Participation or ‘Being Participated’ in Technology-for-Transparency-and-Accountability Initiatives?


Ruth CarlitzRuthCarlitz

Over the years that I’ve spent conducting research in East Africa, I have learned a number of words that have no direct translation into English. One of my favourites is kushirikishwa, the rough meaning of which is, ‘to be participated’. With many governments in the region having signed up to participatory approaches to planning and budgeting, and donors promoting a ‘bottom-up’ approach, it is not uncommon to hear about citizens ‘being participated’ in various initiatives.

What is the difference between participating and ‘being participated’? Without getting into an academic debate on semantics, I would argue that this distinction can be useful – not just in East Africa, but in various other countries that have embraced participatory approaches. ‘Participating,’ then, can represent an active, conscious choice on the part of an individual while ‘being participated’ can signify a set of assumptions held by funders and implementing organisations around who participates, how and why.

The need to query these assumptions has been highlighted in more than one critique of community-driven development, and also came out strongly in a recent review of the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives.

It is becoming all the more important with the rise of initiatives that attempt to harness technological innovation to promote citizen engagement and government responsiveness, such as Making All Voices Count.

With this in mind, IDS, Hivos’ Knowledge Programme and the Africa Technology and Transparency Initiative (ATTI) commissioned Rosie McGee and myself to undertake a learning study on people’s take-up and use of technology-for-transparency-and-accountability initiatives (‘T4TAIs,’ in case you wanted a new acronym to memorise).

water pump in Rwanda photo cc Adam Cohn

Water pump in Rwanda; photo by Adam Cohn

We began by poring over peer-reviewed articles and World Bank reports, and scouring books and blog posts in order to amass an evidence base on the state of knowledge on this issue. We followed our desk review with fieldwork documenting the experience of two ATTI-supported projects in Uganda – ‘Mobile Phones for Improved Access to Safe Water’ (M4Water) and TRAC FM. Looking at these two initiatives against the background of a literature review allowed us to compare experiences across a range of contexts. Whereas M4Water primarily targets rural water users and local officials, TRAC FM aims at broader engagement by citizens in monitoring and debating a range of public services, and hence targets both rural and urban populations.

So, when it comes to T4TAIs, are people participating or are they ‘being participated’? Without giving away too much of our findings (available in full report or policy brief flavour), the following factors are worth noting in terms of what affects people’s uptake and use of these initiatives:

  •  T4TAIs’ active participants tend to be the ‘usual suspects’ – men, urban dwellers, and people with higher levels of education and/or access to information. This bias suggests a risk of unwittingly selectively ‘empowering’ certain citizens, which could further entrench discrimination and social exclusion rather than increase accountability to the broader public.
  • It is increasingly clear that T4TAIs need to be integrated into people’s existing ways of doing things. All too often, funding and implementing organisations seem to expect their target users to jump at any chance to improve their lot, since the challenges they face are so pressing. But attempting to ‘participate them’ in this manner ignores the fact that T4TAIs are often expecting significant behaviour change – asking people to take an action that may take time and money, engender personal risk, and has no guarantee of improving anything.
  • Uptake and use of unfamiliar activities and technologies may be best brokered using financial incentives, though intrinsic and social incentives also play a role, as a recent study on Unicef’s Ureport system shows. However, the use of financial incentives raises concerns about sustainability, which affect T4TAIs more generally. On that note, we find that response, feedback and interactivity are important determinants of uptake and sustained use. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people want to see that the information they contribute (for example, by texting to an anti-corruption hotline) is being used in some way (leading to a corrupt official getting sacked!)

Since completing our desk review, new research has emerged examining the users of T4TAIs from various angles – including the role of access costs in determining uptake, the nuances of demand and supply for transparency facilitated by T4TAIs, and ‘real-time monitoring’ for the most vulnerable.

Considering the lessons of our learning study and this emerging research will be critical to ensure that new T4TAIs enhance genuine participation, rather than simply attempting to ‘participate’ their intended users.

Ruth Carlitz is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. Ruth and Rosemary McGee co-authored a study on ‘the users’ in Technology for Transparency and Accountability Initiatives, published last week.

Whose legitimacy? The spectrum of authority in conflict settings


Marjoke OosteromMarjoke_Oosterom200

At last week’s World Conference on Human Security and Humanitarian Responses in Istanbul the issue of how forms of non-state authority evolve in (post)conflict settings was discussed in a number of panels. To humanitarian actors these remain challenging questions: With which non-state authority to engage and how? And how does engagement affect the legitimacy of the humanitarian agency and of the (non)state authority itself? During the conference I participated in a roundtable discussion on this topic, organised by Wageningen University. Two points stood out for me:

  • The dichotomy between state and non-state authority is unhelpful. Even the decision not to engage with one or any of them will affect local politics.
  • Who decides what is legitimate about state and non-state authority?

