India’s mass movements thrive close to the ground while the state cracks down on dissent

Authored by Rohini Mohan on the 1st of April 2019

Law, police and ideology are all targeting those claiming social, economic and political rights in India. But groups that have big memberships and stay close to their communities are getting results.

Activism is under siege in India. The police meet protest with violence; the law has been turned against Indian activists who seek foreign support; and the government dismisses dissent, democratic resistance and even policy critique as ‘anti-national’. As civil society groups shrink before this storm of repression, it seems that one form of activism is proving most resilient: mass movements with a large grassroots membership. So, what do they need to thrive?

Savitri Bai is an indigenous woman in the western state of Rajasthan and articulate leader in the 30-year-old Association of Single Women Alone (ASWA), a collective for low-income single and separated women in 11 of India’s 29 states. She says they are able to sustain long-term resistance because they build political awareness continuously, through engagement in life, not through one-off projects and workshops alone.

“Most donors don’t understand our work,” she says. “Success for us is a strong unity among millions of single women. Or the growth in a single woman’s self-confidence. It is collective power, and not our income or sewing skills, that makes us strong.” ASWA can work on land rights, minimum wages and social equality, she says, even in “the fearful atmosphere today”.

For the past decade and a half, the social sector in India has been more visible than ever. Initially, it was most prominent in the national effort to claim social, economic and political rights – to community land, fair wages, state transparency, and gender equality. It succeeded in getting the government to write people-friendly welfare policies.

“Success for us is a strong unity among millions of single women. Or the growth in a single woman’s self-confidence”Savitri Bai , ASWA

Almost as soon as such rights were protected by law, however, they were under siege. Today, civil society groups in India are struggling to prevent state and central governments from systematically eroding legal entitlements.

They’re having to do this while fighting for their own survival. The police in most parts of the country have turned hostile to community action. They refuse permission for demonstrations, like they did until the very last moment in Delhi when almost 100,000 farmers from across the country marched to demand equitable agricultural policies. They beat and shoot demonstrators, like they did in south India’s Thoothukudi district when they fired at over 20,000 people protesting against alleged pollution by a copper factory, killing 13. Battles for fair income, land entitlement and access to water are becoming harder than ever to wage in rural areas, so farmers, fisherfolk, women and indigenous groups are marching by the thousand from their villages to cities like Delhi and Mumbai. The stronger they rise, the harder they are beaten back. Dozens of activists, especially those working with marginalised groups like indigenous communities, Dalits, manual labourers, and victims of religious violence have been arrested on charges of acting against the state.

                                      The effect is a clear crackdown on those challenging the state

The deepest blow of all has been to funding. The government has weaponised an old law that seeks to monitor the flow of foreign exchange for public-interest work by getting local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to apply for licences to receive funds from international donors. The draconian law was passed during India’s Emergency in the 1970s, to prevent political meddling by foreign players. Today, it has been dusted off to put dozens of major international donors like Compassion International, HIVOS Netherlands and Greenpeace International, which have been a dominant source of social funding in India, on a national security watchlist. Thousands of applications from Indian NGOs for licences or renewals are being rejected. In the four years up to 2017-18, foreign funding has plunged 40%.

Government officials claim that the legal tightening is to weed out corrupt outfits and those that do not file their returns. The effect, however, is a clear crackdown on those challenging the state on issues from ecological conservation, religious equality and the rights of indigenous communities, to disability rights and animal cruelty.

Meanwhile, the new state narrative that defines protest or criticism as unpatriotic has dented the perception of NGOs within the country and, in turn, their ability to raise funds domestically. As the crackdown has grown and the funds have dried up, it has left much of Indian civil society distracted from fieldwork, fearful of legal fees and rudderless.

Weathering the storm at the grass roots

This hostile environment means that the strongest, most secure and effective groups are mass membership-based collectives – called sangathans in Hindi. These are movements with many members, built through grassroots mobilising, most often among low-income individuals from some of the most marginalised communities in the remotest parts of the Indian countryside. Ironically, they seem best able to withstand the assault on human rights work because they can spread their risk across thousands of members. They have strong local leaders from within the community, working on meagre honorariums and tiny membership fees, with skeletal staff and small administrative costs.

“The donor has to be in it for the long haul – one-time projects or intermittent funding won’t cut it” Seema Nair, consultant

Moreover, by working at the grass roots, they have created political awareness in communities that is not attached to time-bound projects or programmes alone. These groups face personal financial difficulties and the might of the state too, but are able to bounce back.

Seema Nair, consultant for South Asia at the Fund for Global Human Rights, which supports many mass movements in the region, explains that the Fund’s work requires “an acute understanding of power and power struggles… The donor has to be in it for the long haul – one-time projects or intermittent funding won’t cut it.”

