GRT Guest Blogger Sarah Little, Programs & Communications Manager, Partnership for Transparency Fund
In the UN-led My World Global Survey on what matters most to nearly 10 million people around the world, ‘an honest and responsive government,’ was ranked as the fourth most common concern after education, healthcare and jobs. Encouragingly, this outlook was reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which commits all 193 UN Member States to better governance and more participatory development, particularly through SDG #16: Peace, justice and strong institutions.
Good governance is a unique development goal. It’s linked to nearly every other, from education to healthcare, but methods and indicators for achieving it are less easily defined. How do you measure good governance? What motivations do governments have to reform? And what will be the respective roles of government, CSOs and the international community? Without seeking answers to these and other questions, the development community risks yet another global commitment that pays lip service to citizen engagement, but fails to effectively accomplish it.
Over the past 16 years, the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) has been applying a unique, integrated approach to fight both poverty and corruption through citizen participation that may hold some answers. The approach is executed by domestic CSOs in five steps: (i) raise community awareness of rights and benefits; (ii) form and empower citizen groups for collective action; (iii) monitor performance and create pressure for better results; (iv) constructively engage with authorities to demand responsiveness; (v) monitor changes and share results. Community-by-community, this approach has been overwhelmingly effective in reducing corruption and bettering the lives of millions.
In Azerbaijan, for example, we supported CSOs monitoring oil revenues, revealing US$17 million of ‘lost’ funds, since returned to the public coffers. Over 40,000 poor families in India, who were eligible but excluded from food aid due to corruption, fought and won access to their entitlements through public pressure. A grant of less than $25,000 in the Philippines sparked a national campaign called Textbook Count which mobilized Boy and Girl Scouts to monitor textbooks delivery in 6,500 public schools. The Scouts increased the delivery success rate from 40 to 100% in less than a year. The program continues today.
How We Do It: Great Challenges Inspire Great Innovation
In the Northern Uganda, The Apac Anti Corruption Coalition (TAACC) has been working to improve governance and reduce corruption in the community for more than a decade. They successfully fought for the rights of aggrieved citizens, and bravely pointed out injustices, but change was slow, and their efforts often hit a stand still when government officials refused to cooperate.
The principal challenge for TAACC was the substance behind their advocacy. They graciously documented complaints from individuals in their community, such as refused medical treatment or bribe taking for bed nets, but presented them one-by-one to government officials as anecdotes that were often dismissed as rumors or hearsay.
Responding to TAACC’s call for a better, more accurate and efficient approach, PTF developed the Citizen Action Platform (CAP) – designed to increase citizen participation through SMS. The theory was if more citizens provided feedback, anecdotes would be transformed into hard data to establish a credible pattern of abuse.
Now, citizens anonymously send complaints to UNICEF’s U-Report program – a widely used SMS social monitoring tool – that are subsequently categorized, tracked, analyzed and mapped by the CAP system. The information helps TAACC more efficiently serve their community through tools like geo-mapping to help identify ‘hot spots’ and resolution time tracking to identify bottlenecks.
Tipping the Balance of Power: Government Responsiveness to an Empowered Community
When the CAP program began, one rural health center in Apac had been on the verge of collapse for more than a year as a swarm of bats infested its roof. TAACC confronted local government officials about the problem on many occasions, but were consistently told there were simply no funds to fix it.
After 30+ complaints about the bats were received by SMS, TAACC saw another opportunity, and again brought the issue to the attention of local government officials – this time citing statistics, pictures and testimonials, and inviting them for a firsthand look. A national news network, NTV, joined the field visit and documented the scene, creating widespread visibility of the negligence (watch the report).
Due to the enormous embarrassment for local officials, and nationwide public pressure, the government apologized for its negligence and almost immediately fumigated and renovated the facility. Today, all the bats have been driven away and the health center and it has returned to operational condition – serving an estimated 10,000 people.
This is just one example of the total overhaul of public healthcare in Apac (see more). Altogether, we estimate the government has spent more than $100,000 responding to citizen grievances and improving the health system in the small, rural district.
The Way Forward: Turning the Struggle into a Victory for the 2030 Agenda
This example, and others from projects we’ve supported around the world for the past 16 years, demonstrate an independently verified method to ensure an accountable and responsive government. The prospects for scaling this and other successful good governance approaches have improved, at least in theory, by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. However, the modalities for operationalizing the commitment, including financing and partnership structures, have yet to be fully defined.
In a PTF paper released this month at the UNA-USA Council of Originations and the World Bank’s 2016 Annual Meetings, Civil Society & Development: Global Trends, Implications and Recommendations for Stakeholders in the 2030 Agenda, we examine the roles, responsibilities and challenges for CSO engagement. The paper analyzes several global trends concerning civil society’s role in development, considers their implications and offers recommendations for governments, bilateral and multilateral organizations, philanthropists, private donors and CSOs themselves.
Now, it’s time for others to join the conversation. What has been the role of CSOs in development and public service delivery in your experience? What aspects of the context have been helpful, or unhelpful? What has worked and what hasn’t? How can stakeholders in the 2030 Agenda enable meaningful citizen participation in the SDGs, particularly #16? The more experiences we capture, the more likely we are to achieve it.
If you’d like to get involved, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.