In a (post)conflict setting boundaries between state and non-state authority are blurred. This is why Koen Vlassenroot (CRG, UGent) spoke of local complexities or a ‘war complex’. Here, the state and the spectrum of non-state authorities are networked. State officials play a formal role while participating in the informal networks that constitute a war economy at the same time, formed by businessmen, military, and politicians. Elites and their families occupy positions across the divide. In the middle of all this, citizens navigate both state and non-state authorities for their security and access to livelihoods and services.  Be they armed militias, customary leaders, war lords, or simply individuals in a village who have commanded the respect of their community; citizens develop relationships with them.

picture of the customary place where the council of adult men meet in South Sudan

The ‘Aduva’ is the place where the council of adult men meet and discuss what actions to take when the security of the village is at risk. Among the Latuko of Eastern Equatoria (South Sudan) many feel that customary authority helps to keep them safe.

Are we asking the right question?
Concerning legitimacy, I wondered whether we asked the right question. Should we start with asking how ‘we’ (the highly diverse community of aid actors, donors, and researchers) are to work with ‘them’ (the spectrum of forms of authority), or should we start by asking how citizens at the local level see, respond to and engage with non-state authorities? Concerning interventions the question then becomes: how does engagement with any of these authority affect citizen perceptions of state legitimacy and the legitimacy of others?

My point here is that a local population living in a war complex is not a passive receiver of authority, be it state or non-state. Just like citizens who are targeted by humanitarian actors are not passive receivers of relief. The relationships between citizens and (non-state) authority can be seen as some sort of a social contract, as long as we recognise that it not a stable one. Nor is it necessarily a ‘good’ or accountable one, since ‘collaboration’ with armed non-state actors is often coerced. But in this relationship citizens have agency: some negotiation capacity and ways of working with or around these actors to sustain a life. Sometimes they are even able to push back.

Gemma van der Haar (WUR) correctly pointed out that within a population different groups or people may have various opinions on what legitimacy is. I’d like to add that citizens are not uncritical of the legitimacy of such actors. In fact, it not often the case that non-state authorities are either legitimate or not. People are willing to put up with a level of coercion and control if a certain level of security is ensured and or certain services are provided. This suggests that certain actions and behaviours are perceived as legitimate while others are not.

Whose legitimacy?
So, before ‘we’ do anything with non-state actors (whether it is to inform them, consult them, gain access through them, or actively involve them in implementation) we need to

a) understand local power dynamics, i.e. do a power analysis, and
b) understand the relationships between a citizenry and those actors.

This was also raised by Mareike Schomerus (LSE) in the roundtable: ‘We have to put the question of legitimacy on its head!’ Then we will be better positioned to judge how any of ‘our’ actions intervenes in local politics.

More to come, over the next two months I will write about these issues from South Sudan and Zimbabwe, where I work on the project ‘Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency’. This debate will be continued online on The Broker by academics and practitioners. See also the Conciliation Resources site, where they’re about to start talking about local civil society and community approaches to engaging non-state armed actors.

Marjoke Oosterom is a Post-doctoral researcher at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS.

Read a previous blog by Marjoke Oosterom

Involving the world’s poorest citizens in the post-2015 agenda


Joanna WheelerJoanna_Wheeler200

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of New World, the flagship publication of the United Nations Association – UK

In September, the world’s leaders, governments’ representatives to the UN and representatives from civil society from many countries converged on New York for a Special Event on the future global framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Nearby, civil society organisations talked about how to get the voices of the poorest and most marginalised through the barriers that cordon off the UN Plaza and into the post-2015 process.

The barriers are not only physical – in many ways the entire process of consultations and surveys is set up to keep those perspectives from having any real weight. There is no formal system of accountability where the people who are most affected can challenge the decisions made about global development. Yet the success and legitimacy of the post-2015 framework will rest on the extent to which it provides for their meaningful participation.

While there are success stories about how the MDGs have been achieved, these are not often the stories told by the world’s poorest and most marginalised. Development interventions can often have unintended consequences: a village built to house indigenous people in Mexico sits abandoned because of the poor quality structures and the lack of viable livelihoods.

The poorest and most marginalised people have not been reached because of prevailing inequalities, including economic inequality (the lack of sufficient income), geographic inequality (many live in precarious conditions without land rights) and identity-based inequality (for example, gender-based discrimination is pervasive).

These become entrenched in the lives of people living in poverty – and they mean that simple and one-dimensional solutions are inadequate. For example, in Ghana, providing places in school is of little use if children cannot attend because they spend much of their day walking ever-greater distances to get water due to drought.