The funding framework of most agencies is linear – continued funding depends on continued success – but the reality of mass movements is more complex. “For every ten steps forward, things might move, say, four steps backward.” Staying with a movement for decades, as the Fund has with ASWA, means seeing it grow not only in number, scale, reach and impact, but also in evolving the members’ understanding of their own mission.

Women alone

Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, as ASWA is locally known, started with defining ‘women alone’ as abandoned or widowed women, who are often ostracised in Indian society. The collective slowly included unmarried women, then separated and divorced women. Once ASWA knew who it spoke for, it was able to push the Indian government to count single women as a similarly defined category in the census. According to the latest census of 2011, there are over 60 million such women in India. Now, when they demand social security benefits like pensions, maintenance amounts for children and implementation of land and property rights, it will apply to this whole group.

Women dancing to music and celebrating during the Behen Dooj festival last October
‘Lone’ women dancing during the Behen Dooj festival last October | ASWA. All rights reserved.

Building the collective from the ground up has also helped the women see that restrictive social customs – which include limits on remarriage, the codes on colours that widows can wear, the barrage of unwanted sexual advances and the perception of unmarried women as ‘loose’ – all emanate from the institution of patriarchy, says Ginny Srivastava of the Rajasthan-based NGO Aastha Sansthan, which is a founder member of ASWA.

Close to home

While ASWA works in 11 states and focuses on the issue of single women’s rights, other collectives work on a clutch of issues in more limited regions.

“The job of collectives is not to set up schools – that’s a short-term solution that cannot reproduce itself.” Paulomee Mistry, director, Disha

Disha, an Ahmedabad-based NGO, focuses on only seven tribal districts in the western state of Gujarat, but covers a variety of issues with which the predominantly indigenous population in the area battle. Established in 1985 to challenge the everyday tyranny of forest department officials over tribal people in the region, Disha has since built dozens of community-based collectives, each focused on a different question: land rights, access to forest and community land, fair labour and minimum wages, access to water, child rights and youth leadership.

“Community-based organisations empower the poor to participate in mainstream political and economic processes,” says Paulomee Mistry, director of Disha. “Collectives are social institutions. Their job is not to set up schools – that’s a short-term solution that cannot reproduce itself. They make a tribal person able to pressurise a district official to set up a school in the tribal village.”

Today, Disha works in 1301 villages, and has over 500,000 members. Over 85% of its staff is tribal, and members pay an affordable annual membership fee of 50 rupees (73¢). The collective is well-known in Gujarat for its massive rallies, long marches and non-violent protests. It has helped transfer over 125,000 hectares of land to more than 68,000 indigenous cultivators, and played a crucial role in the enactment of a forest rights law in 2006. Since nine out of 10 families in their region migrate for work, the collective focussed on building its bargaining power to raise minimum wages for labour in Gujarat. It has successfully protested and negotiated for government-funded construction work to hire local workers and to build assets like wells and canals to help the community. It has also persuaded state exhibitions to hire local craftsmen.

What donors need to know

“Funding agencies must understand how human agency is built, and how leadership comes from the strong motivational force of peers,” says Ginny Srivastava. “It takes time, patience and community, and it is not linear.”

“Our human resource is our asset,” says Paulomee Mistry. Disha’s rallies are funded by the community: people bring food from their farms, families cook, local shops pledge rice and lentils, members travel themselves in buses and bullock carts, and Disha may pay only to print pamphlets. “We don’t need much money, just about a million rupees [about $15,000] a year to pay some staff, half of which comes from membership fees,” she adds. “For the rest, we do need donors. But it must be a long-term commitment: they must understand the rhythms of our work” Disha has had a relationship with the Fund for over 12 years. “Through it all, we got to decide our own priorities. It has been a balance between a hands-off trust and readiness to aid us where we are weak,” says Mistry.

“The community leader will always prioritise the case of domestic violence or sexual harassment over the monthly expenses report – as she should” Seema Nair, consultant

Leaders in collectives like Disha and the ASWA are politically aware and engaged individuals, knowledgeable about their region and community, but they are also members of communities that have struggled to get to education, health and stable employment. Save a few youngsters, says Mistry, few of Disha’s leaders are skilled in documentation or maintaining a website. In ASWA, many women are unlettered, and can’t keep accounts books.

