Promoting Social Accountability in Southern Africa – What Works?

The report Best Practices in Strengthening Social Accountability in and Oversight Capacity for Rights-Based Public Resources Management in Health (SRHR) and Agriculture (Food Security) in Southern Africa’ documents and analyses key approaches undertaken by the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance in each of its four target countries (Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) during the first phase (2016-2019) of the regional project.

PSA Alliance consortium member SAfAIDS utilised its comprehensive and widely respected best practice documentation methodology to assess one intervention in each of the four countries. Recognising the innovative design of the project, the exercise sought to draw upon and deliberate ‘what works’ and what the ‘picture of success’ looks like, as well as identify unintended outcomes and recommendations to inform future programming, policy decisions and funding, both for the next phase of the project as well as other similar projects in the region. Between September – November 2018, the PSA Alliance interventions were assessed using a participatory documentation process. Selected interventions were assessed against a seven-point criteria, including effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, relevance, ethical soundness, replicability, innovativeness and sustainability.

The report concludes that the PSA Alliance has realised notable achievements in strengthening capacity for social accountability among parliaments, media, local government, traditional leadership, CSOs, and farmers organisations. The four (4) best practices provide evidence that through the project interventions communities are now more structured to exercise their accountability roles through health committees in Tanzania and Mozambique and, for women smallholder farmers, to critique and effectively raise concerns on the farm input support programme (FISP) in Zambia. Additionally, the unique facilitation approach employed by the project led to the establishment of the parliamentary budget office (PBO) in Malawi where other efforts have failed. Overall, the report indicates the strength of the PSA Alliance approach is in its creation and work through multi-stakeholder partnerships, which have effectively generated trust, buy-in and sustainability.

Tanzania: Supporting social audits and community interface towards re-establishment of Health Facility Governance Committees in Kilosa and Mbozi districts of Tanzania

The PSA Alliance project in Tanzania facilitated the re-establishment of Health Facility Governing Committees (HFGCs) in the districts of Kilosa and Mbozi. Community score cards previously conducted in the two districts identified that health funds at facility level were not properly managed, due to a lack of functioning HFGCs. The project supported the local government to organize public meetings for citizens to confirm or elect HFGC members. Twelve HFGCs were re-established (5 in Kilosa and 7 in Mbozi). After the reestablishment, all members were trained on their roles and responsibilities with clear linkages to the social accountability monitoring (SAM) model.  Success in establishing the committees was realised through facilitation of community participation in social audits and interface meetings and engagements.

  • Watch a documentary explaining the impact of the committees in the Kilosa District.
    Read the Tanzania section of the best practice Report.

Zambia: PSAM as Transformative Tool to Improving Agricultural Service Provision: Case of FISP in Zambia

Through the PSA Alliance, smallholder farmers, particularly women, were trained in social accountability and advocacy at the community level, with the aim of promoting their effective participation and contribution in public engagements on the delivery of the Farm Input Support Programme (FISP). Thereafter, the project supported the hosting of community interface meetings, where community members and the duty bearers discussed concerns with the FISP design and delivery. Through the interface platforms, the assertiveness of women smallholder farmers has improved, enabling them to mobilize their communities to raise issues directly with duty bearers.

  • Watch a documentary highlighting the approach in Zambia.
    Read the Zambia section of the best practice Report.

Mozambique: Establishment of Health Committees in Chibuto District of Mozambique 

The PSA Alliance led the establishment of health committees in four communities in Chibuto district, Gaza province. The project provided the committees with capacity training on social accountability, followed by support to engage in community awareness raising events on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and monitoring of service delivery within health facilities. Communities are now demanding change based on their monitoring and promoting positive change in SRH service delivery.

  • Watch a documentary on the actions of the health committees in Chibuto district.
    Read the Mozambique section of the best practice Report.

Malawi: Supporting the Establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in Malawi

The PSA Alliance undertook an innovative approach, based on a thorough power analysis, to generating support for the establishment of a parliamentary budget office in Malawi. In partnership with the Speaker of Parliament, the project’s efforts led to the formation of an inter-ministerial and parliamentary task team to coordinate and lead the establishment of the PBO. While previous efforts to establish a PBO have failed over the past 16 years, the PBO finally became a reality in 2019.

  • Watch a documentary on the strategy to establish a PBO in Malawi.
    Read the Malawi section of the best practice Report.

With the audience in mind: Turning research into film

Original post by Vibeke Wang  accessible here

Making a film about their research project made Vibeke Wang and Ragnhild Louise Muriaas rethink how they talk about their research. -The editing revolves around cutting information to a bare minimum. The process itself contradicts everything you believe in as a researcher, they say. Still, they would not hesitate doing it again.

Several times a year, Vibeke Wang and Ragnhild Louise Muriaas are invited to give presentations about their ‘Money talks: Electoral financing of Women’project. And it is not only academics who would like to know more. The invitations may just as well come from local branches of NGOs and civil society organisations, or high school teachers. Talking about research, theory and methodology to a broader audience inspired them to think differently about how they communicate their research.


Vibeke Wang and Hannah Swila (research assistant from IPOR) interviewing Rosemary Mkandawire at a rally while being filmed by Atle Kold Hansen and director Eli Kristin Muriaas (Photo: Ragnhild Muriaas)


Rethinking research communication
Wang and Muriaas are researching electoral financing among female candidates in Malawi, a costly country to do politics in. There is no public funding of parties and candidates normally sponsor their own electoral campaign. Politicians are expected to give handouts to members of their community, and to contribute financially to local projects. Political rallies are supposed to be organized according to a certain format, where professional dancers, musicians and campaigning material in abundance is provided, all to entertain the crowd. Money contributes to credibility, authority, and ultimately, the chances of being elected.

