One of the perks of TAI’s “bird’s eye view” is the opportunity to learn about the wide range of organizations working to build stronger relationships between governments and citizens. In this post, Ruth Levine, director of Global Development and Population at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, reflects on what she and her team are seeing in the work they help support – in this case, the achievements of transparency and accountability efforts at the sub-national level. We’re always excited to see collaboration and learning happening organically with different transparency and accountability stakeholders, and are looking forward to seeing where these investments go next.
The theme of the past few months for us has been “home.” That may seem peculiar for a team that works internationally, and spends a good deal of time on the road. But we’re thinking more and more about where people live, and how to support creative new work that connects people to the levels of government that are closest to their home.
We are among many who are exploring the ways transparency, accountability and citizen engagement can be expressed at the most local levels. Often referred to as “sub-national,” we’re talking about municipalities, districts and even neighborhoods where people obtain government-provided services and have the opportunity to interact with both elected officials and public servants.
Here’s what we’ve been watching as our partners increase transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement at local levels:
1. The Open Government Partnership puts a global spotlight on the sub-national agenda. The Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit in Paris marked an important movement in accelerating its work around the sub-national agenda. So far, 15 sub-national government and civil society collaboratives have submitted OGP action plans, focusing on everything from community health projects in Bojonegoro, Indonesia, to improving education in Kigoma, Tanzania, to tackling homelessness in Austin, Texas.
2. Reboot collects tips and tools to improve sub-national action plans. One of the organizations we support, Reboot, helped facilitate the preparation of some of the sub-national action plans, and recently offered a few reflections. First, several groups initiated the work without fully understanding what OGP is or would require. They’d envisioned it as a way to connect with potential funders, rather than a means to use existing local resources in new ways or strengthen them. Second, communities often found it challenging to prioritize and select commitments to pursue, balancing ambition with feasibility. Reboot used those lessons as an inspiration for a guide, “Prioritizing and Refining Commitments Toward Action Plans.”
Finally, Reboot found that civil society priorities don’t always reflect the priorities of the larger public. More inclusive processes draw on community input from existing channels, like “Time with Community” meetings in Ghana and ward-level WhatsApp groups in Kenya. But OGP-specific channels for input can lead to—or in the case of Kenya, exacerbate—participation fatigue.
3. WIEGO’s local associations advocate for informal workers. Sub-national work is also at the heart of support we’re providing to WIEGO for “focal cities.” WIEGO’s mission is the economic empowerment of informal workers, particularly street vendors, home-based workers, waste-pickers and domestic workers. These workers form local associations, which advocate collectively on behalf of members’ needs.
The focal cities project will establish Urban Livelihood Learning Hubs in Mexico City, Mexico; Dakar, Senegal; Accra, Ghana. By working to strengthen local membership-based organizations of urban informal workers, WIEGO will help them increase representation and power, allowing them to work with cities to achieve practical and policy gains in the areas relevant to their lives – anything from claiming safe spaces to work, to obtaining health services, to being able to bid on government procurement contracts. You can read about the ways informal workers can constructively interact with government in the August 2016 issue of New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety.
4. Open Knowledge International shows how local organizations use open data. A new report from Open Knowledge International looks at how local organizations incorporate open data into their monitoring of governance and public services. The report includes a number of cases, including the use of budget data to highlight inefficient public service delivery in Nigeria and an effort to mobilize volunteers to improve the state of Cape Town’s public flush toilets.
5. Twaweza works to connect national and local conversations. Our friends at Twaweza are also trying to connect their high-level work to local action. Here’s an excerpt from their reflection on “Public Agency”:
As Twaweza, we are already part of numerous national-level conversations: via our Uwezo and Sauti za Wananchi platforms, we collect insightful data and opinions by and from citizens on issues that matter, and we package the data into persuasive information for policy makers, media, and other information intermediaries. This gives us a seat in some of the important conversations on policy and guidance in the education sector in particular, and governance more generally. But how those policy discussions actually get implemented (or not), and the arena in which this plays out is a deeply localized one.
To really get into the thick of it, it was clear we need to engage more directly “where the rubber meets the road” – that is, at the sub-national level. Our policy influence at the national level, while gratifying, can take too long to translate into fruitful decision, action and results where citizens ‘feel’ their government most directly – which is in local basic services, and local government. We aim to seed a conversation, energize a space for deliberations; ideally, we aim to catalyze a cycle of productive collaboration in which various government actors, as well as various groups of citizens, together decide on solutions to local problems, and see them through.
While it’s challenging for a grantmaker like ourselves, far from the action, to support highly decentralized work at sub-national levels, we realize that this is important territory to explore in the transparency, participation and accountability field. We recognize that if people don’t feel connected to the parts of government closest to them, there’s very little chance they will engage in a sustained way at higher levels. We hope you’ll continue to share what you see and learn about ways transparency, participation, and accountability at the local level—and connections to the national level—can improve public services for the people who need them most.
For more on Hewlett’s approach to supporting transparency, participation, and accountability, read their three new draft substrategies on fiscal transparency, governance channels, and service delivery, and send them your feedback and ideas.