movements to form.

The elites fight back

But these initial outcomes provoke the elites into action, resulting in counter measures – such as increased surveillance to track activists. For example, some governmental authorities intensified internet filtering, blocked access to several websites and decreased the speed of the internet connection to slow down social activism. These measures prompted self-censorship among activists and a loss of interest among the public in relation to the cause and contributed to the ultimate decline of social activism over time.

Our study challenged the optimistic hype around online activism in enabling grassroots social movements by suggesting there is a complex relationship between activists and those groups they are targeting, which makes the outcomes very difficult to predict. As different parties with different interests intervene, they either encourage or inhibit activism.

While encouraging actions can take the form of support (such as the thousands of women around the world who posted on social media sharing their stories under #metoo), inhibiting actions may come in the form of information asymmetry (strategies such as filtering and surveillance) from elites.

Inhibiting strategies are not limited to authoritarian organisations. Senior managers may also monitor email correspondence of staff, set up structures and hierarchies for access to organisational information, and use information provided by secretive companies to check the status of their employees (for example, blacklisting workers perceived as trouble-makers).

Less emotion and more strategic patience

Online activists should understand that the dynamics of reaching collective action might not necessarily be the result of critical thinking, lifelong learning or other dimensions of civic engagement. Journalist Nicholas Kristoff has talked about how the anti-sweatshop movement “risks harming the impoverished workers it is hoping to help” by causing mass job redundancies. Similarly, our main message is that online activism could prompt reactions that will result in unintended and long lasting consequences for the activists involved.

A common and frequently used approach that risks these types of consequences is to share emotive information through social media. While this is used to inform and capture people’s attention and mobilise as many people as possible, our study suggests that more thought should be put into the consequences of information sharing and what information is most appropriate to be shared.

Activists may need to spend more time and energy to create and share information that is less emotive and help people learn about the underlying causes of problem. For example, the activism videos we have researched and commonly see on the internet are essentially reactive and emotive.

The ConversationInstead of focusing on the problem and the need for change, activists can share information that explains why and how the current situation has been created and what can be learned for the future. Online activism in such manner can gradually lead to the development of people who are capable of generating new knowledge and wisdom to respond to changing social environments. However, that requires strategic patience and that is often a scarce resource among activists desperate for change.

Shahla Ghobadi, Assistant Professor, Software, Design, Social Activism, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is Open Data Working for Women in Africa?

Open data has the potential to change politics, economies and societies for the better by giving people more opportunities to engage in the decisions that affect their lives. But to reach the full potential of open data, it must be available to and used by all. Yet, across the globe — and in Africa in particular — there is a significant data gap.

This report — Is open data working for women in Africa — maps the current state of open data for women across Africa, with insights from country-specific research in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and South Africa with additional data from a survey of experts in 12 countries across the continent.

Our findings show that, despite the potential for open data to empower people, it has so far changed little for women living in Africa.

Key findings

  • There is a closed data culture in Africa — Most countries lack an open culture and have legislation and processes that are not gender-responsive. Institutional resistance to disclosing data means few countries have open data policies and initiatives at the national level. In addition, gender equality legislation and policies are incomplete and failing to reduce gender inequalities. And overall, Africa lacks the cross-organisational collaboration needed to strengthen the open data movement.
  • There are barriers preventing women from using the data that is available — Cultural and social realities create additional challenges for women to engage with data and participate in the technology sector. 1GB of mobile data in Africa costs, on average, 10% of average monthly income. This high cost keeps women, who generally earn less than men, offline. Moreover, time poverty, the gender pay gap and unpaid labour create economic obstacles for women to engage with digital technology.
  • Key datasets to support the advocacy objectives of women’s groups are missing — Data on budget, health and crime are largely absent as open data. Nearly all datasets in sub-Saharan Africa (373 out of 375) are closed, and sex-disaggregated data, when available online, is often not published as open data. There are few open data policies to support opening up of key datasets and even when they do exist, they largely remain in draft form. With little investment in open data initiatives, good data management practices or for implementing Right To Information (RTI) reforms, improvement is unlikely.
  • There is no strong base of research on women’s access and use of open data — There is lack of funding, little collaboration and few open data champions. Women’s groups, digital rights groups and gender experts rarely collaborate on open data and gender issues. To overcome this barrier, multi-stakeholder collaborations are essential to develop effective solutions.

Download the report to explore the findings and recommendations in full.

When Not to Call a Spade a Spade: The Importance of Quiet Anti-Corruption Initiatives

Originally written by Sabina Robillard with Louino Robillard and posted here

Corruption is a complex adaptive system – it does not stay still while being attacked, but rather evolves to survive in the face of new constraints and barriers.