-In many countries, like Norway, the public has faith in the electoral system. We believe that true political talent will be picked up on and let onto the stage, independent of personal wealth. In other parts of the world, politics is a very different endeavor, says Muriaas.

Being invited to talk about their project, Wang and Muriaas know by first-hand experience that there is an engaged audience with a big interest for research on politics. But talking to a broader audience, it also became clear to them that the actual costs of running for an election is an issue very few think about.

-We started asking ourselves how we could communicate this in a way that the audience can relate to, says Wang.

The answer was to show people how differently this works around the world. They joined forces with a film crew and set out making a storyboard. The learning curve was steep, both for the researchers and for the film crew who had never cooperated with researchers before.

-How do you make your information and data fit into the structure and narrative of a film? We had to rethink how we deal with our data, says Wang.

Using first and foremost qualitative methods in their ‘Money talks’ project, they depend on open questions, and many questions, designed specifically to capture depth, nuances and context. Working with a film crew and creating a film taught them that not only can short questions answered with a simple yes or no be informative, they can also be necessary.

Deciding what to include in the film or not was a nerve-wrecking experience for Wang and Muriaas. The film format forced them to step out of their comfort zone, into a world where you mercilessly kill your darlings and where you have to work hard not to succumb to the fear of ‘dumbing down’ your research questions and research findings.


Ragnhild Muriaas at work interviewing Jean Sendeza, with photographer Atle Kold Hansen following every single step (Photo: Eli Kristin Muriaas)


The film crew, on the other hand, were more stressed about the unpredictability of filming in an environment where you are not in full control of your surroundings. Having worked in Malawi on numerous occasions, Wang and Muriaas were well aware that plans can change and that appointments made can suddenly be cancelled.

Money talks
The researcher/film team decided on filming three different candidates at three different rallies. They ranged from newcomers to more experienced politicians, and from government to opposition to independent candidates, but all campaigning to win a seat in the May general elections.

The interviews with candidates talking about the cost of running for an election and a funding programme designed to make campaigning achievable for more female politicians highlight the challenges women face trying to make their way into Malawian politics. And the footage from the rallies do not only serve the purpose of bringing the audience closer to a different world. It makes it clear to everyone who sees the film that engaging in politics in Malawi really can be costly, and that relying on pure talent will not necessarily take you anywhere. The drums, the dancers, the poets chanting, they all come with a price.


Running for an election can be a costly affair in Malawi. Professional dancers are often hired to entertain the crowd. (Photo: Ragnhild Muriaas)


-Money really does talk, and there is no better way of illustrating this than by letting everyone see with their own eyes. The actual physical surroundings and the atmosphere, the bumpy bus rides, the colourful t-shirts and the music at the rallies, that is all part of the information we want to get across, says Muriaas.

The film, which will be used for teaching students at the bachelor level as well as for public events, will be launched in June, but the launch will certainly not be the end of it. The process has sparked a lingering interest, and even though the experience has been challenging, their budgeting in new research projects will take a different turn from now on. More than anything, they have learnt to approach their topic from a different angle, one that takes the public’s perspective.

Can social media help anti-corruption drives? A Nigerian case study

Tolu Olarewaju, Staffordshire University

Corruption can have a crippling effect on a country’s economy. This is why African businesses have described ending corruption as “priority number one”.

Take Nigeria, where the basic infrastructure deficit is huge but funds to improve its infrastructure always seem to end up missing or misallocated. In addition, projects are started and never finished. As a result the country’s roads, rail and ports are in a deplorable state.

Nigerians also suffer from persistent electricity shortages. They lack pipe-borne water and proper sanitation facilities. Housing provision is a problem too.

The country has spent billions of US dollars to resuscitate its power and transport sectors. But it has very little to show for it. Nigeria is not alone. Researchers often report that infrastructure spending is regularly used by public officers and government officials across the continent to misappropriate funds.

Tackling corruption is notoriously difficult. Once it’s embedded in a country’s systems it’s difficult to weed out. But a fresh approach is being pursued in Nigeria – with some startling results. Ordinary citizens are mobilising the use of technology and social media to produce evidence that’s used to hold officials to account.

Our research set out to discover whether the use of technology and social media by ordinary citizens to monitor infrastructure projects could result in more infrastructure projects being completed – and could also lessen corruption.

A version of this approach has been tried in countries like Peru and South Korea. Nigeria seems to be the first – at least on the African continent – to monitor infrastructure projects in this way.

Our research found, for example, that the camera feed showing the construction of the second river Niger bridge, and similar schemes by Tracka gave citizens the power to monitor infrastructure projects. It also increased transparency and could be used to hold the government and engineering firms that build infrastructure to account.

But we also found that there were challenges. For example, citizens needed data and power to monitor infrastructure projects. Neither was always available.

The approach

Monitoring projects has been used by firms and the government as a way to provide more transparency.

For example, research from Uganda shows that corrupt government officials were less able to siphon money for their own enrichment when citizens knew where money was supposed to go and could therefore monitor spending; the diversion of funds fell by 12% over six years.

Research from Kenya also showed that public monitoring of government projects reduced corruption by 20%.

In Nigeria, we investigated infrastructure projects that were monitored by citizens and compared these to infrastructure projects that weren’t monitored. We found that there was a positive link between citizens using technology and social media to monitor infrastructure projects and better completion rates and standards for the infrastructure projects.

Generally, when government officials and infrastructure building engineering firms knew that they were being monitored, they didn’t want to get caught out. In certain cases, citizens were able to engage with the ministry of works and their state governor and use social media to engage in discussions about the project.

