Digging deeper: what is Democracy?

Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

This post also appears on the IDS Governance team blog.

Recently several of my IDS colleagues and I attended a network meeting  organised by the Democratisation, Decentralisation and Local Governance Network (DLGN) of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) in Aswan, Egypt. It brought together about 80 practitioners, policy makers and academics working on good governance and decentralisation from SDC and their partner organisations worldwide. The topic for the meeting was based on the quote ‘Democracy is when accountable local leaders promote inclusive participation’.

The meeting was set in the historic location of Elephantine Island in the middle of the river Nile, where excavationsimage of excavation on Elephantine Island show layers upon layers of history from the 5th millennium BC up to colonial buildings from the 20th Century and a still inhabited Nubian village. Each civilisation destroyed, recycled or built upon the previous settlements, therefore leading to about 20m of historic settlements, one on top of the other. To me, the excavation was a good image for development work, showing that it sometimes takes quite a bit of ‘digging down’ to get through the various layers to the heart of an issue.

IDS colleagues from the Governance and the Participation, Power and Social Change  teams attended the meeting to present research which did exactly that, i.e. ‘digging down’ into various related topics to explore hidden layers and to stimulate innovative thinking on how to produce improved, inclusive, transparent and sustainable development interventions at the local level. The research was undertaken as part of the DLGN funded project ‘The Governance of Service Delivery’ .

Here is a summary of the research my colleagues presented:

Andrés Mejia Acosta and Jethro Pettit: A Combined Approach to Political Economy and Power Analysis
The purpose of political economy and power analyses (PEPA) is to explain power relations and political dynamics in the formulation, adoption and implementation of development initiatives. Despite having different backgrounds and methodologies, both frameworks share the common objective of unpacking the visible, invisible and hidden relationships between key actors involved in producing (or blocking) meaningful changes.

Anuradha Joshi: Context matters: A Casual Chain Approach to Unpacking Social Accountability Interventions
A common premise of development interventions is that context matters for development outcomes, yet there is little understanding of how exactly ‘context’ affects outcomes and which contextual factors matter most.

The paper focuses on social accountability interventions, to explore macro and micro contextual factors. On the macro side, accountability processes need to take into account larger histories of citizen state engagement and related political processes. At the micro level, local factors can clearly drive the way certain social accountability interventions unfold and the extent to which they are successful, even within otherwise broadly similar contexts.

Mariz Tadros: Egypt’s Unfinished Transition or Unfinished Revolution? Unruly Politics and Capturing the Pulses on the Street
The paper focuses on Egypt’s transition, and cautions that if external political analysis fails to capture the pulse of the street in Egypt today, a situation much like that at the wake of the uprising of January 2011, where change happens through actors, spaces and mechanisms that are least expected, could come around again.

Rosemary McGee and Jethro Pettit: Outcome Measurement in Local Governance Programmes: A Power Dimension
This paper explores how outcome measurement is understood in several SDC local governance programmes, reviewed in a HELVETAS Learning Project. This critical review assesses the extent to which power issues are recognised, understood and tracked within such programmes and suggests ways to enhance this.

Shandana Mohmand and Snezana Misic-Mihajlovic: Connecting Citizens to the State: Informal Local Governance Institutions in the Western Balkans
Informal institutions, that lie wholly or partly outside formal state structures, have tremendous potential to strengthen citizen participation, encourage inclusive decision-making and promote improved service delivery at the local level. The authors discovered that local informal governance institutions are widespread throughout former Yugoslav countries, but empirical research on these models is limited. The paper reviews the existing literature and reported practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia. The authors’ key question is, ‘how do informal local governance institutions facilitate relations between citizens and the state around service provision and other governance functions’?

Joanna Wheeler: using visual methods
Joanna presented two different projects that use visual methods as part of their process. The first, a digital storytelling project in Mozambique, and the second, a capitalisation project in Bosnia Herzegovina where Joanna Wheeler and Tessa Lewin have been working with OneWorldSEE and MDPi on a project that uses both digital storytelling and participatory video.

More research undertaken as part of the SDC funded project can be downloaded from the project page.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the  Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and as Project Coordinator for the project ‘The Governance of Service Delivery’.

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