GCRN community meeting

Participatory Research in Ghana: People come together to discuss the issues that affect their lives and build plans to change their situation

The experience of poverty is also shaped by social norms and relationships of power that limit access to rights and services. For example, ‘city-makers’ in Chennai, India live on the streets, and are often unable to access services or their rights because they cannot secure formal identification. They are further discriminated against because they come from scheduled castes—making it more difficult for them to access dignified work or stable housing.

In order to understand how people have been left behind by the MDG approach, we need to understand what prevents people from making the changes that they are calling for, and how they think that these obstacles can be overcome. Research carried out by the Participate network in 29 countries shows that future development processes need a different approach in order really to reach those who are most often excluded. This vision for global development provides an important reality-check, and is based on the following:

  • Rights and recognition for all. Rights are foundational for recognition and dignity. Being treated with respect by family members, public officials and representatives of the state, and wider society helps people see themselves as citizens. As citizens, they are able to act to demand greater fairness and access to the resources they need.
  • Inclusion, solidarity, collective action. The most marginalised people experience discrimination within their families, in their communities and their wider society. Collective action is needed to address these problems, and that requires us to address the barriers that stop people coming together to mobilise effectively.
  • Participation, accountability, democratic institutions. Institutions that are democratic and accountable will respond to the demands of the poorest and most marginalised, and participatory approaches to decision-making can help ensure this happens.
  • Services and policies that respond to the needs of the poorest. Services and policies that effectively respond to the needs of the poorest people are holistic, long-term and have a focus on quality. Dignified livelihoods are a necessary element of their success.

It is not yet clear what the new global development framework will look like, and therefore it is even less clear how the perspectives, voices and decisions of those most affected by poverty and exclusion will be included in the process. The current paradigms of development aid are breaking down, and the emerging framework could set out new parameters that put people at its centre and give them a real say in the decisions that affect them.

Meaningful participation needs to start now while the framework is being set – and continue throughout the implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages. Without this, the post-2015 process will become just another top-down example of UN member states failing to address the most pressing problems of our time.

Joanna Wheeler is a research fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and co-director of the Participate Initiative

Read other recent blogs about Participate:

Relationship Anarchy – Cartoons


Maria Ellinor Persson

These cartoons are a project on Relationship Anarchy which was first on display in Buenos Aires at the IASSCS conference ‘Sex and the market place -what’s love got to do with it?’, August 2013. The images can also be viewed (and enlarged) on my Relationship Anarchy website.

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Relationship Anarchy as unruly political economy?

Graphic reflections on relationships as political statements by Maria Persson

The counter-culture of the 1970s was an era of free love characterized by non- monogomous relationships, or so the story goes. Free love probably never disappeared, but it has definitely reappeared with vigor. Today’s polys have adapted free love to form a concept of responsible non-monogamy which is fulfilling as a way of life and particularly of thought. At the radical end stands the Relationship Anarchist movement indicating a third wave of polyamory as unruly politics.

In times of economic meltdown this widening of the poly movement poses interesting questions: is it an expression of Western individualism or a form of resistance to Western capitalism, or perhaps both?

In this exhibition I will examine the issues that self-identified polys and RAs face, and how they advise each other. The focus group is made up of 94 people that has been connected through Facebook and now meet regularly in Malmö, Sweden, usually over coffee, and methodology for interaction has alternated between participatory observations and online discussions. Interest is directed towards their own reflections as well as the possibility of the life style as a conscious choice to engage with the political economy of the body, the household and to challenge the family as a fundamental economic unit.

Comic drawings are the tool for presentation, due mainly to the immediacy of comics across cultural borders, where social media has heightened our ability to read images. Through the mix of text and image that comic drawings provide, a fun, beautiful, and informative way to analytically and politically reflect on society is accessed.

Maria Ellinor Persson is a queerpositive artist and activists, even though s/he’s recently been more present in the board rooms rather than on the streets. At the moment Maria is doing an internship with the NGO Nijera Kori in Bangladesh on a women’s rights programme. Maria’s participation in the recent IASSCS conference was funded through the Gender, Power and Sexuality programme, hosted by the PPSC team  at IDS.

Read the previous blog post about the IASSCS conference:

‘The power is in your hands’ – Global Handwashing Day and Community-Led Total Sanitation


Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

Together with improved sanitation handwashing with soap is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways for preventing diarrhoeal, acute respiratory and other infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries each year. The 15th October is Global Handwashing Day and each year about 200 million people are involved in celebrations in over 100 countries around the world. My colleagues from the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Knowledge Hub at IDS are marking the occasion by promoting handwashing-related publications and resources on the CLTS website.