By taking pictures of the proposed infrastructure sites and tagging their state governors or representatives in regular posts about the infrastructure projects, civic participation was encouraged. Although there was no often response in the first instance, the high visibility generated by social media and the threat of losing forthcoming elections often resulted in the infrastructure projects being completed. But this was only for projects that citizens could monitor – and there are too few of these. Even we struggled to find many.

Our investigations also revealed that frequent offline and online discussions created awareness about the infrastructure projects and helped citizens to suggest projects that would be useful for their communities.

Challenges to this approach

This approach is not without its challenges.

For example, citizens needed key information to monitor infrastructure projects properly. This included the type, cost, key stages and duration of the projects. Only then would they be able to compare what was actually happening before their eyes to what had been budgeted for so they could alert the relevant authorities as soon as there were discrepancies.

Mobile network technology and access to social media platforms are also needed to make this work.

There were also social and cultural issues. Some citizens didn’t want to engage with social media and technology for personal reasons. In addition, when evidence of corruption was reported by citizens, some saw this as a politically motivated attack. The result was that they lashed out instead of trying to solve the corruption being exposed.

Other challenges included:

  • a lack of clear penalties for individuals involved with monitored infrastructure projects that not completed, or not completed to a decent standard;
  • a lack of follow up by the relevant anti-corruption authorities; and
  • not enough being done when there were clear cases of standards not being met.


Technology and social media can be used as effective tools by citizens to monitor infrastructure projects. But this isn’t enough on its own. It can only be effective if budgets are also made fully visible.

This would enable citizens to know what they are monitoring and what to look for. Citizens would be wise to demand such transparency: honest governments will have nothing to fear.

This points to the need for a comprehensive approach to tackling corruption. This would need to include transparency and offline and online citizen engagement. In this context, technology and social media could be used as complementary tools.

If African governments and infrastructure building engineering firms on the continent are really concerned about corruption and want to show that they have nothing to hide, they can use this approach to gain more trust from the citizenry.The Conversation

Tolu Olarewaju, Lecturer in Economics, Staffordshire University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can digital really revolutionise health and education in the Global South?

Post written by Elizabeth Stuart, executive director of the Pathways for Prosperity Commission on inclusive technology. Originally published here

One of many puzzles in development is that increasing spending on health and education doesn’t necessarily deliver expected results.

To turn this on its head: Madagascar, Bangladesh and South Africa all have similar child mortality rates, but South Africa spends 19 times more than Madagascar and 13 times more than Bangladesh on healthcare.

Indeed this apparent paradox is one of the reasons why so many countries rushed to be part of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project, as they sought answers to precisely this question.

The Pathways to Prosperity Commission’s latest report is in part an attempt to provide a way through this puzzle by asking: what can technology do (if anything) to improve effectiveness and efficiency in health and education?

And because we’re a commission on inclusive technology, we also looked at whether tech can increase equity of access and outcomes.

This is what we found: there are lots of sensible reasons to be deeply sceptical about technology in this area. History is littered with pilots that worked for a while, but weren’t sustainable, such as the One Laptop per Child initiative in Peru, which 15 months after it started, had no measurable effects on maths and reading scores, in part because teachers hadn’t been trained on how to incorporate the laptops into their teaching. And this isn’t limited to developing countries: there are also cautionary tales from the US.

In other words digital can’t be just seen as a simplistic fix to analogue problems.

But, where policy makers started with a proper understanding of problems that need to be resolved, and assessed delivery obstacles and constraints by analysing the whole system, rather than just asking why a tablet in a classroom is not delivering results, we found clear evidence that technology is already significantly boosting outcomes

In India, a study of a free after-school programme that introduced Mindspark, a digital personalised learning service, showed improvements in mathematics assessment scores of up to 38% in less than five months.

In Uganda, the web-based application MobileVRS has helped increase birth registration rates in the country from 28% to 70%, at the very low cost of $0.03 per registration – thus helping decision-makers track health outcomes and improve access to services. And mental health patients in Nigeria who received SMS reminders for their next appointment were twice as likely to attend as patients receiving standard paper-based reminders.

But – and this is where it gets even more exciting – we also found evidence to suggest that in the near future, digital technologies will offer the promise to transform not just results, but the entire system.

For example, careful and deliberate low-cost data collection will make it possible for health and education systems, supported by digital technologies and artificial intelligence, to continuously learn and improve both standard practice and decision-making by creating feedback loops at every level. Projects such as BID (Better Immunization Data) in Zambia and Tanzania give us a glimpse of how, with the right tools and training, frontline providers can use data to improve their work.

By capturing and processing large volumes of individual data, technology will make personalised diagnosis and intervention possible in both health and education. It takes skill, training and time for a doctor to develop a personalised treatment plan or a teacher to personally coach a student, but algorithms can use test scores and patient records to design and implement individual plans at little cost.

Systems could also become more proactive to ensure services get to the people that need them most. In the health sector, this is starting to emerge in programmes that use community data to identify high-risk patients for active outreach. In education, it will allow more precise targeting of pupils whose learning is lagging.

Source: World Bank (2019d), Gapminder (2019), Pathways Commission analysis. Note: This figure uses data from 2013. Expenditure is adjusted for purchasing power parity, and is reported as 2011 international dollars. The size of a circle represents a country’s population.


And digital technologies also offer the means to explicitly focus on those who are left behind by current service delivery models. In Mali, a proactive community case management programme initiated by the NGO Muso contributed to a remarkable 10-fold decline in child mortality; the success of free door step health care is amplified with a dashboard and devices for community health workers. In Uganda, a portable ultrasound device, called Butterfly iQ allows healthcare workers to use their mobile phone as a scanner, anytime and anywhere.

