Strengthening the Citizen’s Role in Governance through Social Accountability
A short report of the Global Partners Forum 2015 *
The second Global Partners Forum (http://www.thegpsa.org/sa/forum2015) of the Global Partnership on Social Accountability (GPSA) was organised in Washington DC on May 12-13, 2015. The World Bank, which coordinates the GPSA, has currently included Citizen Engagement as a key element for all its support programmes. Within the overall framework of Citizen Engagement it sees Social Accountability as crucial component. Introducing the Partners Forum Mario Marcel, Senior Director on Governance and Global Practice at the World Bank, posited that ‘citizens’ and government working together can bring lasting change’. He highlighted the need for public systems to listen to citizens and gain their trust. An underlying assumption of his introductory remarks was that Government’s are open if not keen to take citizen inputs for its programmes.
Following the introduction Chris Stone, President Open Society Foundations made his key note address on Social Accountability for Citizen Centric Governance: A Changing Paradigm. He congratulated the WB for taking this initiative of involving citizens in its work. He said that it was only through such initiatives that citizens can get a new taste of democracy, and this approach was now being included in a wide range of sectors including extractive industries, public procurement, budgeting in addition to sectors like health and education. However, he also pointed out that civil society space was also getting closed in many places and the World Bank should use its considerable influence with governments to continue opening the citizenship space. In conclusion he alerted the group to the fact that while the World Bank was practicing citizenship engagement practices, other International Financial Institutions were hardly transparent in their operations, and it was necessary for WB to force the pace and emerge as a source of preferred lending for countries.
The first panel discussion on Social Accountability : Paradigm Change in Practice had a range of speakers covering Rakesh Rajani from Ford Foundation, New York, Shaheen Anam, from Manusher Jonno in Bangladesh, Magadlena Lizardo from the government of Dominican Republic, Jan- Willen Schieijgrond of Phillips and Danny Sriskandarajah of CIVICUS joined via video link. The panel highlighted the different perspectives of the speakers. Danny said that idea of citizens coming together to create pressure on the government was not a new idea. He distinguished between CSO led and citizen led efforts and highlighted the fact that a large number of countries across the world had very restrictive NGO regimes. It would be difficult to engage in true citizen engagement in such circumstances. Following the same trend Rakesh Rajani mentioned that social accountability to be successful needs to change the balance of power. It was messy work and this needed to be recognised. There was also a possibility that elite CSO’s who engaged in such social accountability work and engagement with government undermine the political mobilisation that was necessary. Shaheen highlighted the need to respect the voice of people and gave examples from her work. Magdalena cautioned the group about the need to be cognizant about the constraints faced by government and Jan Willen from Philips mentioned that corporate bodies like his company were now setting up social goals of improving people’s lives within their overall profit motivation.
The presentation by Prof. Jonathan Fox in the session on Strategic Social Accountability Dimensions followed up on the critical nature of citizen engagement that Social Accountability entails. He outlined six key dimensions of social accountability, highlighting the importance of each dimension within the overall accountability process. The six dimensions and some characteristics of each are mentioned below:
Accountability systems – How to shed the spot light, how to shame the shameless.
Political Economy Interventions – Identify interests and incentives of different parties; who wins who stands to lose; what are the power shift potentials, anti-accountability forces.
Constructive Engagement- Can accountability be a ‘project’ or a campaign, how to develop autonomy of CSO and promote critical enquiry, how to balance between collaborative and adversarial relationships; bring pressure to bear from the top and bottom – sandwich approach.
Coalition Building – There is need to find common ground across a diverse set of actors – acknowledge difference but keep the common focus.
Citizen Trust – To what extent can citizen trust be assumed in the face of poorly functioning public systems in many countries?
Scaling Up – Not just an issue of multiplying – scaling up horizontally and vertically – across sectors and social groups and at different levels of governance. Just looking at the community level or what may be done at the ‘end of the pipe’ without considering source level contamination.
The framework presented by Prof Fox subsequently formed the basis for analysing a set of case studies around different sectors. These included Health, Education, Infrastructure, Water, Municipal services, Extractives and Youth. I attended the Health sector workshop where two case studies – one around reproductive health from Uganda and another around medicine procurement in the Dominican Republic were discussed. While the framework presented by Prof Fox was formally kept as a framework of analysis – however the idea of power shift from State to Citizen did not come explicitly. Social accountability was coming out primarily as a participatory feedback mechanism to increase programme performance from the manager’s perspective. The limitations of this method were not clearly articulated by the presenters. From my own experience social accountability has clear limitations in resource scarce situations and can be of limited effectiveness when there are deeply ingrained system issues which could range from lack of resources like medicines or providers to issues of corruption .The role of the citizen as an empowered ‘agent’ was not clear in the Guatemala case study which was primarily an intervention at the higher level of governance. The issue of raising citizen expectation without being able to deliver was raised during discussion. There was also discussion about the respective roles of ‘enlightened’ bureaucracy compared to ‘empowered’ citizenship in contributing to the success of such efforts. Also the issue of individual ‘grievance redressal’ especially in the context of violation of health rights was raised during the discussion.
