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Citizens' Voice and Accountability: Understanding What Works and Doesn't Work in Donor Approaches

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Subtitle: 
Lessons and Recommendations Emerging from a Joint Donor Evaluation
Author: 
Alina Rocha Menocal
Bhavna Sharma
Affiliation: 

Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

Publication Date

February 1, 2009

This Policy Brief summarises the synthesis report from a project that looked at what works and what does not work - and why/why not - in donor support to citizens' voice and accountability (C&V) interventions. It shares insights from a project, Evaluation of Citizens' Voice and Accountability, which was conducted from October 2006 through February 2009 in an effort to examine the relationship between the state and its people - in particular, the relationship between citizens' capacity to express their voices and claim their rights and government accountability.

Specifically, the assessment of donor support for CV&A was commissioned by a group of 7 bilateral donors led by the United Kingdom (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) between 2006 and 2008. In the first phase of the evaluation, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) prepared a literature review and an analysis of 90 CV&A donor interventions and developed and piloted an evaluation framework and an accompanying methodology in Benin and Nicaragua. In the second phase, the donors commissioned 5 additional case studies, including Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Indonesia, Mozambique, and Nepal.

The Policy Brief pulls together the findings of all the outputs from this evaluation and seeks to identify common themes and lessons, core principles and key recommendations for improved donor practice, and areas worthy of further research. The term "CV&A" is used here as short hand to capture the dynamic relationship between the citizen and the state; core principles underpinning CV&A include participation, inclusion, and transparency.

Conclusions emerging from the evaluation findings:

  • Donors are generally sensitive to the importance of context in deciding how to support CV&A; however, context awareness is not enough: Donors must also understand the complex interplay between formal and informal institutions as well as underlying power relations and dynamics.
  • Evaluators found a greater emphasis amongst donors on voice than on accountability. Yet, where donors have engaged in efforts to address both voice and accountability in the same intervention, the results are clearly beneficial (as illustrated by several examples in the text). Furthermore, interventions that address both state and non-state actors may prove more fruitful.
  • This evaluation sought to assess changes that CV&A interventions have helped to bring about along 4 dimensions: changes in practice, behaviour, policy, and power relations. The evidence suggests that some CV&A interventions have generated positive outcomes, such as raising citizen awareness and encouraging state officials to be more responsive. The evaluation identified a few instances in which CV&A work contributed to the passing of certain legislation in country (e.g. Benin, Nepal). Yet, such examples have remained isolated. In addition, changes in power relations have proved much more difficult to come by.
  • Donor expectations are based on a set of assumptions that are not always realistic. For example, voice is often treated as an unproblematic concept, without addressing the fundamental question of "whose voice" is being heard. "It remains unclear who is actually excluded by some of the spaces and mechanisms created to encourage 'voice' and 'participation', and it has proven particularly challenging for donors to reach the most marginalised and most remote, especially in rural areas."
  • Donors need to be more realistic about what can be achieved in the shorter term. In addition, there is an issue regarding the sustainability of CV&A interventions over time. Furthermore, "[t]here is a lack of strategic thinking and of a coherent approach in the development and management of programmes, resulting in on-going duplication, gaps and competition."

Core principles and recommendations:

  1. Build or sharpen "political intelligence" in developing CV&A policies and in undertaking CV&A interventions on the ground - e.g., undertake strategic political economy analyses of power and change in a particular country, context or sector, in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of the interaction between formal and informal institutions and of the incentives framework within which different actors operate. Share lessons emerging from such work broadly.
  2. Work with the institutions you have, and not the ones you wish you had - e.g., focus on how to best work "with the grain" (i.e. what is already in-country) rather than on transplanting formal institutional frameworks from the outside.
  3. Focus capacity building not only on technical but also on political skills - e.g., the capacity to forge alliances, provide evidence, contribute to the decision-making process, and influence others to make change happen.
  4. Place greater focus on CV&A mechanisms that address both sides of the equation within the same intervention - e.g., "Support increased access to information by supporting legislation and the right to information. However, a focus on this formal right is not enough. Access to information
    should also be supported by improving the capacity of interested actors and watchdog organisations to understand and utilise information correctly..."
  5. Diversify channels and mechanisms of engagement and work more
    purposefully with actors outside donors' comfort zone(s) - e.g, "[e]nsure that CV&A interventions include relevant and specific actions to promote voice and influence among excluded, marginalised and otherwise discriminated against groups (such as women and ethnic minorities). Choose representatives (either NGOs or non-traditional CSOs) that have close and demonstrable links with such groups.
  6. Improve key design and implementation features of CV&A
    interventions and aid effectiveness - e.g., improve donor coordination of CV&A initiatives beyond the basics of information
    sharing and basket funding.
Contact Information: 
Source: 

ODI website, February 25 2010.

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Comments

CVA ... future of media?

...

This is my first time to read anything in this area. Very interesting stuff. Particularly:

"Evaluators found a greater emphasis amongst donors on voice than on accountability."

Something citizen voices (journalists?) have in common with the media - donors (including those otherwise known as advertisers) don't mind people having a voice - but accountability?

Ah ... not so much. And this:

"For example, voice is often treated as an unproblematic concept, without addressing the fundamental question of "whose voice" is being heard. 'It remains unclear who is actually excluded by some of the spaces and mechanisms created to encourage 'voice' and 'participation', and it has proven particularly challenging for donors to reach the most marginalised and most remote, especially in rural areas.'"

In raising the question of CVA as the future of media, I am suggesting a two edged sword. Journalists and media have been here before, and for a long time. If they are not already, citizens voices will be co-opted or "bought out" by vested interests. Such is the state of news media, once diverse and vibrant, now restructured, rationalised and much reduced in tone, flavour and, certainly, accountability.

Random fact: In 1980 there were 85 competing media companies in the US. By 2005 there were just five.

Lessons to be learnt? Certainly, including from this report in the same edition of Drum Beat:

http://www.comminit.com/en/node/284655/bbc

Particularly:

" ... development researchers – especially economists and governance specialists – tend not to take the role of the media in democracy very seriously as a research topic. There tend to be assumptions made about the democratic role of media, but not much interest in testing those assumptions as a research priority."

It is thus encouraging to see such a long-term study come to fruition in what some predict is the media of the future - citizen voices AKA citizen journalism.

However, take it from us journos, citizens need to be careful that new opportunities like CVA are not just another divide-and-conquer tactic to separate them from effective and efficient means of communication i.e. mainstream media e.g. radio, television and newspapers - in that order.

Internet? For "remote" communities i.e. the 4 billion or so people without access to reliable net computers ... not so much.

Forwards!

jason brown
JICC founder

...

JICC | journalism in crisis coalition
http://groups.comminit.com/node/309395

...

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