But these visions will not come to fruition automatically. For most, the right digital infrastructure will need to be in place. This means access to electricity and the internet and digital skills, as well as clear rules for data governance and privacy will be essential. New regulations, protocols and rules will need to be established to guard against privacy violations, data misuse and algorithmic bias. And most importantly, even the most effective system will not frontload outcomes for the poorest if there is no deliberate effort to do so.

Urging caution on deployment is perhaps counterintuitive for a tech commission, but having seen many of the quick fix mistakes of the past we know for sure what doesn’t work. But what we also know is that, done right, and delivered at scale, technologically-enhanced health and education systems and the right digital connectivity, could unlock benefits that could be genuinely distributed to all – and that would be revolutionary.

This article was originally published on the From Poverty to Power blog

Protecting civic space requires courage—and lots of it

Authored by Lauren L. Finch: Storytelling Lead at MobLab on the 10th of May 2019. The original article can be accessed here

One main takeaway of International Civil Society Week? Advocacy campaigners need to bravely and boldly self-reflect, experiment, open up and let go.

Last month, I attended International Civil Society Week in Belgrade, an event hosted by our partner CIVICUS and Serbia-based Civic Initiatives that gathered more than 900 people from all over the globe to talk about shrinking civic space.

Condensing five full days into a main takeaway is tough, but after a few weeks of reflection on all those rich and passionate conversations, it would be thus:

To build an equitable, peaceful and sustainable world, we in the social change sector are going to need courage — and not only in the way you’re thinking.

It takes courage, of course, to advocate for change when your opponents not only disagree with you, but seek to persecute or criminalise you. Regressive forces all over the world are gaining ground, and as a result it’s riskier than ever to campaign for fundamental rights, progressive reforms or even basic human compassion.

Many of our colleagues demonstrate this sort of courage every day working in restricted environments, and they deserve our immense gratitude, respect and support.

But based on what I heard and observed at ICSW 2019, we’re going to need to find the strength to be bold and brave in other, no less critical areas too.

Courage to leave our comfort zones

“The power of togetherness” wasn’t just the gathering’s catchy theme. Many of the challenges we face, including shrinking civic space, are complex and enormous in scale, which means we aren’t going to solve them by ourselves talking to the same old folks.

We have to design actions that reach beyond our bubble of supporters and invite people to the table who bring new perspectives. We have to be more nimble and welcoming in our coalition-building, instead of getting bogged down in formalities and ideological purity. We have to stop playing it safe and learn to live with a bit of discomfort.

Courage to experiment and fail

When we do things the way they’ve always been done and find that the traditional approach no longer serves us well, our response shouldn’t be to stick with it. “That’s the way it is” is an attitude that makes us ineffective at best, and at worst can perpetuate exclusionary practices — and how can we demand inclusive societies if we ourselves don’t stack up?

We must create spaces — on all levels, from organisation and movement to the global social change community — that applaud experimentation, encourage sharing, respect on-the-ground insights, and lean into failure as an opportunity for learning. New problems require new solutions.

Courage to ask how and why

That critical eye we rightly cast over powerful institutions and groups? We must learn to turn it inwards to ensure that our strategies are up to the task of actually creating and sustaining change.

  • Why will thousands of retweets help advance human rights?
  • How has our organisation fostered trust with local communities?
  • Why are we the best messengers for this action?
  • How will this campaign build power?
  • Why are we making that assumption?

Otherwise, we risk getting caught up in the flashy, one-off actions that look good in reports — 600 signatures, 3,000 likes, 10,000 protest attendees — but lack much transformative impact because we didn’t examine with enough depth the systems that we’re aiming to shift.

Courage to open up and let go

What helps organisations stay resilient and mobilise successfully? Valuing participation. When we are accountable and invest time, care and trust into relationships with people, we receive time, care and trust in return. In a closing civic space, that support is critical.

Building that trust means creating space for supporters to lead, which in turn means loosening the grip on brand. It also means we have to move away from “activism behind closed doors” and start practicing meaningful transparency — including speaking in accessible, non-jargon-filled language.

Courage to believe, truly believe, in a radically positive future

We can’t simply tell people what not to do. We must create campaigns rooted in empathy that offer tangible ideas about what it means to live in an equitable, peaceful and sustainable society — and live those same principles within our own organisations.

Otherwise, we doom ourselves to react from the defensive. It’ll take a movement of people to achieve a better world, but we’ll never build one if we can’t offer an inspiring, values-based vision to rally around.

All of these things can be scary. Humility, transparency, participation and experimentation are powerful tools for effecting change, but they also come with a touch of insecurity, vulnerability and messiness that can feel jarring.

But the social change community has proven themselves time and again to be a brave bunch, speaking out for what is right even when it’s not popular. The stakes are high, and the well of courage required already exists. Let’s tap into it.

The man with a tablet for making aid to African countries better

Struck by failings in the implementation of health projects, a Mozambican entrepreneur has turned to tech for a solution.

The Guardian reports this week that Dayn Amade, founder of Maputo-based technology company Kamaleon, is calling for the World Health Organization and aid groups to reassess how people on the African continent are educated about disease prevention.

“Aid efforts are being hampered by a failure to educate people on the question of why prevention is needed, and by organisations’ ability to tailor messages to local communities,” he said.

Amade is the creator of a digital platform called the community tablet, an interactive platform through which people can be educated and informed about issues impacting their lives. The device, which runs on up to six large, solar-powered LCD screens and is transported on a trailer, can be attached to anything from a car to a donkey, enabling it to reach even the most remote or isolated rural communities.

