By Imbwanga Mapoko; United Purpose- Mozambique

Social accountability is not for the faint hearted. Here United Purpose in Mozambique shares some of the tacit knowledge it has had to learn in order to build and sustain productive multi-stakeholder relationships. Read more…

I think the best decision we have made so far in the Muni-SAM project was to train civil society, local government officials, and municipal assembly members together at the beginning of a social accountability intervention. When we did this, the conversation in the room changed fundamentally, which highlighted for us the importance of trust and relationship-building for effective social accountability. The conversation shifted from finger-pointing to a common understanding that “This is our municipality, these are our collective problems, so how do we overcome our differences and fix them?” The result of this shift comes out clearly in the digital stories where stakeholders share their experiences of the social accountability engagements that the Muni-SAM project has facilitated over the last 7 years. Some of these can be found here, here, here and here.

Over time, we have learnt that whilst trust is a key prerequisite for the success of social accountability monitoring (SAM) initiatives, bringing people who would not normally talk to each other into a safe conducive space for frank discussion is a significant step towards generating trust. However, nurturing a relationship of trust over the longer term is what will sustain stakeholder engagement to solve an increasing number of increasingly difficult municipal problems. At United Purpose, we are constantly reflecting on how to sustain these relationships so that they can be leveraged to better solve more problems. In nurturing these relationships we have encountered a number of challenges and have had to continuously make adaptations to our core SAM processes. To give you a sense of what I mean, perhaps I should share several of these challenges now.

  1. The digital stories linked to this blog show that members of the SAMComm[1] are elected from neighborhoods. We chose to do things this way because we wanted an inclusive SAMCOmm where the priorities identified would be truly reflective of the diversity within the neighborhood. In establishing SAMComms, each neighborhood was therefore allocated two spaces (one man and one woman) and their composition should include representatives from several marginalized groups.
  2. The first duty of a SAMComm begins during training when the members learn how to engage with municipal documents. Then there is a social audit to verify that what is in the documents is consistent with what can be seen on site. After meeting with council officials to check that there are no gaps in their own understanding that may lead to inaccurate conclusions, the SAMComm convenes a public hearing. Here the findings are presented and relevant officials are invited to respond. Previously, the exercise would end there, with little follow up. We therefore decided to add a step at the end of the public hearing process. Before the hearing is disbanded, commitments that were made during the meeting by council officials, municipal assembly members and the SAMComm are documented and signed by all relevant parties. Progress against this document is then reviewed at the beginning of the next SAM intervention.
  3. We have learnt that relationships are built through a process of ‘give and take’. The Mozambican legislative framework requires that municipalities raise money locally to deliver their mandate and they do not receive the grants that are available to rural district councils. When SAMComms learnt of this, they understood better the importance of mobilizing communities to pay taxes so that municipalities could deliver the services required by communities. Community mobilization on the importance of paying taxes is now a key component of SAMComm activities and is given as much priority as advocating for better services.
  4. We have learnt that political dynamics within municipalities are an important determinant of the success or failure of SAM interventions. For example, what a SAMComm is able to do in an election year is different from what they are able to do in the year following an election. There are opportunities and risks in each case and one has to be mindful of this when planning for SAM interventions. In choosing a local partner it is also important to choose a partner who is well established within the municipality and in tune with the political dynamics at play which may not always be obvious to an outsider. Understanding and managing politics within society and institutions is an essential for a SAMComm not only for the success of its immediate intervention but also for sustainability of the SAMComm itself. Examples of how Muni-SAM continues to address such challenges were discussed in more depth during the Learning Pilot Initiative in which United Purpose participated in 2017.

Our biggest success so far has been that even though we no longer work in some municipalities, all the SAMComms we set up are still operating in our absence. They still analyse municipal documents, conduct social audits and hold public hearings. However, challenges do still exist and will probably continue. One of the biggest challenges that SAM stakeholders have raised is that many of the most pressing needs identified by residents in municipalities do not fall within the mandate of municipal councils and can only be addressed at higher levels of government. Building strong relationships for successful SAM to solve problems spanning across levels of government is far more difficult and resource-intensive. We are still learning how best to do this effectively.

[1] Social Accountability Monitoring Committee.

