Citizen Accountability in a time of Facebook

This article is written by John Gaventa and first published on the IDS opinion blog here

“Develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”

This is what Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in his open letter to the Facebook community at the beginning of this year. The statement of intent from the social media giant is a bold one, and one worth reflecting on for those of us working on issues of accountability and empowerment. For me it raises a couple of important questions. How far can or should the likes of Facebook, and other technical innovations that have rapidly evolved over the last ten to fifteen years, connect us all as individuals and engage us with the institutions that govern us and help us hold them to account? And how does this happen in a world where the opportunities and spaces to voice dissent and protest are shrinking, and where questions about ‘whose voice matters’ are further confused and complicated by ‘whose voice is real or authentic’ in this digital age?

The promise of tech

They were also questions that arose at the recent Making All Voices Count (MAVC is a programme funded by DFID, Omidyar, SIDA and USAID) Policy and Practice Dialogue, Appropriating Technology for Accountability. And as I reflected in my speech at that event, these questions around transforming and improving accountability are by no means new. However, the context in which we ask them is constantly changing – from the Gutenberg press which took printing out of the hands of priests and put it into the hands of the people over five hundred years ago, to more recently, the advent of the personal computer, the internet (1990), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006) and What’s App (2011). These technologies have revolutionised the way people access information, how they communicate with each other, as well as institutions and public figures, and how they respond to and organise around particular issues.

There’s no denying the positive force of these technologies in helping people to speak out and to amplify voices in an attempt to hold powerful institutions and individuals to account. This was evident in a number of examples shared over the course of the two-day event – the Black Sash human rights organisation in South Africa who are piloting a project encouraging citizen-led monitoring of local public services; This Is My Backyard (TIMBY) which has highlighted millions of dollars of misspent county social development funds and unearthed a 10.5 million dollar scandal in Liberia; Game my Village which built new relationships of trust and transparency between government officials and villagers in Indonesia and Oil Journey which communicated with over 300,000 citizens in Accra in Ghana about how oil revenues were being spent on community development projects.

Tech and closing civil society space

Yet at the same time there is no escaping the fact that these technical innovations designed to empower are operating in a global environment where civil society space is shrinking. The current situation has been labelled by Civicus as ‘a Global Civic Space Emergency’ in their 2017 State of Civil Society Report. The report highlights that:

  • Only three per cent of the global population live in countries where civic space is completely open.
  • In 106 countries, over half of all countries, civil space is seriously constrained.
  • This problem affects all regions of the world including the UK where civic space has narrowed in the past year.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that technologies are being used to close spaces as much as to open them, to surveil and monitor, as much as to connect and engage. Examples extend from malware being used to monitor the activities of advocacy and campaigning groups (highlighted in this open letter from Mexican civil society of the Open Government Partnership (pdf) and this IDS Bulletin article The Dark Side of Digital Politics) to state-supported trolling. For those gathered at the conference, there was a sense that the excitement and optimism that had characterised the work of MAVC and other similar programmes exploring accountability and the role of technologies in creating more open, inclusive and accountable societies only a few years ago was being replaced by a growing pessimism.

A digital level playing field?

The conundrums and paradoxes associated with technology and its role in promoting accountability is also evident in relation to global governance. On the one hand technology has enabled voice and responsive governance, but on the other hand the governance of the digital sphere remains in the hands of a powerful few who control the networks they have created. As reported recently in the New York Times, Google’s market share of search advertising is 88% and Facebook owns 77% of mobile social media traffic.

Digital technologies have created winners and losers, rather than a level playing field. Rather than disrupt, they have often replicated entrenched inequalities and power imbalances within society. Critically, just under half of the world’s population remain offline. Moreover, women are 50 per cent less likely to have access to the internet and a third less likely than men of a similar age, education level and economic status to access their Internet via their phone (World Wide Web Foundation, 2016). Inequalities also exist within the tech industry. A study in the US found that Hispanics, African Americans, and women hold only 8 per cent, 7.4 per cent and 36 per cent of tech sector jobs respectively (US EEOC 2016). Hence, across decision making, usage and application of technologies it is often the voices of the already powerful that are amplified and the voices which have always been marginalised remain unheard.