“The community leader will always prioritise the case of domestic violence or sexual harassment over the monthly expenses report – as she should,” says the Fund’s Nair. This does not diminish them or their work. “Mass movements can’t afford graduates in social work. The donor might then talk about what is the ‘capacity lack’, what sort of talent they need. You may focus on helping them strategise building their second-line leadership, or maybe it’s research they need before they challenge policy. There is no formula – donors have to be as flexible and responsive as the members need.” Nair, for instance, worked with ASWA to build continuity and choose top leaders through elections. She says she knew that the women had truly internalised the democratic process when the collective held meetings for its members, most of whom had never given much thought to voting, on how to evaluate and choose a good leader.

Mass movements might be the most resilient answer to state hostility to those seeking their rights, but they need funders and supporters who understand how they function. To effect sustainable change through the united strength of grassroots movements, donors must see themselves not as financiers, owners or strategists, but as allies of the collective.

The original article can be accessed here

World facing a global compassion deficit finds new CIVICUS report

Civil society organisations providing humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees are being targeted as the world faces a crisis of global compassion.

This alarming trend is one of the findings of the State of Civil Society Report 2019, an annual report by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which looks at events and trends that impacted on civil society in the past year.

In one cited example, the Italian government prevented a boat operated by international medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from docking in Italy, leaving it stranded at sea for a week with more than 700 passengers, including unaccompanied minors. In the USA, organisations were prevented from leaving life-saving water supplies for people making the hazardous journey across the desert from Mexico.

“Civil society, acting on humanitarian impulses, confronts a rising tide of global mean-spiritedness, challenging humanitarian values in a way unparalleled since the Second World War,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

“We need a new campaign, at both global and domestic levels, to reinforce humanitarian values and the rights of progressive civil society groups to act,” added John.

According to the report, in Europe, the USA and beyond – from Brazil to India – right wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups are mobilising dominant populations to attack the most vulnerable. This has led to an attack on the values behind humanitarian response as people are being encouraged to blame minorities and vulnerable groups for their concerns about insecurity, inequality, economic hardship and isolation from power. This means that civil society organisations that support the rights of excluded populations such as women and LGBTQI people and stand up for labour rights are being attacked.

As narrow notions of national sovereignty are being asserted, the international system is being rewritten by powerful states, such as China, Russia and the USA, that refuse to play by the rules. Borders and walls are being reinforced by rogue leaders who are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs by ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms.

The report also points to a startling spike in protests relating to economic exclusion, inequality and poverty, which are often met with violent repression, and highlights a series of flawed and fake elections held in countries around the world in the last year.

“Democratic values are under strain around the globe from unaccountable strong men attacking civil society and the media in unprecedented – and often brutal – ways,” said Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS’ Editor-in-Chief and the report’s lead author.

2018 was a year in which regressive forces appeared to gain ground. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, civic space – the space for civil society – is now under serious attack in 111 of the world’s nations – well over half of all countries. Only four per cent of the world’s population live in countries where our fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are respected and enabled.

But the past year was also one in which committed civil society activists fought back against the rising repression of rights. From the successes of the global #MeToo women’s rights movement to the March for Our Lives gun reform movement led by high school students in the USA to the growing school strike climate change movement, collective action gained ground to claim breakthroughs.

“Despite the negative trends, active citizens and civil society organisations have been able to achieve change in Armenia, where a new political dispensation is in place, and in Ethiopia, where scores of prisoners of conscience have been released,” said John.

The report makes several recommendations for civil society and citizen action. The report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives. These include developing and promoting new ideas on economic democracy for fairer economies that put people and rights at their centre. Notably, the report calls for reinforcing the spirit of internationalism, shared humanity and the central importance of compassion in everything we say and do.


For an executive summary of the report, click here.

For the full report, click here.

Further reading:

Access the CIVICUS Monitor here and for more information on the latest CIVICUS Monitor ratings, click here.

About the State of Civil Society Report 2019

Each year the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the major events that involve and affect civil society around the world. This report looks back at the key stories of 2018 for civil society – the most significant developments that civil society was involved in, responded to and was impacted by.

Our report is of, from and for civil society, putting front and centre the perspectives of a wide range of civil society activists and leaders close to the major stories of the day. In particular, it presents findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country.

For further information or to request interviews with CIVICUS staff and contributors to this report, please click here or contact:

Can mining be corruption-free?

Recently, Cape Town in South Africa hosted one of its biggest events of the year: The Mining Indaba.

With two heads of state, 35 government ministers, and the world’s biggest mining companies attending thousands of meetings, and securing millions of dollars’ worth of deals — this conference remains the leading deal-making forum for the mining sector.

A couple of kilometres to the east, the industrial suburb of Woodstock hosted the Alternative Mining Indaba: a considerably less flashy congregation of community groups, church groups, and non-government organisations — including, of course, us, Transparency International (TI).