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“WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER.” …the messy business of generating and measuring impact

By Richard Angelo; Policy Forum, Tanzania

We only fail when we fail to learn. In this blog Policy Forum, a network of over 70 Tanzanian CSOs, shares its experience  of having to navigate the messiness of generating and measuring impact through a diverse ecosystem of social accountability actors. Read more…

Policy Forum adopted social accountability monitoring (SAM) in 2008 as one of its strategic approaches to capacitate its members working at the sub-national level in Tanzania to engage in policy processes more meaningfully. Since then, I have seen SAM initiatives contribute to building teacher’s housing at remote schools, the operationalisation of primary health care facilities, and the empowerment of communities to lead participatory forest governance efforts among others. I also had to come to terms with our persistent failure to obtain a sustained shift in behaviour at the eco-system level to sustainably improve the way public resources are managed. Of course, the many factors and actors influencing a change at this level make this an arguably unrealistic objective for a single CSO network. The question was then how to develop a realistic and measurable strategy that keeps us focused on the desired result while providing an appropriate balance between flexibility and rigour.

A disappointing impact evaluation in 2016 motivated our decision to take part in a Learning Pilot Exercise,  both of which influenced our decision to rethink our strategic approach to SAM. Instead of merely providing formal training to a growing ecosystem of SAM actors and assuming that this would change behaviour at scale, we decided to be deliberate about which capacities to build, for whom, and why. We did this because we wanted to define for ourselves what our impact would be measured against through a fit-for-purpose MEL[1] strategy so that future evaluations contained no surprises. We then redesigned our SAM strategy to reflect our new strategic approach. Our most persistent problem was that of accountability for the implementation of SAM findings at the subnational level. We therefore made a strategic decision to focus on working with Councillors because of their legal power to enforce their recommendations. It therefore made sense for us to focus on improving their capacity to make informed recommendations and to enforce timely, appropriate and meaningful corrective action. We chose to work in four under-performing local government authorities (LGAs)[2] (according to CAG[3] reports) where at least one Policy Forum member was also working. In December 2016, we began to train Councillors on a version of SAM training that has been tailor-made for their oversight role. Since then, 106 Councillors have been trained.

The feedback from both councillors and the local government officials they oversee has been overwhelmingly positive on the impact of training on their ability to implement their role. In fact, we are now getting requests from councillors from other LGAs who have heard from their colleagues about how this capacity building has benefitted them. Earlier this year, our work with councillors was evaluated and the findings recommended that we consider mechanisms to scale up the intervention and ensure its sustainability.

Despite the success we have had, three main things still keep me up at night:

  • Councillors are elected for five-year terms at the end of which they might not return to the role. Even those who have been trained require on-going support to ensure that relevant capacities are built and used. How do we ensure that the capacity to perform effective oversight is retained and improved within Councils even beyond the electoral term?
    • To address this Policy Forum is currently negotiating a partnership with the Local Government Training Institute, a government training institution for public officials at the subnational level, to collaborate to institutionalise the training so that it can become part of their institutionalised capacity building support to LGAs across the country.
  • Capacity is not the only thing that drives the decisions and actions of politicians. How do we ensure that we take this into account in setting goals and developing realistic indicators? Better yet, how do we navigate the other political and non-political incentives in a way that motivates councillors to use their newly acquired capacities to effectively perform their oversight role accountably?
    • This is a difficult one, but we at Policy Forum have begun to invest in our learning more strategically beginning with our new PMEL[4] strategy. In implementing the strategy, we have also begun to set up an electronic management information system to ensure that what we learn individually is available to others within the Policy Forum secretariat and membership, both currently and in future.
  • Our primary goal in training councillors is for them to ensure that LGAs become and remain accountable to their constituents and communities in an informed and inclusive way. How can Policy Forum strengthen the influence of citizens over their councillors in between elections?
    • Here is where the Policy Forum membership is expected to play a key role. Policy Forum also sponsors community radio programmes in the districts where it works. This provides a guaranteed platform for locally based CSOs, CBOs and community members to ensure that their most important issues receive enough publicity to motivate action on the part of their political representatives.

Our biggest lesson over the last five years has been that we can only fail if what we learn fails to change us, so we keep learning, and we keep changing.

[1] MEL = monitoring, evaluation and learning

[2] Kiteto, Kilwa, Mafia, and Mafinga

[3] Controller and Auditor General

[4] Participatory Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning

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