Within this unequal context, it has also become increasingly hard to distinguish amongst the myriad of information flows and voices between what’s authentic and what’s not. It is not well understood amongst the majority of technology users, how complex and sophisticated algorithms are being used by companies, by governments and by individuals, to control and manipulate what is shared and liked, and ultimately shape public opinion and debate.

While technology has helped achieve amazing things, in itself it cannot create a ‘social infrastructure…that builds a global community that works for us all.’ Politics and power still matter, and it is only when we link these with technology-led accountability initiatives as well more analogue, traditional efforts that of transformative change towards a more inclusive, accountable and open world is possible.

 

Using open aid data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania

This post was originally published on the Open Data Charter website, written by Elise Dufief, Research and Monitoring Manager at Publish What You Fund

The government of Tanzania announced in August that it was withdrawing from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process. This was seen as a dramatic turn of events by some as the previous administration was regarded as a champion of transparency reforms. For others, it highlighted some of the challenges of international transparency initiatives and potentially offered an opportunity to reflect on how these initiatives could better respond to domestic issues and put citizens’ needs at their heart.

Earlier this year, I travelled to Tanzania and Benin and conducted interviews with representatives from government, donors and civil society organisations to investigate some of these issues. I looked into the opportunities and barriers for open aid data to be used as an accountability mechanism for partner country citizens. We at Publish What You Fund published a discussion paper earlier this month detailing the findings of our work.

Publish What You Fund, among other organisations, has argued that the public disclosure of information on development activities by major donors is an essential and necessary step to increase aid effectiveness. Substantial progress has been made at the international level through initiatives such as IATI and individual efforts of some major donors and governments to publish more and better quality development data. However, transparency alone is not sufficient as this information also needs to be used to promote accountability to local actors and respond to citizens’ needs.

We are also not the only ones reflecting on this. Organisations such as Oxfam and Open Contracting are also trying to find a constructive and collaborative way to move the transparency agenda forward and shed light on the necessary conditions for data to be used for accountability.

The new framework developed by Liz Carolan of the Open Data Charter, alongside the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, also helped shape our thinking on the matter. That study found 5 steps connecting open data and accountability: data production, sharing and processing, use and action. We proposed two additions to it: an initial step of identifying information needs and mapping potential users; and to also implement feedback mechanisms once data is made available to create a circular and iterative process from transparency to accountability.

Additionally, five key findings emerged from the interviews conducted in Benin and Tanzania:

1.There is a clear and repeated need for more high quality information on aid and development finance.

This was articulated clearly by donor country offices, government representatives and civil society organisations. Recent efforts to provide more information should be sustained and respond to these needs where possible.

2. International donor-led initiatives are not yet meeting country-level needs.

Tanzania’s withdrawal from the OGP is a manifestation of this. More attention needs to be paid to the national context and dynamics at play between different actors. This would help to identify where and how transparency and open data can help to improve development outcomes and accountability to citizens.

3. Both the development and data landscapes are fragmented and this is increasing.

The international development landscape increasingly involves more actors, more diverse flows and varied interests and objectives. In the absence of effective coordination, this complexity is reflected on the governance of data at country-level, also impeding its potential users.

4. A lack of trust in open data and its applications impedes its use as an accountability tool.

Data accuracy issues aside, examples from Tanzania and Benin demonstrated that more openness and transparency is sometimes met with fear of criticism and misinterpretation of the data. These are serious concerns that should be addressed. Shrinking civil society space and legislative restrictions to the access and use of this information, however, do not appear as viable solutions; they rather contradict the stated aim of the open data agenda.

5. With publication comes responsibility.

All actors have a responsibility to go beyond mere publication to make data truly accessible, usable and used. This requires putting people at the heart of transparency initiatives. It is only by working towards the identification of their needs, understanding their concerns and actively seeking their feedback that adequate responses and meaningful change will be implemented at country level. Data alone does not bring change. People do.

You can read our discussion paper ‘With Publication Brings Responsibility: Using open data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania’ here.

Award-winning journalism hitting hard in social accountability

September 2017 – Malawian journalist Alick Ponje received the inaugural Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting during the Telkom-Highway Africa Awards Gala Dinner held yesterday evening at the 21st annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Presented by Highway Africa and the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, the award recognises journalists from Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia whose investigative reporting on social accountability has contributed to improved services in public health and agriculture, particularly in the areas of HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and food security.