The second day began with a quick recap of the first day followed by a conversation with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The key message that emerged from this conversation was that citizen’s engagement was a key component of World Banks approach to providing support to countries. However this engagement was being seen primarily with the perspective of ‘listening to the poor’ and an anxiety for quick results and scalability seemed to underlie this approach. Two interesting terms were introduced – ‘pilotprojectology’ and ‘scaleupology’ with President Kim’s focus being on the second. However the idea that WB is now looking at integrating citizen engagement into all its lending was very encouraging. President Kim also answered a few questions which were put up to him by the participants. The contentious issue of user- fees for health services as a form of citizen engagement which WB had promoted in the past was raised and President Kim affirmed that WB was no longer promoting user fees. The idea of ‘struggle’ and ‘protest’ as forms of citizen engagement within a spectrum of actions was also discussed briefly, with President Kim alluding to his past association with ACTUP an HIVAIDS alliance which had used this strategy successfully. The need for citizen engagement for addressing inequality was also brought out during the discussion.
Following this session the participants broke up into six groups to review the dimensions that had been proposed by Prof Jonathan Fox. I joined the discussion on Political Economy Interventions. Some of the issues discussed during the session were as follows:
Balancing buy-in by policy players/ bureaucracy with community empowerment and demand/claim– how does the power shift take place. Role of ‘benevolent’ policy players vis a vis ‘empowered’ community in stimulating social accountability processes
Does stakeholder analysis include vested interests and informal processes and influences? What is our level of honesty when we do such analyses?
What does success or results mean in different contexts – can efficient delivery of services count as the most important success, how do we know that power shifts have actually started?
Who are the ‘allies’ and what are the nature of relationships necessary for successful Political Economy Interventions
What is the role of INGOs vis a vis community based CSOs in such interventions? What are their limitations?
What is sustainability in this context –service delivery related, political context related, citizen action/ social movement related?
This session was followed by lunch which was organised in a manner that participants from different regions would sit in clusters and they would be accompanied by World Bank Executive Directors from their region. This was an opportunity to meet with other participants from India and South Asia. However we did not have any Executive Director at our table.
The participants came together after lunch to share the discussions that had taken place in the Dimensions workshops. I am summarising my key takeaway lesson around each of these dimensions (Political Economy Intervention excluded) below:
Citizen Trust – It is difficult to achieve in the context of the history of poor public services, and it is easy to lose as well. Does trust indicate a ‘mutual’ or bilateral relationship or an implicit or ‘naïve’ trust of citizen in public services? What is the role of responsiveness of services in building trust? Can trust building be an independent goal in service delivery? How do we measure it?
Constructive Engagement – Is there a role of ‘disruptive’ engagement vis a vis constructive engagement – maybe one follows another. Champions of constructive engagement are needed ‘within’ government. There is a need to identify and engage with these ‘champions’ inside the system. How to move from a person/champion centred approach to a system based approach? What are the limits to constructive engagement in a culture of impunity?
Coalition Building – Who should be in? It has to be linked with the Political Economy analysis and Intervention. Need to be clear who ‘controls’ the agenda – the possibility of corruption/distortion of the agenda by powerful coalition partners. The role of donors and INGOs vis a vis social movements. Is there a role for the Government in the broader coalition?
Accountability Systems – What is the historical context – social and political background of the ‘state’ and governance processes. What is the nature of ‘representation’ and mediation within the accountability processes? Is there a difference between ‘compliance’ of standards of service delivery and accountability? How to achieve both? How to achieve alignment of interest of the citizen and service provider and also have ‘accountability’?
A larger question of political integrity and rebuilding trust in the social contract with the ‘State’ was also raised. Interestingly the role of ‘market’ and corporate interests was not similarly interrogated.
The final business session of the forum was a role-play/simulation on Social Accountability in Action in which all the participants were divided into different interest groups who would participate in a discussion around a news report of financial irregularities in the execution of a road construction contract. The different stakeholders/interest groups included CSOs, Chamber of Commerce, the Contractor, Finance Ministry, Public Works ministry etc. The exercise was ‘interesting’ without providing much insight because the emphasis of the moderators was to find ways of ‘moving ahead’ without addressing some of the core issues which had been identified. This for me highlighted the need to look at relationship between accountability and justice and developing clarity between negotiation and impunity.
Concluding Thoughts – The Partners Forum, under the aegis of the World Bank, represented the middle ground of the field of Social Accountability. While it presented extremes of representation from corporate sector participants on the one hand and willing government representatives on the other, it also provided for a range of participants and opportunities to engage in meaningful and thought provoking discussion on the topic of social accountability. It is too optimistic to expect a large inter-governmental body like the World Bank to represent the cutting edge of political thinking, but the organisers had made a brave effort in inviting Professor Fox to present his framework of ‘Strategic Social Accountability’ which was the subsequent framework of analysis. The morning panel on paradigmatic change also challenged the somewhat normative assumption that social accountability was short hand for ‘demand generation for improved service delivery’, a somewhat naïve notion introduced through the 2004 World Development Report. While a large body of the participants was made up on donors, government and INGOs, there was sufficient critical thought to challenge the assumption of the benevolent disposition of the ‘state’ towards its citizen, and social accountability as a mechanism for domestication of citizen disaffection. Unfortunately, there were few in the room who truly represented the ‘citizen interest’ and most could be seen as ‘concerned mediators’ and current and potential grantees. But this probably is an unrealistic expectation in such a global assembly of development managers, which for me is also its strength and an opportunity for COPASAH. We should build further linkages with the platform through both informal and formal relationships and share our member’s insights generated through practice.
*Abhijit Das represented COPASAH at the Global Partners Forum, 2015 as a Global Convener