CLTS is an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation (OD). Communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation (OD) and take their own action to become ODF (open defecation free). Handwashing is very much part and parcel of the CLTS approach, as Robert Chambers explains in this online discussion: ‘Handwashing is widely included in triggering or comes soon after. There are ways in which this is facilitated which are not didactic … The main one is likely to be – (if you don’t wash) – the realisation that they are eating their own shit.’

girl washing her hands

‘The Power is in your hands’ photo by Petra Bongartz

There are some innovative ways of triggering handwashing behaviour which UNICEF Malawi researched and collated in this ‘How to Trigger Handwashing with Soap’ Guide – some, for example the ‘scratch and smell method’, are not for the faint-hearted: The facilitator puts his hand inside his trousers and (pretends or actually) scratches his bottom. He then offers his hand to community members to shake. If, as is likely, they recoil and refuse, a discussion on why ensues and leads into conversations about the importance of handwashing.

Visit the CLTS website to find out more and access a number of resources relating to CLTS and handwashing or visit the Global Handwashing Day website to find out about the celebrations around the world.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the  Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS. The Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Knowledge Hub is hosted at the PPSC team at IDS. Visit the CLTS website to find out more or follow their blog posts

Read other blogs relating to CLTS

Searching for dialogues: Convergences and divergences around the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 global development agenda


Carlos Cortezpicture of Carlos Cortez

This post previously appeared on the Participate blog and is also available in SpanishSubscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

The dialogue initiated in September at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is central to the ongoing debate around the construction of a future global development model and its impacts. In particular, discussions centred around the role that the current development model has in perpetuating global poverty and exclusion. In this vein, the UNGA was a space for identifying the existing opportunities as well as the difficulties for opening up a truthful dialogue amongst the diverse actors looking for alternatives.

The Participate initiative and the global campaign Beyond 2015 took the opportunity to engage more with these ongoing dialogues and to present the findings of the research carried out by the 18 partner organisations of Participate.

I believe that with these activities, we advanced towards the goal of bringing the voices of the poorest and most marginalised into the post-2015 global decision-making processes. However, this engagement also confronted us with the difficulties around the advocacy process, particularly the government representatives.

The concerns, ideas and proposals made by various organisations, including Participate’s findings, proved that there are converging issues being raised. However, I could observe notable divergences in the way the emerging problems and challenges are being understood. Worth giving a special mention is the concern around the poverty, exclusion, and lack of rights that a considerable part of the global population endure; as well as the recognition that until now the actions undertaken to eradicate these issues have been limited; to say the least.

The convergent issues

  • Bring to an end the charitable approach to development and demand a focus on rights promotion and protection, and justice for the people living in poverty. Indeed many called for a ‘rights based approach to development’.
  • Recognise that the participation of the poorest and most excluded in decision-making processes, from the local to the global level, constitutes an essential condition to overcome their hardship.
  • Insist in not separating the problem of increasing poverty from increasing inequality, and a call for urgent structural changes to the global economic and financial systems. This was indeed, one of the most critical demands.

The discourse and proposals put forward by the global civil society largely coincide with those of some international organisations. In this sense, NGOs and civil society coalitions presented their proposals framed under side events organised by UN agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, OHCHR; organisms that largely coincide with civil society’s discourse and some core proposals towards the definition of a post-2015 agenda. However, this was not the case for the vast majority of the governments. Their limited presence and lack of disposition for opening spaces for dialogue with civil society made evident the fact that the lack of success of many poverty reduction programmes are largely a result of intermingled politics rather than bad planning. Hence, envisaging substantial changes to the current governmental lens of what is needed from the new post-2015 development agenda seems like a huge challenge.

Members of the Participate network participating in the Panel discussion around the findings of our research. Left to right: Mwangi Waituru (The Seed Institute, Kenya); Nusrat Zerin (Sightsavers, Bangladesh) and Carlos Cortez Ruiz (UAM, Mexico)

Members of the Participate network participating in the Panel discussion around the findings of our research. Left to right: Mwangi Waituru (The Seed Institute, Kenya); Nusrat Zerin (Sightsavers, Bangladesh) and Carlos Cortez Ruiz (UAM, Mexico)

In this sense, Participate demonstrated the possibility and importance of bringing the voices, concerns and experiences of the most excluded to the global decision-making spaces. Through an interactive exhibition, the production of a documentary and a panel discussion around our synthesis report, we have shown the value of conducting and promoting participatory action research processes. Processes in which, through innovative and traditional techniques and methods, participants have been able to voice their ideas on how to tackle their problems and what they expect from decision makers. The diversity of materials and outputs have also raised the sensibility and conscience of what is needed in order to face one of the most important challenges for our society in the forthcoming years.

Let’s trust that we will be able to advance on the dialogue and the actions needed to end poverty and marginalisation. Let’s trust that governments, international organisations, the private sector, the civil society and all citizens work together to achieve change.

Carlos Cortez is a member of the Participate research group network from Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco in Mexico.

Read other recent blogs about Participate: