Henriette von Kaltenborn-Stachau
Publication Date
December 1, 2008

Communication for Governance & Accountability Program (CommGAP), World Bank

"Communication structures and processes are the connective tissue that link state-institutions with citizens and facilitate the development of accountability and trust; they lie at the very heart of a functioning society and democratic governance..."


How can the international community help to rebuild state-society relations in post-conflict situations? This 124-page study from the World Bank introduces the principles, mechanisms, and processes that connect citizens with each other and with state institutions. Its premise is that the concept of the public sphere - a platform for national dialogue - is crucial for post-conflict assistance policy and practice. The study introduces the conceptual thinking underlying the public sphere framework and, through analysis of the concept in 3 countries (Timor-Leste, Liberia, and Burundi), highlights its relevance and calls for its application in post-conflict environments. It also offers concrete examples and recommendations on how to address the specific governance challenges identified through public sphere analysis.


According to the World Bank, current donor approaches to statebuilding in the post-conflict environment place great emphasis on restoring public sector capacity and service delivery, with additional resources set aside for bolstering civil society and media organisations. Little attention, however, is paid to the residual societal and perceptual consequences of conflict, such as the lack of civic trust, societal fragmentation, and exclusion. Moreover, the compartmentalised approach to statebuilding in which different areas of assistance are implemented by different teams fails to recognise the processes that serve to link the state and society together. These challenges are less visible than the destruction of infrastructure and assets, but ignoring them renders statebuilding strategies incomplete and ineffective.


If restoring the public sphere indeed lies at the heart of accountable and participatory governance and addressing public expectations and trust in post-conflict settings, capacities need to be created in public institutions, media, and civil society alike - and platforms of interaction and dialogue must be created among them. This claim is supported by observations in this study such as the following:

  • Civil society can continue to operate under the most repressive regimes, yet it is served best by a legal framework that guarantees the rights of citizens to assemble and speak freely.
  • Journalists and media operations need a legal regulatory and market environment that allows them to operate freely and safely, while also safeguarding public interests and professional standards.
  • The relationship between state and media is not an easy one in a post-conflict environment where the "rules of the game" change fundamentally with state and media redefining their respective roles and operations with limited capacity.
  • For effective engagement, civil society needs media not only to understand the importance of the agenda it brings to the public debate, but also it requires sustained media coverage to advocate for civil society positions.



Pages 35-47 of the document include resources for practitioners: a public sphere assessment toolkit and a toolbox for interventions.


Part II of the report (beginning on page 48) includes the 3 empirical studies - Timor-Leste, Liberia, and Burundi - which were carried out in May and June 2007. As each country faces particular challenges related to its history and the nature of its conflict, there is no 'one for all' approach; each public sphere strategy should be tailored to the specific context. Yet, some recommendations are universally applicable:

  • Think systematically. Ensure cross-sector planning and donor coordination to create synergies and to capture public sphere dynamics.
  • In building state institutions, pay particular attention to the creation of entry points for public participation and to the listening capacity of both central and local structures.
  • Recognise that media development and communication capacity within government go hand in hand, as one outpacing the other carries the risk of manipulation or alienation.
  • Promote inclusive national civil society networks and internal, downward accountability within the networks, and support civic education programmes that promote public understanding about freedom of information.
  • Develop legislative frameworks and cultivate political will and resources: engage in strategic advocacy.
  • Ensure that donor behaviour is inclusive and transparent.