(Actually, our team worked around the clock attending both conferences and various side-events around South Africa’s beachfront city.)

So why is TI interested in this multi-billion dollar global industry?

It will come as no surprise to most people that corruption affects the extractive industries.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire — or in this case, where there’s money, lurks the risk of corrupt individuals abusing their entrusted power for private gain.

Remarkably, a quarter of all corruption cases in the oil, gas and mining sectors arise at the very start of those extractive projects?

This startling fact motivates us — a network of 20 TI chapters working in some of the world’s most resource-rich countries — to take a closer look at the very start of the mining value-chain: the awarding of mining licences, permits and contracts. If we can improve the system and ensure mining projects are developed on clean, accountable and transparent foundations, then the rest of the mining project is more likely to be corruption-free.

We need to tackle corruption in mining because when corruption compromises an industry as large, impactful and capital-intensive as the extractive industries, everyone loses.

People stand to lose their share of their nation’s mineral wealth, the cohesion of their communities and the health of their environments. Governments stand to lose important sources of revenue for public services such as schools or hospitals, and politicians risk losing the trust and confidence of citizens. Companies also stand to lose the business certainty and community support they need to secure their operations.

TI is working across our 20 country-strong network to shine a light on the often complex and obscure processes governing how mining licenses are granted. We are building coalitions against corruption across government, industry, civil society and community groups; and we are strengthening bonds across our anti-corruption networks to share information, tools and contacts.

This is a type of corruption that is not often spoken about but has serious impacts on human rights.

“Communities should feel and be part of the transformation,” says Farai Mutondoro, senior researcher for TI Zimbabwe, “in an ideal scenario, their voice is felt, their voice is heard by mining companies […] they have a say in terms of corporate social responsibility and the kind of infrastructure that they want to see.”

A key part of our work involves working with communities to enhance their access to information about mining projects, and to support them to know their rights and have their voices heard. Without transparency or access to this kind of information, communities cannot meaningfully participate in decisions that affect them. Worse still, they can be manipulated and taken advantage of. This is a type of corruption that is not often spoken about but has serious impacts on human rights.

“Transparency is so important to tackle corruption because transparency builds trust,” says Farai, “it ensures there is a social contract between communities and government.” Communities can then hold governments to account “because they have access to information that allows them to do so.”

Nicole Bieske, head of TI’s Mining Programme, found similar sentiments expressed at the Mining Indaba — “mining companies and politicians are reflecting more and more on how to build better relationships with the communities affected by mining operations.”

Nicole spoke at the Mining Indaba about the business imperative for building strong relationships with the communities living near mining projects. Community support matters, and companies must act responsibly if they are to build that trust.

“The great thing about TI’s work is that we are talking to everyone. And business is eager to learn more about how to improve business integrity, governments are listening to ideas to improve accountability, and people want more information about how mining licenses are granted on their land.”

This article was first published here

To learn more about TI’s work to improve transparency in mining, visit our website here.

Government, parliaments, civil society call for greater accountability in health and agriculture service delivery in Southern Africa

Reflecting on the findings of health and agriculture service delivery monitoring in Southern Africa, a cross-section of 87 representatives from government, parliament, civil society and farmers organisations, who met in Lusaka, Zambia from 4 – 7 March, issued a communiqué today. The communiqué calls upon SADC and its member states to improve accountability to accelerate the achievement of regional commitments.

“Social accountability is a prerequisite for the delivery of quality social services, and ultimately for the achievement of food security and good health for all people of Southern Africa,” said Mr. Barney Karuuombe, Manager: Parliamentary Capacity Development (PCD), SADC PF, addressing the meeting on 6 March.

The final communiqué of the meeting urged the SADC National Parliaments and the SADC Parliamentary Forum, among other recommendations, “to promote awareness of the regional health and agriculture commitments at both the national and regional levels and ensure oversight of the same through appropriate mechanisms.”

 “What happens in one country in our region, affects all of us. It is our responsibility as citizens to ensure the regional agreements which our governments sign are realistic and representative of our aspirations. We must then hold them accountable for their realisation,” explained Ms. Gertrude Mugizi, Coordinator of the Regional Learning Programme at the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).

 In response to the new SADC Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Strategy (2019-2030), the meeting communiqué calls for “SADC Member States to commit 5% of their national health budget for implementation of the SADC SRHR Strategy (2019-2030). Additionally, local government authorities, where relevant, should at least commit 10% of their own sources for the facilitation of the implementation by local health departments.”

“As adolescents and young people of the region, we demand that nothing should be developed for us, without our involvement. Nothing for us, without us. If governments commit to delivering sexual and reproductive services for youth, we should be able to access these in our communities,” a social accountability monitoring (SAM) champion from Zambia, Mr. Ng’andwe Ng’andwe, told the delegates.