Ponje’s article ‘Private Hospitals Breach Government Pact’, published in the Malawi News, a newspaper of the Times Group, on 4 February 2017, documents how privately run clinics and mobile clinics are breaching their contracts with the Ministry of Health. The clinics order drugs from the district health office and also demand fees from patients for under-five and maternal health services, which are supposed to be free. The situation has reportedly contributed to the depletion of drugs for publically run health facilities.

“Ponje successfully draws upon and weaves together multiple sources of information, including documentation from the district council, input of officials during council proceedings, and interviews with the Ministry of Health,” stated Highway Africa’s Director Chris Kabwato. “His reporting provides insight into a critical issue of social accountability in the use of public resources, which has affected both health budgets as well as the provision of affordable services.”

 “The news media have a critical role to play in holding governments to account for the provision of quality public services,” said Rachel Gondo, Senior Programme Officer at Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). “Ponje has clearly shed the spotlight on the need for governments to closely monitor and regulate the services provided by privately-run but publically-funded health facilities, both in Malawi and across southern Africa.”

SAfAIDS’ Deputy Director Rouzeh Eghtessadi applauded Ponje for interrogating the provision of sexual and reproductive health services at local clinics. “We need more journalists who are willing to delve into the real-life challenges people face in accessing health services, in an unsensational and discriminatory manner. Without such reporting, mismanagement of scarce public resources goes undetected, resulting in a decline in the quality and effectiveness of healthcare services.”

Ponje, 28, now a special projects reporter at the Nation Publication Group, joined the mainstream media in 2014 after graduating as a teacher from the University of Malawi. “Receiving this award is going to motivate me. It shows that people are recognising the efforts we put into our work. I’m in the early years of my career and this will give me the confidence to work on these issues [of social accountability] going forward,” said Ponje.

Ponje applauded Highway Africa and PSA Alliance for initiating the award. “With awards like this, journalists will be more motivated to track how public funds are being utilised. And, at the end of the day, some of these problems might be history.”

Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance is led by ActionAid International together with Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Turning Big Data Into a Useful Anticorruption Tool in Africa

Originally posted on the Global Anticorruption Blog

Many anticorruption advocates are excited about the prospects that “big data” will help detect and deter graft and other forms of malfeasance. As part of a project in this vein, titled Curbing Corruption in Development Aid-Funded Procurement, Mihály Fazekas, Olli Hellmann, and I have collected contract-level data on how aid money from three major donors is spent through national procurement systems; our dataset comprises more than half a million contracts and stretching back almost 20 years. But good data alone isn’t enough. To be useful, there must be a group of interested and informed users, who have both the tools and the skills to analyse the data to uncover misconduct, and then lobby governments and donors to listen to and act on the findings. The analysis of big datasets to find evidence of corruption – for example, the method developed by Mihály Fazekas to identify “red flags” of corruption risks in procurement contract data—requires statistical skills and software, both of which are in short supply in many parts of the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet some ambitious recent initiatives are trying to address this problem. Lately I’ve had the privilege to be involved in one such initiative, led by Oxford mathematician Balázs Szendrői, that helps empower a group of young African mathematicians to analyse “big data” on public corruption.

The first step in this project was to develop software; this may seem trivial, but many cash-strapped African universities simply don’t have the resources to purchase the latest statistical software packages. The African Maths Initiative (AMI), a Kenyan NGO that works to create a stronger mathematical community and culture of mathematics across Africa, has helped to solve this problem by developing a new open-source program, R-Instat (which builds on the popular but difficult-to-learn statistics package R), funded through crowd-sourcing. Still in development, it is on track for launch in July this year. AMI has also helped develop a menu on R-Instat that can be used specifically for analysing procurement data and identifying corruption risk indicators.

Once we’ve got the data and the software to analyze it, the third and most crucial ingredient are the people. For “big data” to be useful as an anticorruption tool, we need to bring together two groups: people who understand how to analyze data, and people who understand how procurement systems can be manipulated to corrupt ends. Communication between the two is essential. So last month I tried to do my part by visiting AIMS Tanzania, an institute that offers a one-year high-level Master’s programme to some of Africa’s best math students, to help conduct a one-day workshop. After a preliminary session in which we discussed the ways in which the procurement process can be corrupted, and how that might manifest in certain red flags (such as single-bidder contracts), the students had the opportunity to use the R-Instat software to analyse the aid-funded procurement dataset that my colleagues and I had created. Students formed teams and developed their own research questions that they attempted to answer by using R-Instat to run analyses on the data.

Even the simplest analyses revealed interesting patterns. Why did one country’s receipts from the World Bank drop off a cliff one year and never recover? Discussion revealed a few possible reasons: Perhaps a change of government led donors to change policy, or the country reached a stage of development where it no longer qualified for aid? Students became excited as they realized how statistical methods could be applied to identify, understand and solve real-world problems. Some teams came up with really provocative questions, such as the group who wanted to know whether Francophone or Anglophone countries were more vulnerable to corruption risks. Their initial analysis revealed that contracting in the Francophone countries was more associated with red flags. They developed the analysis to include a wider selection of countries, and maintained broadly similar results. Another group found that one-quarter of contracts in the education sector in one country had been won by just one company, and more than half of contracts by value in this sector had been won by three companies, all of which had suspiciously similar names. Again, there might be perfectly innocent reasons for this, but in just a couple of hours, we had a set of preliminary results that certainly warrant further analysis. Imagine what we might find with a little more time!

It is programs like these, that develop the tools and cultivate the skills in the next generation of analysts, that will determine whether the promise of “big data” as an anticorruption tool will be realized in the developing world.

Post written by Dr. Elizabeth Dávid-Barrett of the University of Sussex

Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting

Highway Africa, together with the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, invites journalists in Southern Africa to apply for the inaugural Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting 2017.

The award recognises two journalists from the PSA Alliance’s project countries – Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia – whose investigative reporting on social accountability contributes to improved public health and agriculture in the following categories:
• HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)
• Food Security

Applications will be examined by a panel of media experts in the region and two winners will be awarded at the Highway Africa Conference to be held on 31 August – 1 September 2017. The award includes a prize of USD 250, plus travel and accommodation to the 2017 Highway Africa Conference.

Deadline for Submission – 15 August 2017

Criteria
• Applicants must be based in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique or Zambia.
• Work must be published between July 2016 and July 2017.
• Print, Radio, TV, Multimedia and Photo journalism are admitted.
• If submitting multiple entries either in the same category or across multiple categories, complete an entry for each story to a total maximum of two entries.

How to apply – Candidates can submit their applications here

How Citizens Are Shaping Budget Priorities in a Kenyan County

Milka Losia knew it was the river’s fault that her brother died. The culprit was the dirty brown water they had no choice but to drink.

‘Our village needs a hospital, people are dying,” said Benson Naitalima, a farmer.

Of course hospitals are important, Milka thought. But if it wasn’t for the dirty river water, they wouldn’t have needed a hospital in the first place. People like her brother would be alive and, Milka wouldn’t be caring for his orphaned children.

Milka heard there was going to be a meeting to discuss how local citizens like herself could get involved in making decisions on how money was going to be allocated and spent in the local budget. She decided to attend this meeting on “participatory budgeting” in West Pokot, a dusty arid county located in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley on the border with Uganda, to make a case for the importance of clean water. Milka hoped that others would agree with her.

Public participation in the budget is a key feature of Kenya’s Constitution, adopted in 2010 and implemented since 2013.

The World Bank supported participatory budgeting project has strengthened citizen’s capacity to shape the budgeting process. Thanks to the Kenya Participatory Budgeting Initiative, which started in October 2015 and is ongoing, West Pokot began integrating participatory budgeting for the first time by engaging the public.

Participatory budgeting requires dialogue and a prioritization of community needs and solutions. At the meeting in March 2015, it was apparent that the community had many needs.

When Milka arrived in West Pokot, she saw about a hundred community members sitting under spindly acacia trees. Men were on one side, women on the other. Women rarely speak at these community meetings. However, the participatory budgeting increases women’s opportunities to express their opinions by providing a platform to take an active role in their community.

County residents, including women, expressed their needs that ranged from the need for a dining hall in the village’s only school to centralized market to sell produce from the farm.

Milka wasn’t sure if she was the first to propose water as a priority, but when she spoke, her opinion was popular.

“This water is bad, it has killed so many people,” Milka said.

“I walk two hours every day to collect water and it’s not even good water,” she told the group. Many cheered, particularly the women who were familiar with strenuous daily treks to fetch water. While access to an improved drinking water source has increased in Kenya over the years, 43 percent of rural Kenyans, like the residents of West Pokot, still lack one.

“This water is contaminated and so many people had gotten sick, my whole family has suffered,” added Veronica Maditan, one of the oldest women in attendance. She had been admitted to the hospital twice due to typhoid, a water borne illness.

Milka was delighted to get support from her fellow villagers but there still wasn’t a consensus on budget priorities.

“Irrigation could finish hunger in the area,” said one man, something the community could scarcely imagine.

Irrigation would be for the fields and cannot address the immediate need for clean drinking water, Milka worriedly thought.

Veronica was old enough to remember when clean water ran freely and the community didn’t have to rely on the dirty river. In 1978, a group of Norwegians built a borehole. For a few glorious years, villagers had water, until the tap ran dry. By then, the Norwegians had left and no one knew how the borehole worked, or had the money to fix it.

The community unfortunately had to go back to drinking the dirty river water.

Veronica suggested that instead of constructing an entirely new water system, they could just repair the broken borehole.

Before the end of a participatory budgeting meeting, the community must determine their top three priorities. Fixing the unused and broken borehole landed at the top.

“This was easily justified because it really answered the question of the water related borne diseases in the community and it was cheap for the county government,” said Honorable Thomas Ngolesia, the Member of the County Assembly of Sekerr Ward in West Pokot.

This was the first participatory budgeting project to be implemented in West Pokot. The county saved money by repairing the old borehole. Extra funds were used to make the borehole a hybrid run by both solar power and electricity—ensuring continuous access to clean water to the county residents.

“Participatory budgeting made the difference here,” said Prisillah Chebbet Mungo, The Head of Budget in West Pokot. “This project had been a priority for the community for a long time but it was ignored [by the county]. Now, whatever the community decides we have to implement.”

This article first appeared on the World Bank website here

Why isn’t Tech for Accountability working in Africa?

Research is shedding light on the problems inherent with adopting technology for accountability initiatives, and providing recommendations for future projects.

In an article published by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), Indra de Lanerolle, argues that “it seems that civil society organisations (CSOs) and governments often ‘re-invent the flat tyre’: experimenting with new tools without finding out what has been tried (often unsuccessfully) before. They also do not follow best practices in how to soure, develop and test technologies to ensure that these are ‘fit for purpose’. Decision makers should focus on building an effective innovation ecosystem with better links between technologists and accountability actors in both government and civil society to enable learning from success – and mistakes”.

Recommendations include:

  1. Those with responsibilities in creating the innovation ecosystem, including funders, should focus  on building a supportive innovation ecosystem.
  2. Funders should shift their focus from supporting short-term pilots to building institutions capable  of success over time, and invest in strengthening links between initiatives and disseminating  learning resources across the continent.
  3. Those who are leading and managing innovation initiatives – in government and CSOs – should  focus on getting better and smarter at managing the innovation cycle.
  4. Research suggests the following ‘rules of thumb’ will lead to better outcomes: acknowledge what  you do not know, think twice before building a new tool, get a second opinion, test technologies in  the field, plan for failure, budget to iterate, and share what you learn.

To find out more and read the full article: Why isn’t tech for accountability working in Africa?

 

Social Accountability from the Trenches: 6 Critical Reflections

Originally published on the GPSA website
By Gopa Kumar Thampi, Director, Economic Governance – Sri Lanka, The Asia Foundation & GPSA Steering Committee 

There is a clearly a surge in social accountability initiatives across the globe today. From informal expressions at the grassroots to entrenched voices in corridors of power, the social accountability multiverse has become stronger and diverse. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we are indeed witnessing the rise of an ‘audit society’ that animates the spectrum between confrontation and collaboration in citizen’s engagement with the state. The proliferation of toolkits and manuals embellishes this trend as social audits and scorecards have become commonplace parlance for civic activists, policy wonks and academics as they line up an impressive array of data to hold the state to account. However, viewed from the trenches of day-to-day encounters with social accountability, some notes of caution need to be flagged:

1) Primacy of technique over politics: ‘Bring politics back’ is an oft-quoted plea that is heard at the closure of every learning and sharing event on social accountability. Though some excellent conceptual writings exist on the rationale and approaches to acknowledge politics, there is clearly a knowledge gap on praxis. This gap becomes accentuated when projects finish their shelf lives and local interlocutors are left dealing with unplanned political aftermaths. What we need is not just the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of navigating politics, but the ‘how’ too. There is also the bias of working with executive ‘accelerators’ – reformist executives who push the frontiers of constructive engagement and deliver high quality impacts on pilot projects. But the reason why these ripples of change never result in a transformative wave is because politics is often viewed as a problem best avoided. We need to acknowledge that any change sans the inconvenience of politics is bound to be short lived. Working with politics and programming with sensitivity to political ecologies means more flexibility in design and implementation. This is where contemporary discourses on ‘Doing Development Differently’ are opening up new opportunities and pathways.

2) Tyranny of tools: Social Accountability tools like public hearings, scorecards, report cards and social audits have played a major role in bringing rigor to discourse and praxis, by moving the frame of reference from the anecdotal to the evidential. However, projects driven by the novelty of applying tools run the risk of not just undermining sustainable impacts, but paving the way for a far more serious erosion of trust and acceptance. Tools have a tendency to trade efficiency over inclusion, and participation over representation. There is also a case for ensuring quality. As an evolving field where theory consistently lags behind practice, it is critical that the field of practices is constantly reviewed, reflected upon and improved. Finally, there is the issue of local capacities. Applications of tools in rural areas often rely on external agents to play the role of interlocutors, but seldom do legacies and capacities get left behind for continued actions by local interlocutors.

3) Interrogating civil society: A dominant theme in the discourse and praxis of accountability is the emphasis placed on the role of civil society as the vanguard of change. There are genuine concerns that the sector is fast losing its rootedness and legitimacy –a schism grows between genuine informal social movements and formal organized civil society. One, exhibiting the vigor of confronting and embracing the politics of governance and the other, seen as obsessed with the rigor of getting the method right. We need to honestly interrogate our understanding of civil society organizations and widen our focus to bring in new, unseen but genuine champions from the cutting edges. A considerable proportion of existing civil society proponents of accountability often tend to be urban centered, and speak a language that appeal to our funding imperatives. We need to empower and enrich the language that has the credibility and endorsement of the basic constituency that we seek to address – citizens, especially the disadvantaged.

4) Seduction of contestation: Rights-based social mobilization sometimes leads to an unintended consequence – spiraling expectations. When amplified voice encounters weak responses from the state, ‘rude accountability’ manifests. The grammar of engagement changes swiftly to a confrontational mode. In social contexts where power asymmetries are accentuated, these confrontations can take very violent forms. There is a case for calibrating social accountability initiatives to match state capacity. In contexts marked by a trust deficit between state and citizens, it may be prudent to focus on trust building exercises as a starting point. The other issue is of public dissemination. Should one go for a big bang release of the findings from a social audit, thereby securing a guaranteed news coverage? Or, should the state be allowed to frame its responses and then go public with the findings and responses? To strengthen principles of constructive engagement, closing the feedback loop in the public domain becomes a critical factor. Voice needs an ear to respond.

5) Rethinking evaluation: It is near impossible to engineer transformative changes given the short project cycles of social accountability initiatives . End of project evaluations can seldom provide meaningful insights. What the field of social accountability needs are longitudinal studies that explore questions related to sustainability and uptake of reported successes. In particular, five aspects could be emphasized: (a) Extent of multi stakeholder engagement; (b) Width of citizen involvement, especially aspects of inclusion; (c) Long-term partnership among stakeholders; (d) Legal or institutional recognition of civil society engagement; and (e) Extent to which processes generate compliance and provide deterrence. Rather than focus on narrowly defined outcomes, evaluations should dwell into process indicators that reveal if critical pathways and enablers are set in place.

6) Illiberalism and social polarization: Perhaps the greatest challenge for social accountability initiatives is the growing popularity of illiberal electoral democracies and, in parallel, the deep social polarization that is tearing up fragile social fabrics. Leaders with divisive agendas and populist outlooks, aided by manipulated (and at times, completely fake) news are posing a grave threat to democratic institutions. There is also the distinct disconnect between the informed public and the mass public in terms of their expressed trust in institutions. All these have substantive repercussions on the way we imagine and operationalize social accountability. We need to focus on activities that build bridging social capital – locating actions that result in enhanced inter-group collaboration. The role of traditional media – once the trusted ally and champion for accountability – needs to be evaluated given the ubiquitous spread of social media. Rather than lamenting the loss of old spaces, the strategy should be to appropriate the new ones.

To sign off: Social accountability is recognition that there exists a lack of engagement with the public institutions that are so critical to our daily lives, a lack of influence in decision-making and more importantly, a lack of voice for expressing our needs, concerns and demands. We believe that social accountability approaches enable citizens, especially the voiceless and the powerless, to engage with state institutions in a proactive and constructive way to demand and exact accountability and responsiveness. This moral high ground of the concept and praxis of social accountability needs to be protected and nurtured.

How Can Social Accountability Address Fragility and Help Societies Rebuild?

By Jeff Thindwa, Program Manager, GPSA.
First published on the GPSA website.

By 2030, almost half of the world’s poor will be concentrated in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence.  It’s easy to associate these problems with only poorer countries, but in fact they affect a broader range of countries, and yes, middle income countries too. And, increasingly, they cross borders. Beyond the threats of terrorism, conflict and violence, poor public services and economic livelihoods have led to mass migration and forced displacement, trapping growing numbers of innocent people in vicious cycles of deprivation. Consider how the Syrian refugee situation has spilled over beyond the Middle East, and the current famine in South Sudan, which is impacting approximately 100,000 people, with millions of lives at risk in the region if we do not act quickly and decisively.

As has been long argued, addressing the challenges of fragility, conflict and violence calls for measures along the whole continuum of emergency assistance and long-term development. We need to support affected communities not only with the delivery of vital services, like water or healthcare, but also enable people to be more resilient and to rebuild the social fabric. More important, perhaps, we must invest in prevention. We must also provide the kinds of support that enable governance to include and involve citizens, and to respond to their needs and preferences.

The lack of accountability and the loss of citizen trust are some the drivers of fragility and conflict. It is often said that accountability is the cornerstone of good governance. Among the different ways to strengthen accountability and improve how governments work is social accountability, an approach that relies on citizen engagement.  Social accountability mechanisms have features that make them potentially suited to both tackle the drivers of fragility and enable countries to improve their governance. In this respect, the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) is working to integrate social accountability in the World Bank’s response to these challenges.

As part of this effort, last month the World Bank hosted a roundtable, “Engaging Civil Society in Situations of Fragility, Conflict and Violence,” featuring Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank’s Chief Executive Officer; Debbie Wetzel, Senior Director of the Governance Global Practice; Saroj Kumar Jha, Senior Director for the Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group; Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director for the World Bank Group’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice; and members of the GPSA’s Steering Committee. The roundtable tackled important issues related to the role of social accountability in situations of fragility, which includes bringing the voices of citizens into government, enabling citizens to monitor and provide feedback on delivery of services, and helping to build trust between citizens and governments.

Preventing Crises

The challenges in fragile settings can range from weakened institutions, broken public services, frayed social relationships and a weak civil society. Rebuilding of societies can cost a lot, and take a very long time. So, Kristalina Georgieva hit the nail on the head when she said, “The best way to deal with humanitarian crises is to not have them in the first place. We must build resilience for individuals, families, communities and countries.” To build stability, it’s clear that development institutions such as the World Bank need to engage early to address emerging risks. Our response needs to be comprehensive and sensitive to each context.

Saroj Kumar Jha asked during the roundtable, “Can we use development tools differently to prevent conflict before it turns violent?” That’s where the GPSA fits in, as we see social accountability as part of a sustainable approach to overcome fragility. Saroj announced the new partnership between his group and the GPSA, committing US$1 million from the State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF) to support resilience and mitigation efforts initially in Guinea, Nepal, Niger and Tajikistan.

In order to ensure what we do is sustainable, we have to take up approaches that lay the ground for longer term institution building, with strong emphasis on engaging citizens to build political support, promote social cohesion and strengthen resilience. Experience has also taught us to pay attention to inclusion across institutions: public and private, formal and informal, whether governments, community groups and development organizations.

For instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we are supporting CORDAID to improve health service delivery by strengthening the ways in which citizens interact with health authorities, like strengthening Health Facility Committees that act as a mechanism through which citizens can interact with service providers. The health sector in DRC, as in many fragile settings, is marred by inefficiencies, insufficient funding, poor infrastructure, limited accountability and weak institutional capacity. Another example is in Sierra Leone, where the GPSA is supporting the CSO, IBIS, to monitor the effective utilization of post-Ebola recovery funds. The GPSA is working to ensure that the resources provided under IDA18 are used effectively in fragile environments, and CSOs are vital partners in many of these efforts.

The promise of social accountability

We have also learned that the challenges of engaging in fragile contexts — where the rule of law, security, space for dissent, and basic trust between citizens and governments cannot be taken for granted — call for innovation and adaptation in our approaches and tools. The good news is that a great deal of innovation has taken place in recent years to improve how citizens are engaged in the development process, supported by civil society organizations and, in some cases, private sector actors.

When it comes to operating in fragile settings, CSOs have advantages that have been widely recognized, even if experiences differ across contexts. With the right kind of support, CSOs can be effective mediating agents. They often work directly with the most vulnerable people, using participatory methods that include citizens, to hear their voices and make them a part of the solution. They are mostly present in remote or isolated parts where others may not be able to reach; are often more agile in their practices; and, increasingly, a lot of them have strong technical expertise including the use of information and communications technologies.

As Debbie Wetzel said at the roundtable, “It is important to build the connectivity between governments, civil society and other organizations on the ground. We need to use the tools at our disposal, including the GPSA, to continue to open the space and emphasize that engagement leads to policy effectiveness and better results.” CSOs also have a potentially significant role as third party monitors of donor operations in fragile states — a point that Saroj Kumar Jha also made when he explained the priorities of the SPF,  which finances innovative approaches to state and peace-building in regions affected by fragility.

Finally, a theme that was echoed at the roundtable, and a key lesson from social accountability practice, is that context matters. Well, nowhere is this more relevant than in fragile states, even if we admit we are continuously learning  about what works and doesn’t and under what conditions. A little bit of humility doesn’t hurt! The international development community has been called upon to do more in these challenging settings using the full range of tools at our disposal. But we can’t forget that the central focus is the people. Our approaches must keep them at the center, listening, including, involving them — ensuring all this benefits them!

Has Kenya’s ICT revolution triggered more citizen participation?

First published on the Making All Voices Count webpage

Much of the literature on citizen accountability focuses on citizen voices. This research briefing is one of four which turn the spotlight on the how the state behaves in instances of accountable governance. Each examines a landmark social justice policy process in Africa, asking when and how the state listened, and to which actors; and why, at times, it chose not to listen.

How far does Kenya’s information and communications technology revolution transform e-government – implementing decisions with the help of ICTs – into e-governance – using ICTs to help make decisions?

Most of the Kenyan government’s ICT policy initiatives are structured around its Vision 2030, a long-term planning blueprint which rests on three pillars: social, economic and political. The political pillar envisages a democratic system that is issue based, people centred and results oriented, and accountable to the public. Kenya’s ICT revolution is contributing to attaining the goals of the economic and social pillars, but there has not been parallel progress in the political pillar.

Case study research interviewed young people in Nairobi, the hub of most of Kenya’s ICT initiatives, found that most respondents were not aware of the government’s efforts to provide online services – which includes 41 public services that can be accessed online, and 12 one-stop shops for online access to basic services – and that two thirds had not accessed them. They also said that their engagement with their leaders through e-platforms was minimal.

Interviews with politicians found that in their view, citizens were using e-platforms only to complain, or request assistance. There was not strong interest among the politicians and bureaucrats interviewed in citizens’ voices or what they were saying.

The findings suggest that the government needs to focus on ensuring parallel progress in the three pillars of Vision 2030. Few people know about the e-government platforms that do exist, and many do not have the skills needed to use the public services that are provided online. Policies that enable the inclusion of the majority without ICT skills are imperative.

Day by day, young Kenyans are finding their critical voices on social media. If the government chooses to engage with this civic awareness and public participation, it is more likely to be able to steer the voices of the masses towards constructive dialogue.

This Research Briefing is part of the When Does the State Listen? series.

Read Nyambura Salome’s blogs on whether e-government platforms in Kenya actually mean more responsive government – and what it’s like to try and use them.

Download the full Research Briefing