Many anti-corruption campaigns aim to target corruption directly and publicly. They are clear in their mission and have project titles that include the words “anti-corruption.” This directness is important in many respects, but being so visible makes it easy for people in power to applaud these initiatives in public – and to avoid them, or even undermine them, in private. By the time the project reports are written, the systems that facilitate corruption will have shifted, adapted, and survived.

So there is an argument to be made for combatting corruption quietly – through projects that no one would recognize as being anti-corruption. These projects serve as Trojan horses to help anti-corruption measures slip past gatekeepers and power brokers, and perhaps stand a greater chance of surviving and planting the seeds of change.

In late 2016, Louino ‘Robi’ Robillard was not expecting to embark on an anti-corruption campaign. Robi is a community organizer from Cite Soleil, which is Haiti’s largest ghetto. Because of decades of gang activity in the area, Cite Soleil has been marginalized economically and socially by the rest of Haitian society, resulting in widespread poverty and stigma.

An informal ceasefire that began in 2016 provided a window for civil society in Cite Soleil to take on initiatives that would be more challenging in times of active conflict. A youth club in Cite Soleil called FACHaiti decided they wanted to build a library to provide a much-needed community space for young people to read. They approached Robi for help with fundraising, but Robi pushed them to first pitch their idea to residents of Cite Soleil – the vast majority of whom lived on less than 2 US dollars a day – and see what they would contribute. They called the initiative Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy.

In Cite Soleil, development projects have long been used as a vehicle for corruption and money-laundering. Projects are often routed through politicians, fixers (called abolochos), and gangsters, each of whom takes a cut from projects to fund illicit activities. This is common knowledge in Cite Soleil, making residents skeptical of most projects. In order to help Cite Soleil’s residents overcome their distrust of development projects – even local ones – Robi proposed a campaign of total transparency. Each donation – no matter how large or small – would be photographed and posted on the Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy Facebook page. Then, every Sunday, the money and books would be counted in public at the community radio station and posted on Facebook. Anyone was welcome to supervise the weekly count and compare it with the photographs posted of donations. The campaign became wildly popular, and within the first six weeks, over a thousand people in Cite Soleil had contributed.

 

 

It became clear very soon that this approach was having a greater effect than just building trust in a library campaign: it was changing people’s expectations about transparency in Cite Soleil. Robi’s first hint that this simple project could have an effect on endemic local corruption was when he began getting phone calls from powerful people, saying they would contribute to the campaign if only Konbit Bibliyotèk would stop that pesky habit of making donations public. Several politicians were even more clear, complaining that their constituents had begun to ask them why they weren’t being as transparent with their funds as the library project was being.

But the volunteers stayed firm in their principles – refusing anonymous donations and continuing to publish weekly reports. The project – and by extension, the volunteers – was protected by its innocuousness. If this had been an overt anti-corruption initiative, politicians and gang leaders would have felt threatened, which would be justification enough for them to shut down the project. A ceasefire doesn’t apply to hitmen, any of whom could have been paid $50 to kill an anti-corruption campaigner and make it look like a robbery. But this wasn’t an anti-corruption campaign. This was “just” an innocent project to build a community library. The social media postings were “just” a way to better advertise the generous contribution they were making. Those in power were not the target of the initiative, they were “just” one of thousands of donors. The project may have annoyed or even frustrated people in power, but it was never seen as threatening. It was too subtle, too quiet.

The power of the project also lay in its popularity: with thousands of residents of Cite Soleil having already made donations, there was a sense of widespread ownership that was not to be taken lightly, even by those in power. No one wanted to be seen standing in the way of the library. So eventually, one by one, Cite Soleil’s power brokers fell in line. Politicians, businessmen, abolochos, and eventually even gang leaders agreed to take pictures with their donations and have them posted.

This may seem insignificant to the outside observer. Just because powerful people were posting photos of their donations to a community cause, that did not mean they weren’t still pocketing funds from any number of other projects. But ending corruption requires more than a changing of laws and protocols – it requires changing social norms. And in Cite Soleil, people were getting a taste of transparency, and they were beginning to feel like they deserved it.

The project continues to this day. Over sixteen months since the project began, more than 4,000 individual donors have contributed to the project. Construction of the library is beginning, and the same principles of transparency are being exercised with expenditures as they were with donations. Receipts are collected and posted onto a website once a month for everyone to see; to provide access to Cite Soleil’s large illiterate population, a monthly video called a “visual expense report” is published to Facebook.

Changing the social norms around corruption and transparency takes time. And the social experiment of Konbit Bibliyotèk has been able to continue for this long because its leaders managed to avoid making enemies in a place where death is cheap. They are making change quietly and slowly, not calling attention to the project’s potential to fight corruption. They, and the initiative, may survive long enough to move the needle on social norms around transparency and accountability in public projects in Cite Soleil.