Dayn Amade
Dayn Amade, founder and CEO of Kamaleon, brings internet access to remote areas. Photograph: Courtesy Kamaleon

You can read the full story here

Content and photos Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Training Citizen Journalists and “Building Community Power”

The original article “Training Citizen Journalists and “Building Community Power”: SLCJI Launches in Canton, NY” was authored by John Collins on the 15th of October 2018.

On an early fall weekend, a diverse group of North Country residents gathered on the campus of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, to inaugurate an innovative new experiment in grassroots journalism: the St. Lawrence Citizen Journalism Incubator.

Designed to provide community members with the opportunity to receive training and support for conducting their own independent, investigative journalism projects, the SLCJI was created by Weave News with the collaboration of North Country Public Radio, The Hill News, and Nature Up North. A St. Lawrence University Innovation Grant provided initial funding for the project.

More than a dozen North Country “Investigative Storytellers” were on hand for the SLCJI’s first-ever training event after having their project proposals approved by the SLCJI steering committee.


The weekend began with a Friday evening keynote lecture by Fiona Morgan, a freelance consultant whose work focuses on building stronger local media ecosystems through better public engagement. Morgan, who previously headed up the journalism program at Free Press, began by acknowledging that the ongoing “crisis in local news and journalism,” driven by consolidation in the media sector and the erosion of traditional business models, is coinciding with “a crisis in our democracy, where our systems of checks and balances appear to be in peril and our political culture is deeply divided.”

While the term “citizen journalism” is much-debated and has its limitations, Morgan argued, it can help call our attention to the essential idea that “journalism is essential to citizenship, and vice versa.”

Referring to a conversation she helped organize in North Carolina between local journalists and community members, Morgan emphasized that when given the opportunity, local people are eager to collaborate in the essential work of journalism:

Something happened then that’s happened every time I’ve been part of a conversation with local reporters who demonstrate a willingness and ability to listen and respond to people’s needs: the community members asked: How can I help? What can I do? What can we do together? This question, How can I help?, never fails to move me. I’ve been a reporter, and I know how hard and unrewarding the work can be. I also know how much impact it can have, and that quality reporting makes real change and accountability possible.

Drawing on the model that animates the SLCJI project, Morgan defended the idea that community participation in journalism can benefit everyone. “Does embracing public participation in journalism mean giving up professional standards? No, it doesn’t,” she contended:

It means we find a role for people to play, a real and substantive role, and we rely on them to perform it. It is absolutely true that journalists, trained in practices of verification, possess skills that are undervalued and badly needed at this moment. Yet I often wonder why those of us who know this also speak as though these skills are non-transferable. Surely they can be shared and spread, making smarter readers and sharers of information in the process?

When citizen journalists are brought into the work journalism in this way, she concluded, they can play a fundamental role in building “community power” and a more democratic, participatory media system.


To get the Saturday training event going, Morgan led a “pro-action cafe” session designed to help the Investigative Storytellers sharpen their project ideas. One by one, the Storytellers stepped to the microphone to introduce themselves and the questions driving their projects. Community members then had the opportunity to sit with the Storytellers and consider Morgan’s first prompt: “What is the quest behind the question?” Subsequent prompts encouraged dialogue regarding the kinds of voices and information that might be missing from the story being investigated.

Stories being pursued by the Investigative Storytellers include the struggles facing undocumented workers, the local impact of the craft beer boom, the isolation of international students and students of color in the North Country, and the health of the Grasse River.


During the afternoon, attendees had the chance to attend workshops led by SLU professor and The Hill News advisor Dr. Juraj Kittler (Story Format and Structure), NCPR reporter and assistant news director David Sommerstein (Getting Inside Your Head: Great Storytelling With Audio for Radio and Podcasting), and Nature Up North director Dr. Erika Barthelmess (Environmental Storytelling With Nature Up North).

Following the workshops, the cohort of Investigative Storytellers gathered with Morgan and members of the SLCJI steering committee for a discussion of ethical issues in journalism. The day concluded with a workshop focusing on how to build a project “roadmap.”

“I am proud and happy to be part of [the SLCJI],” said Connie Jenkins, one of the Investigative Storytellers. “The weekend talk and workshops were inspirational as well as helpful in shaping/refining our ideas. It’s exciting that so many people came forward to help tell these stories and explore the news.”

The Storytellers will have several months to carry out their projects, and each will work with a mentor from the steering committee along the way. The first year of the SLCJI will conclude with a public event in April at which Storytellers will present the results of their work.

The Case for Increasing Accountability in Development

Article originally authored by Khadeeja Hamid on the 18th of May 2018, accessible on the Weavenews site

The most recent mass exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar sheds light on the UN system’s failure to prevent and respond to the tragic predicament of this Muslim minority group.  While some parts of the UN system characterised the situation as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, others, namely the in-country UN team led by the UN Resident Coordinator, chose to remain silent. Analysts have classified the UN’s shortcomings in Myanmar as “self-made”, blaming system-wide incoherence and the much-criticised Resident Coordinator system which entrusts the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the responsibility of appointing the senior-most UN diplomat or the Resident Coordinator in any country.

However, as we reflect on the UN’s failure in Myanmar, it is important to recognise that this trade-off between development and human rights – often seen as a trade-off between access (to host countries, counterparts, funds, etc.) and advocacy – is not unique to the United Nations; on the contrary, it is common to most development organisations. When faced with the dilemma of engaging in advocacy at the expense of losing access to funds and even in some cases access to the host country, most organisations choose the latter. I argue that this is an inevitable outcome of organisations’ failure to effectively institutionalise robust accountability regimes that would do more than prioritize upward accountability, placing equal emphasis on inward, horizontal and downward accountability.