In the area of agriculture support for smallholder farmers, the communiqué stated “[we] urgently call upon SADC Member States to support innovative research and development as well as the implementation of alternatives to hybrid seeds and chemically intensive agriculture such as (i) integrated pest management (ii) use of community-based seed systems (iii) improvement of soil fertility through increasing soil organic matter and to (iv) facilitate the diversification of farmer support programmes and the redirection of funds towards the adoption of agroecological practices.”

 “We need farmer support programmes that respond to the needs of smallholder farmers in the region. The FISPs undermine our sustainable practices by only providing hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilisers. What we need is support for us to better use our own seed systems and adopt sustainable agroecological practices,” explained Zambian smallholder farmer and member of ESAFF Zambia, Ms. Mary Sakala.

The Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance held two events – a Regional Learning Forum and Regional Budget Summit – from 4 to 7 March 2019 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia. The Regional Learning Forum explored examples of good practices and working models in promoting social accountability in service delivery in the region.

The Regional Budget Summit, held in partnership with the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF), focused on the findings of ongoing national and local level social accountability monitoring across four countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia – and how these impact on the realisation of regional SADC commitments in health and agriculture. Participants also reflected on the critical oversight role of parliamentarians and parliamentary committees in ensuring the accountable use of public funds.

The PSA Alliance is a consortium led by ActionAid together with PSAM, ESAFF and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), has been implementing a social accountability project in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia since May 2016. In each of the four countries, the multi-stakeholder project has provided training to build the capacity of state officials and parliamentarians to more effectively manage public funds, as well as support for civil society organisations, smallholder farmers and the media in holding their leaders to account.

For more information on the project ‘Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa’, please contact Chrispin Chomba, +260211257652,, SAfAIDS Zambia or Maureen Zulu, +260974757586,, ActionAid Zambia.

The PSA Alliance consists of: PSAM – Public Service Accountability Monitor, Rhodes University –; SAfAIDS –; ESAFF – Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum –; and ActionAid – The PSA Alliance is online at or @psaalliance (Twitter / Facebook).


UNDP and OGP sign MoU for 2030 Agenda and Open Government

New York, Feb 28— UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Open Government Partnership (OGP) signed today in New York, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in which they reaffirm their joint commitment to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through open government initiatives. Having worked together as multilateral partners since 2013 to advance shared principles of transparency, open government, gender equality, inclusion, and rule of law— both institutions are now strengthening their partnership at the thematic, country, regional and global levels.

Through this MOU both organizations will collaborate to advance the implementation of OGP’s declaration entitled ‘Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, and leverage OGP action plans as a mechanism to advocate for domestic reforms that enhance efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – with particular emphasis on SDG 16 on peace, justice, and inclusive institutions and SDG 5 on gender equality.

“UNDP partners with over 130 countries on over 700 projects on their unique journey to create effective and accountable institutions, because peaceful and inclusive societies cannot exist without them,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.  “This idea is at the heart of our work with countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and this collaboration with the Open Government Partnership will greatly support that work.”

Signing the MoU on behalf of OGP, Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Pradhan said, “Open Government Partnership is delighted to deepen its partnership with UNDP as a close and invaluable partner. We will join forces to accelerate joint activities and support for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, with particular emphasis on SDG 16 on peace, justice and inclusive institutions as well as SDG 5 on gender equality.  UNDP’s reach and expertise compliments OGP’s ability to leverage political support and enhance SDGs through OGP action plans.”

UNDP and OGP will collaborate in supporting countries to implement reforms related to SDG16, SDG5, and legislative openness by providing programmatic support and technical assistance to institutions and civil society organizations. OGP action plans offer a unique opportunity to advance these goals as a country-owned implementation mechanism for public service reform and citizen engagement, while monitoring progress through OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism.

As part of the Memorandum, UNDP and OGP will also identify global and regional convenings where both organizations can share experiences of and broaden support for open government and public service reforms, including the 6th OGP Global Summit on May 29- 31 in Ottawa, Canada and the 2019 High Level Political Forum.

Contact Information:

OGP: Jose Perez Escotto,, Tel: +1-202-609-7859

UNDP: Sangita Khadka,, Tel: +1 212 906 5043

About OGP

Open Government Partnership brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a Steering Committee including representatives of governments and civil society organizations. @opengovpart

About UNDP

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in nearly 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. @UNDP

Original article available here

Mini-publics are for policy 

Mini-publics are for policy not just for Brexit

We live in an era where trust in political institutions is low and decliningIt has been suggested that this lack of trust extends to experts too. For too long evidence has been seen as the domain of experts – people in ivory towers – but this is changing.