The literature on organisations characterises upward accountability as a process where the accountability demands and interests of the most powerful players, such as host governments and donors, are prioritised over those of beneficiaries or the target individuals and communities of an organisation’s programmes. While the dominance of such a hierarchical accountability regime in a field that is supposed to be more democratic and egalitarian is far from desired, overemphasis on this kind of accountability can undermine the effectiveness of development programmes and interventions. There are several reasons for this.

First, such an accountability regime imposes burdensome structural and reporting restrictions on organisations, diverting their limited resources away from target communities to other actors. This effectively prevents organisations from forming long-term meaningful relationships with the most marginalised sections of the population that they claim to be serving. In the case of Myanmar, one wonders if the deplorable situation facing the Rohingya could have been prevented or even mitigated if the UNDP,  the primary agency tasked with eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities and exclusion, had spent more time cultivating meaningful relationships with members of the most marginalised communities within Myanmar, including the Rohingya.

Second, organisations that practise upward accountability face financial and operational sustainability challenges that lead them to utilise the “successful” implementation of development programmes as an avenue to extend existing contracts or to secure new ones that would bring in more funds to the organisation and ensure its sustainability. This creates a culture of overemphasizing successes and underreporting failures.

Inherent to the issue of overemphasising success is also the issue of how development programmes are monitored and evaluated. While most evaluations of development interventions tend to be summative (carried out at the end of the intervention), the majority of organisations will utilise some sort of system to monitor and measure the trajectory of their interventions. However, most of these monitoring systems have a preoccupation with narrowly defined deliverables and delivery (a measure of how much of the programme budget has been expended) and fail to take a critical look at how beneficiary communities are interacting with the designed interventions. In the rare case that an intervention is followed up with a summative evaluation, often times organisations fail to incorporate lessons learnt effectively into new cycles of programming. Such missed opportunities lead to perpetual repetitions of failed programmes and approaches and undermine an organisation’s credibility amongst communities.

One may argue that at the heart of this problem is the issue of who organizations consider to be their most important stakeholders and their own perceptions about these stakeholders. An honest exercise in search of answers to this question will reveal much about the power-laden nature of development and the dialectic process of negotiating and renegotiating power relations between various actors in society, relations that are inherent to development itself.

An accountability regime that places emphasis on downward, inward and horizontal accountability is an attempt to reckon with the above reality and to balance unequal power dynamics within the development industry. Operationally, downward accountability requires organizations to define individuals or communities that they aim to serve as primary stakeholders and to allow these stakeholders to have a say in the practices of the organisation. Similarly, inward accountability engages members, staff and volunteers to hold an organisation accountable to its own values, while horizontal accountability involves being accountable to peer organisations in order to encourage higher standards and to share best practices.

Some practice steps that could be instituted to establish such an accountability regime include:  seeking out flexible funding structures and strategies such as turning to donors that have fewer restrictions; relying on the collective capital of target communities or primary stakeholders to mobilize funds and other resources; creating effective strategies for harvesting failure stories and learning from them; cultivating horizontal linkages between peer organizations that could act as reflection mirrors for the organisation; investing more time and effort to train and familiarise staff with the organisation’s principles, values, code of conduct, etc.; and fostering an organisational culture that encourages staff to talk about the organisation’s own failures more openly with the aim of improving the way development work is undertaken.

The UN’s failure in Myanmar might sound vaguely familiar to many who have also witnessed and heard about the UN’s failures in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 and the more recent Sri Lankan civil war. Within the UN system, the concept of a human rights-based approach to development (HRBA) and the former Secretary General’s human rights upfront (HRuF) initiative could be characterised as attempts to learn from the UN’s past failures and to increase inward accountability.

HRBA is a framework that conceptualises development in terms of human rights, characterising the realisation of human rights, as given in the international human rights conventions ratified by States, as the end and means of development. It also emphasises the legal obligations of states (duty bearers) to fulfil rights and the rightful claims of people and communities (rights holders) to these rights. At an operational level, HRBA encourages practitioners to consider country-specific recommendations from the UN human rights system as a primary starting point for the design of interventions and draws the focus of development interventions to the most marginalised and vulnerable groups.  The HRuF is a recent initiative which reiterates the centrality of human rights to the UN system and seeks a cultural change, an operational change and a change in the UN’s engagement with member states to prevent large-scale violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Implemented properly, both these avenues, along with the current Secretary General’s efforts to reform the UN development system, including changing the RC system, could go a long way toward ensuring that the global body is smarter in navigating the tensions between advocacy and access and incorporating human rights into the core of its development efforts everywhere.

Failures arising from the trade-off between human rights and development are a signet of the development field at large. The frequency and the scale of the human rights and humanitarian crisis caused by such trade-offs come with an urgent need for development organisations and practitioners to increase downward, inward and horizontal accountability as a way of addressing this issue. Given that organisations at any point will have to balance and negotiate between the interests of their various stakeholders including donors, host governments, and target communities, simultaneously practicing the four types of accountability desired for any effective organisations, i.e. upward accountability, downward accountability, inward accountability and horizontal accountability, will indeed be a challenge. However, it is a challenge worth pursuing.


This article was first published by UN here

The human rights at risk of the most severe negative impact through the company’s activities and business relationships.

The UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework asks companies to focus their human rights reporting on their ‘salient human rights issues’. To learn more, see our short Q&A below, or view our introductory video.

For further explanation of additional key terms used in the UNGP Reporting Framework, please see the glossary.

UNGP Reporting Framework: Salient Human Rights Issues from UNGP Reporting on Vimeo.

1. What are salient human rights issues?

Something that is salient is prominent or important. It stands out conspicuously.

A company’s salient human rights issues are those human rights that stand out because they are at risk of the most severe negative impact through the company’s activities or business relationships.

This concept of salience uses the lens of risk to people, not the business, as the starting point, while recognizing that where risks to people’s human rights are greatest, there is strong convergence with risk to the business.

The emphasis of salience lies on those impacts that are:

  • Most severe: based on how grave and how widespread the impact would be and how hard it would be to put right the resulting harm.
  • Potential: meaning those impacts that have some likelihood of occurring in the future, recognizing that these are often, though not limited to, those impacts that have occurred in the past;
  • Negative: placing the focus on the avoidance of harm to human rights rather than unrelated initiatives to support or promote human rights;
  • Impacts on human rights: placing the focus on risk to people, rather than on risk to the business.

Salience therefore focuses the company’s resources on finding information that is necessary for its own ability to manage risks to human rights, and related risks to the business. In this way, it helps companies report on the human rights information that shareholders, investors, governments, customers, consumers, media, civil society organizations and directly affected people want to see.

2. What is the difference from materiality?

Materiality depends on the choice of a particular audience or goal for which things are then judged more or less important. The audience may be shareholders alone or other stakeholders as well. A goal may be profit-making alone, decisions of an investor more widely, or societal welfare generally. The choice of audience or goal then dictates the selection of material issues.

By contrast, salient human rights issues are not defined in reference to any one audience or goal. Salience puts the focus on those human rights at risk of the most severe negative impact. This provides a consistent, predictable and principled means of identifying the appropriate focus of human rights reporting. At the same time, it gives business an effective tool for understanding how human rights issues connect with risk to the business.

When conducting materiality assessments, many companies discount human rights issues due to common assumptions, such as:

  • Assumption of no risk to human rights: an assumption that the company doesn’t and couldn’t be involved with negative impacts on human rights, based on a limited knowledge of human rights and how they can be affected by business activities and through business relationships;
  • Assumption that risk to human rights doesn’t matter: An untested assumption that impacts on human rights are without substantial risk to the company and are, therefore, not material, ignoring the many ways in which such impacts can lead to tangible and intangible costs and loss of value for the business, particularly in the medium to long term;
  • Assumption that past impact defines future risk: An assumption that looking at past impacts will be sufficient for the identification of forward-looking risks to human rights, ignoring risks that might be identifiable from the experience of others in the industry, from other industries, from an understanding of emerging issues and from scenario planning.

Where materiality processes engage external stakeholders to help inform the company’s understanding of relevant issues for reporting, common pitfalls include:

  • Skewed feedback: Processes that engage with stakeholders based on their expertise in areas the company already assumes are material, such that their feedback reinforces the company’s starting assumptions.
  • Under-informed feedback: Engagement processes where stakeholders are not given sufficient insight into the company’s operations, range of business activities and business relationships in order to provide informed advice of where they most salient issues might lie.

As a result of these common assumptions and pitfalls, many companies’ existing materiality processes fail to adequately reflect human rights issues or to identify those human rights that are at greatest risk and are therefore priorities for management and reporting.

3. Why is this distinction between salience and materiality helpful for companies?

Identifying salient human rights issues is critical for any company seeking to understand how the most severe kinds of harm to people might be associated with its activities and business relationships. It is the first stage of human rights due diligence and a vital internal process that gets companies out in front of risks and enables them to address them proactively.

Salient issues are therefore not only the issues on which companies should focus their reporting, but also the priority human rights issues for risk management. Using ‘salience’ means that reporting changes from being a resource drain on companies – an exercise in chasing down data for an external communications exercise – to being an investment in putting in place processes that enable the company to manage key risks to people and to the business.

4. Why is this distinction between salience and materiality helpful for investors?

Materiality processes very often miss significant risks to human rights. Investors can have many interests, but one that unites them is the desire to know that risks are being managed. If a company is not conducting proper human rights due diligence, there may be risks of severe impacts on human rights, and therefore related risks to the business, that are going unrecognized and unaddressed. This explains that examples of severe human rights impacts that we see in the public domain and there were not previously anticipated or managed by the companies involved.

A company that can articulate its salient human rights issues and how it identified them can show to investors and other stakeholders that it is doing human rights due diligence and identifying issues that need active management. That should be a minimum expectation of any investor. Where the company finds risks of severe impacts on human rights, the investor should then expect to have information about how those are being managed. The UNGP Reporting Framework provides the targeted questions for companies to do so.

For more about investor support for the UNGP Reporting Framework, see the investor coalition statement of support.

5. Are risks to human rights separate from risks to business?

Human rights impacts are the most acute social, environmental and economic impacts a company can have on people. Salient human rights issues are in turn the most severe human rights impacts. Impacts that carry this level of severity can be seen to converge strongly with risk to the business, as demonstrated in the many instances where they lead to litigation, reputation-damaging campaigns, disruption and delays to operations, increased costs of managing conflict and other costs or loss in value to the business. This is particularly evident over the medium to long term.

The relationship between salient human rights issues and risk to business is represented in the figure below.
Salient human rights issues

6. Is materiality still relevant for reporting?

Yes – materiality will remain relevant for both broader sustainability and financial reporting. In essence, materiality refers to what is really important or has great consequences, and the various definitions of materiality take differing views on that question. An understanding of how human rights are important in relation to the conduct and success of business has been missing, however, leaving companies and investors exposed to the flawed assumptions and pitfalls outlined above. Salience addresses this gap.

Companies can apply the concept of salience within a broader materiality exercise, using salience to identify the necessary human rights content of its reporting. For instance, companies using the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 materiality process for their broader sustainability reporting can use salience and the questions in the UNGP Reporting Framework as they determine what to disclose specifically on human rights, supported by relevant GRI indicators.