The Alliance for Useful Evidence and Ansa recently published Evidence vs Democracy: what are we doing to bridge the divide?, which explores citizens applying evidence and knowledge to make decisions through mini-publics. Mini-publics have recently hit the news as politicians grasp their potential to help decide on tricky issues. Madrid has just established a permanent mini-public; President Macron has invited the French people to take part in a structured debate on the future of French democracy; and there is a proposal for citizen’s convention for democratic reform in the UK.

What are mini-publics?

Mini publics are microcosms of society. They are groups of people selected through random or stratified sampling, brought together to hear from experts and witnesses, on which they engage in facilitated debate, resulting in recommendations about a way forward. The key is that they provide a safe space for citizens to learn about an issue and discuss it with their peers. They are not new, but recently more examples have been collated and published. For example, at the start of the Alliance for Useful Evidence project we looked for case studies in the field of social policy, because at that point it appeared many of the examples were in the energy and environmental sectorsand on constitutional issues.  Working with Ansa we have developed eight case studies where planners and policy makers have used a variety of mini-public approaches to ask people about a range of issues – from planning how to respond to an emergency, an influenza pandemic, in Australia, educational reform in Northern Ireland to preventing re-offending in France.

How should they be used?

Often mini-publics deal with divisive topics. Ireland is recognised for having a highly centralised public administration, but it has successfully used mini-publics to instigate changes to its constitution, laws and public services. In 2012, a Convention of 100people alongside parliamentarians, was formed to deliberate and make changes to articles of the constitution. The Government committed to respond to the Convention’s recommendations. One of the major outcomes were referendums on marriage equality and abortion.

In this example, the mini-public was closely tied to the parliament system, not least through the presence of parliamentarians in the Convention. This was key to the influence of the mini-public. A growing body of research, such as Newcastle University’s report behind Evidence vs Democracy, indicates that mini-publics onlyachieve policy impact when they have concrete institutional links. They need to be connected to the decision-making processes they are trying to affect, or else they run the danger of becoming academic exercises, which go unheard.

Because mini-publics increasingly are entering policy-makers’ and the public’s conscience, these linkages are likely to become more common.

Recently some MPs called for a citizen’s assembly to break the Brexit impasse. While a mini-public could have helped steer options to be included in the Brexit referendum, it will be less useful to hold one now after the vote has been cast. Mini-publics are useful when people have not yet made up their mind on an issue, and are redundant when they have. The political debate over Brexit is now too heated and polarised. Which political parties would commit to accepting the recommendation from a Brexit Citizens’ Assembly prior to hearing its outcome? The mini-public participants would be under enormous pressure and scrutiny from the public, media and politicians. In short it would no longer be a safe space for people to address an issue.

Therefore, while we need mini-publics to be connected to decision-making institutions if we are to gain the full benefits that they can bring to politics, we need to think very carefully about what these connections should be to ensure that they are not stifled by politics itself. We need rules and procedures to embed them officially with existing institutions so that they are not just invoked at the whim of any one stakeholder. Fortunately, there are many good and bad examples from round the world on how this can be done effectively, from which we can learn. Consequently, we reviewed numerous mini-publics addressing social policy issues in eight countries to learn these lessons. We do need to know more about what politicians think about mini-publics to maximise their potential to influence decision-makers. Then, there are ways that mini-publics can be employed to help with Brexit: just not before the end of March.

The original article can be accessed here.


Practical guide on using video to combat corruption out now

How video can empower communities and be a tool for change

“Three hundred people have been invited?” I repeated, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice. “Yes, it’s mainly going to be local leaders and decision makers, as well as representatives of local citizen groups and journalists…”

This community screening event — organised by a group of local women — was turning into something much more ambitious than expected. “Have you ever put on an event like this?” I checked, hopefully. “No nothing like this,” she said. “We want to get people talking together and thinking about the impacts of corruption on women here, and get them to commit to actions that will change this situation”.

This was the culmination of a project in which 11 women from south west Madagascar created films highlighting injustices that deprive women of land. InsightShare had been training them to use a powerful communication tool to tackle endemic corruption and deeply ingrained cultural norms, that held that women should not own land.

What if there was a tool that could help groups work together better to create change — whilst still having some fun? Perhaps it’s not fun all the time, but there can be great joy in the solidarity of struggling together to make a difference, and this tool does tend to generate a lot of laughter.

And what if that tool could be used by literate or illiterate, educated or not, putting everyone on the same playing field? Wouldn’t it be great if that tool could be used to open ears and minds, to help other ordinary citizens, chiefs, business leaders and politicians move out of their bubbles and into the realities of those they rarely meet, let alone listen to? This creates a deeper understanding of issues and motivation to tackle them.