When using definitions of materiality that focus on risks to the business that carry a certain level of financial value, salience will still enable the company to identify those human rights issues most likely to pose material risks to the company given the strong convergence between the most severe potential impacts on human rights and risk to the business.

The UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework makes clear that if the specific materiality definition being used sets a threshold that excludes certain salient human rights issues from a report, the company can disclose them elsewhere and refer to where that additional information can be found. This approach mirrors the guidance provided by the Integrated Reporting Framework. By using the Index of Answers for the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, companies can show in one coherent, concise format where readers can find their responses to the Framework’s questions across different locations.

7. How should a company identify its salient human rights issues?

An understanding of a company’s salient human rights issues is built on a process by which the company:

  • identifies the full range of human rights that could potentially be negatively impacted by its activities or through its business relationships:
    • involving all relevant functions and units across the business;
    • informed by the perspectives of those who may be negatively impacted;
  • prioritizes potential negative impacts for attention:
    • primarily based on their potential severity, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles, namely:
      • how grave the impact would be;
      • how widespread the impact would be;
      • how hard it would be to put right the resulting harm;
    • secondarily based on their likelihood, retaining due attention to high-severity, low-likelihood impacts;
  • engages with internal and external stakeholders to explain its conclusions and check whether any considerations have been missed.

If the number of salient issues initially identified is too large for the company to report on concisely, it may use the defining elements of ‘severity’ set out above to reduce the number further, for example, by focusing on those impacts that are most widespread.

Any process to identify salient human rights issues should take into account the perspectives of those stakeholders who may be negatively impacted or with their legitimate representatives. In addition, expert stakeholders – shareholders, NGOs and others – are a key audience with which the company should check its conclusions to see whether any considerations have been missed or potentially salient issues overlooked. Where companies already build in engagement with stakeholders as part of their process to identify material issues, they can use those same conversations to explain their findings about salient human rights issues and how they were identified and to test their conclusions.

Further key considerations when identifying a company’s salient human rights issues are set out in the implementation guidance to section B1 of the UNGP Reporting Framework.

Another successful year for Africa Integrity Indicators!

This article was first published on the Global Integrity website here


Global Integrity is pleased to announce the release of provisional data for the seventh round of its Africa Integrity Indicators (AII), available here.

This provisional data is available for public comment until May 31, 2019. We invite interested stakeholders to examine the data and share any feedback that can help increase its quality and usefulness. Don’t be shy – We value your input!

Preliminary findings

Below are some of our preliminary findings, but stay tuned! In the upcoming weeks, we will be starting a conversation to better understand how our data could help support your work.

The independence of the judiciary is under threat: In several countries, notably Ghana and Kenya, governments have taken steps to hamper the independence of the judiciary.

Bypassing public procurement guidelines: While regulations are supposed to control public procurement, there is a surge of contracts awarded without competition in Liberia, Benin and Mauritania. In Kenya, allegations of corruption in public procurement are increasing.

Crackdown on the publication of information: While some countries made progress towards open publication of information (notably Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, with substantial improvement from last year), more countries regressed, experiencing more censorship and/or self-censorship of media organizations and citizens’ online content (social media, blogs, etc).

What is the Africa Integrity Indicators Project, anyway?

Every year since 2013, the Africa Integrity Indicators project assesses the state of governance and aspects of social development across all 54 African countries. It produces qualitative data through 102 indicators in 13 categories addressing transparency and accountability, as well as social development.

The Africa Integrity Indicators data is a stand-alone assessment published by Global Integrity. It presents snapshots of evidence for each indicator, providing a score, the justification, and supporting sources.

Our goal is simple: to build accurate and reliable data, with an interface that enables the data to be examined at the country level (say, by tracking a country’s progress over time with regards to one particular indicator), and at the subject level (say, by comparing different countries’ performance on one indicator).

We want our data to empower actors at the national and regional and international levels working to advance governance reforms, and to foster a discussion on how governance challenges can be tackled.

We also strive to be rigorous and transparent; you can find our methodology here.

What’s new this year?

Previous rounds have addressed both “in law” and “in practice” indicators. In this round, we decided to focus solely on the “in practice” indicators. This is because prior rounds have highlighted “implementation gaps,” or the lag between the adoption of regulations aiming to improve certain issues, and the actual improvement on the ground.

So this year, we are prioritizing citizen’s experience in practice. (Don’t worry, we’ll include updates on the laws every three years to make sure we capture big changes and continue to provide a basis for assessing the implementation gap, a measure which we continue to feel provides an important starting point for understanding whether and why gaps persist, and what might be done to close the implementation gap).

How is our data unique?











How can you use our data?

Our work has been used by several institutions. Data that we collect against a number of questions feed into the Ibrahim Index of African Governance and into the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) by the World Bank. Through the WGI, the data also provides the Millennium Challenge Corporation with information that informs its decisions about country eligibility for Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts.

But you can use our data, too!

Our dataset is a practical entry point for research, advocacy and action:

  • Transparent: our methodology and sources are transparent, and data is open source;
  • Efficient: for each indicator, scores make it quick and easy to identify patterns across countries and across time;
  • Action-oriented: indicators are based on fact-based and country-specific qualitative research, which provides insight on what should be priorities for reforms.

This article was first published on the Global Integrity website here

Join the conversation!

We want to hear from you. Check out our preliminary data and give us your feedback. You have 2 months to help us improve our work!

If you have comments on specific facts and narratives or if you have suggestions related to the accuracy of our research, please contact us at

If you have general comments and suggestions about the usefulness of the data, how you use it, and how it can be improved, please submit your feedback in this form or the aforementioned email address. You can also connect with us on Twitter (@GlobalIntegrity).