These are some of the magic ingredients of the participatory video process. It is within all of our reach and looks very much like the smartphone in our pockets.

Everybody has a video cameras these days, but crucially participatory video is about a collective process: working together to explore, prioritise and investigate community concerns, issues and experiences. Facilitators help the group to learn simple video-making skills through games and exercises. Participants work together to plan and produce their video collectively, screening-back regularly to their wider community to test ideas and refine messages. Participants own the video and control the content, allowing direct control over how they are represented. The resulting videos are used to communicate with chosen audiences, sharing stories, building a new image of what can be and working together with all key actors to make that happen.

Participatory video is used around the world to empower communities and hold those in power accountable.

Today, InsightShare and Transparency International launched a guidebook on how to plan, produce and create impact with participatory video. Combatting Corruption Through Participatory Video: A Guide for Practitioners is the result of 10 years of collaboration between the two organisations on projects with citizens worldwide, and it’s free to download now.

The project in Madagascar was the final road test before launching the guide.

The local team of trainees filmed over 120 stories of women who had experienced corruption or been victim of cultural practices that leave widows and divorcees destitute and put thousands of children at risk.

(Image: InsightShare)

“One of the biggest barriers to women speaking out against corruption is shame.” — Participatory video trainee team statement after an analysis of all the collected stories

Bénédicte was one of these women, and she shared her experience for the first time. The other trainees carried out a process of empathic listening combined with roleplay to help her bring her story into words. She described how her husband had paid corrupt officials to change the title deeds of their house and that one day she and her daughters came home to find a locked door and a bailiff telling them to leave. Bénédicte, together with her peers, decided scene by scene where they would shoot, what to say and who should be included in her film.

At first Bénédicte was scared to share her message, but her confidence grew. Hundreds of people came to community screenings to watch her story and the testimonies of other local men and women. The local team then facilitated talking circles where everyone could share their perspective, their emotions and what actions they would take.

Watch Bénédicte’s story in this video. For a playlist of four participatory videos focusing on land and corruption click here

The participatory video women’s group have all they need to carry on their work, screening the videos around the region, making new ones and gaining support from local judges, senators and prefects, as well as traditional leaders and chiefs. The winds of change are blowing in south west Madagascar and the work with participatory video is highlighting the role of corruption and harmful cultural practices in oppressing women’s rights.

As for Bénédicte, having heard the testimonies and stories of so many others and feeling supported by this broader network of women, she said: “I decided to take my ex-husband to court and fight this out. My daughters deserve to share in the property that I developed over so many years with him.”

Participatory video enabled each group to investigate and document their issues. With this tool they can reach stakeholders and decision-makers, inform them and pressure them to be accountable.

This article was first posted by Chris Lunch on the Voices for Transparency website

GPSA – 4th Global Call for Proposals

The Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) has announced its 4th global Call for Proposals (CfP) for civil society organizations (CSOs) and CSO networks.

GPSA has invited its 52 opted-in countries, through the World Bank’s country management units, to express interest to participate in the CfP. A shortlist of countries will be defined and announced in Spring 2019, along with the thematic focus for each country. The application process will then be opened for CSOs in those shortlisted countries.

CSOs include legal entities that fall outside the public or private sectors, such as non-government organizations, not-for-profit media organizations, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional organizations, labor unions, workers’ organizations, associations of elected local representatives, foundations and policy development and research institutes.

The criteria the GPSA will use for shortlisting countries include:

  • Government and World Bank country management demand in a given country, as well as alignment with the World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework;
  • Synergies with current and pipeline World Bank operations;
  • The potential to raise or leverage funds complementary to those of the GPSA.

The focus of this CfP will be “Innovative and transformative use of social accountability to solve critical governance and development challenges”. Specific themes are being prioritized for each country, following a menu based on the GPSA’s mission and track record:

  • Governance themes: Public finance and budget, anti-corruption and oversight institutions (notably Supreme Audit Institutions), decentralization and local governance, and domestic resource management.
  • Governance in sectors: Education, health, social protection, agriculture and water. Synergies with the Human Capital Project will be of great interest.
  • Fragility, Conflict and Violence-afflicted (FCV) settings: Risk mitigation of IDA investments through civil society-led third-party monitoring; improving responsiveness in public service delivery and strengthening the enabling environment for conflict prevention and social cohesion.
  • Frontier themes: Climate change, GovTech & CivicTech, and social inclusion.

Grant amounts will range from US$400,000 to US$500,000 over a period of three to four years. However, requests for funding below this range will also be considered. The total envelope for this CfP is approximately $US3 million dollars, with additional funds expected to be raised from other partners, mostly at the national level.

Grants are intended to provide strategic and sustained support to CSO projects with the following objectives:

  • Addressing critical governance and development challenges through social accountability processes that involve citizen feedback and participatory methodologies geared to helping governments and public-sector institutions address these challenges. Special emphasis is on problems that affect extreme poor and marginalized populations.
  • Strengthening civil society’s capacities for social accountability by investing in CSOs’ institutional strengthening and through mentoring of small, nascent CSOs by well-established, larger CSOs with a track record on social accountability.

More information regarding the application guidelines, process, and deadline for submitting the proposals, as well as countries’ priority themes, will soon be available on this webpage. Stay tuned!

Why fixing Africa’s data gaps will lead to better health policies

There’s been a data revolution around the world driven by advances in information technology and a need for research that responds to complex developmental issues.

African countries are also experiencing the revolution when it comes to volume, types, sources, frequency and speed of data production. This is particularly true in the population and health sector. There’s more population and health information available in the public domain than ever.

Ministries of health in most African countries conduct periodic health programme reviews to establish whether policies are producing the desired results. Countries also undertake assessments on the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases. This is done through frequent analysis of routinely collected data with the aim of improving programmes.

These periodic reviews usually serve as important input for national strategic plans. But there are still challenges with the collection of accurate and timely data, their utility, use and analytical capacity. This means that it remains difficult for many countries to develop evidence-based policies.

Mapping the issues

A number of challenges face countries trying to improve the collation and use of reliable data. Here are some of them.

Coordination: There are multiple sources of health data. These include household surveys, census, health facilities, disease surveillance, policy data and research studies. Datasets are increasingly spatially referenced and would be valuable in informing health programmes and monitoring performance. But they remain relatively under-used. It’s important to find a way to bridge this gap and increase discovery and use of data.

A platform for analytic support and triangulation of available data is needed. This would reduce fragmentation and duplication while improving efficiency.

Frequency of analysis: The premise of evidence-based decision making is that health data lack value unless they are analysed and actually used to inform decisions.

This is why coordinated and systematic analysis and review of all available data is essential. The analysis and reviews must be done at regular intervals. Regular programme assessments are critical, but are often lacking or insufficient.

Data structures: Periodical population and health surveys often consist of quantitative, qualitative and geospatial data that is voluminous and/or comprehensive. This requires well trained staffs with appropriate analytical skills to make meaning of these data.

Routinely collected health service or register-based data is common in the health sector and is traditionally used for reporting purposes. This data are longitudinal and provide wider coverage – geographically and in terms of the items recorded. This allows for trends in the use of services to be estimated. But the use of routinely collected data in most African countries has been far from optimal. This is mainly due to a lack of analytical capacity and low government demand for the data.

Data Quality: Health data, especially routinely collected service data, often have quality issues. These include missing values and errors in data entry and computation.

These errors can lead to wrong results, wrong conclusions and wrong recommendations. They can also mean that new priorities, policies and programmes based on the data will be wrong.

In addition, data analysis, dissemination and use in the sector are held back. This is a problem because the use of information sources beyond routine health management information is already weak.

Good quality data are essential for proper planning, budgeting and implementation of development activities, particularly those in essential services sectors such as public health. In the absence of quality data public resources investments are often based on guessed estimates, this leads to wastage.

Data Cost: Data collection, handling, archival and analysis is still expensive in terms of capacity, logistics and financial implications for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. National statistical offices don’t have the necessary technological, financial and human resource capacities to collect, process and disseminate the required data.

Making data work

African countries continue to work towards achieving national and regional commitments to improving data collection and use. But it’s critical that governments invest in relevant, timely and accurate data production for decision-making.

Data actors including data managers, statisticians and data analysts need to be involved at every stage. They need to be part of mapping out the problems as well as designing research methodologies and figuring out how to collect, analyse and disseminate data.

A wide range of data, including earth observation and geospatial data, needs to be leveraged to review progress in meeting health and wellbeing targets. This is critical to improving the effectiveness and sustainability of health systems.

And there’s an urgent need to shift the focus from data to information and knowledge. This includes working with end users, like health departments, to create tools to access information.

Finally, governments need to make resources available to meet commitments to providing quality and affordable health care for all. This could be done by mobilising domestic resource, setting standard data indicators (for collection, analysis and reporting) and strengthening national statistics bodies.

Commitment may be the first step towards affordable health care. But more needs to be done to harness the power of data for public health.

This article was first published in The Conversation and written by Damazo T. Kadengye