In the past two decades, development policy has aimed to involve communities in the development process by encouraging the active participation of communities in the design and implementation of projects or the allocation of local resources. The World Bank alone has provided more than $85 billion for participatory development since the early 2000s.
What’s the key ingredient for successful innovations? I often hear people answer creativity, collaboration, open mindset, leadership. For me, it is the ability to learn and adapt.
But learning is meaningful only if it’s based on reliable data, and adaptation leads to the expected results if the data is timely and feeds into the decision-making process.
For example, take GNRC Medical (formerly known as Guwahati Neurological Research Centre), a hospital in North Guwahati, India that aims to provide quality healthcare service at an affordable cost to underprivileged populations. GNRC has an inclusive multi-specialty facility, provides ambulance services, and offers customized healthcare packages to the poor, promoting preventive healthcare and early intervention. Despite its unique service offer, GNRC faced major challenges, including the lack of awareness among local communities on medical conditions and available treatments.
Delivering pension or disability services may sound mundane, but if you have seen the recent award-winning movie, I, Daniel Blake, it is anything but. As the film poignantly demonstrates, treating citizens with respect and approaching them as humans rather than case numbers is not just good practice -- it can mean life or death. In the film, Mr. Blake, an elderly tradesman with a heart condition, attempts to apply for a disability pension. In the process, he navigates a Kafkaesque maze of dozens of office visits, automated phone calls, and dysfunctional online forms. All of this is confusing and often dehumanizing.
Countries around the world have experimented with “school report cards”: providing parents with information about the quality of their school so that they can demand higher quality service for their children. The results have been mixed. Andrabi, Das, and Khwaja bring a significant contribution to that literature in last month’s American Economic Review with their article using data from Pakistan, “Report Cards: The Impact of Providing School and Child Test Scores on Educational Markets.”
Disruptive technologies are redefining the way of life. Everyone is buzzing about drones, driverless cars, autopilot planes, robots, and supply chains, starting from the entertainment industry, to agriculture and food sector, to private sector, to humanitarian and development fields. Drones delivering food, water, or health supplies, using off-grid power, innovative mobile apps, and other technological developments are all very exciting and unknown at the same time.
How will drones impact the supply chains and service delivery in the future? What are the opportunities and risks associated with utilizing drones to deliver supplies? What is the role of technology in helping us reach Sustainable Development Goals? I can’t pretend I have answers to any of these questions, nor do I dare predict what our future may look like in 10,20,30 years. However, it sure is interesting to look at the recent technological developments and try to understand what their role may be in the future.
That’s where the unlikely and innovative story of Zipline International Inc. and the Government of Rwanda comes in. Last fall the Government of Rwanda partnered with the California-based robotics company Zipline International Inc. and became the first country in the world to incorporate drone technology into its health care system by delivering blood and medical supplies to 21 hospitals across Rwanda’s Southern and Western provinces.
- Artificial Intelligence
- Disruptive Technologies
- disruptive innovations
- service delivery
- supply chains
- mobile apps
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Distribution Innovation
- Emergency Communication
- emergency aid
- Information and Communication Technologies
Most development stakeholders agree on the need to foster more open and transparent Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to ensure that PPP projects provide quality public goods and services to citizens, and that they effectively contribute to pro-poor development outcomes.
That sounds great in theory, but in practice, it’s not that easy. PPPs involve a trove of data and documents. On top of that, the information made available publicly is generally difficult to interrogate, when it’s not completely lost in lengthy PDF files.
Let’s face it: searching for relevant PPP data and information can oftentimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Citizen Engagement (CE) mechanisms are most effective when the operating environment is conducive. A well-informed citizenry, an enabling regulatory framework, such as freedom of association, access to information, and petition rights, as well as institutional structures including well-organized media and a dynamic CSO-landscape rooted in communities all play an important role in making CE mechanisms function more effectively.
How about where such conditions are not available—like in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Are there any benefits in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in such situations? Can CE mechanisms still help citizens engage with the state constructively when the state clearly lacks the capacity to respond?
Task teams at the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been grappling with these questions since launching a pilot initiative three years ago to strengthen citizen engagement throughout its operations, responding to an increased demand for voice and participation in the region. The new MENA strategy also put citizen engagement at the center of one of its main pillars, to renew the social contract. Citizen engagement was no longer an option—it had to be integrated across projects even in contexts where institutional capacities were extremely weak and state’s authority was often contested.
Despite the initial trepidation, the actual integration of citizen engagement in fragile situations defied all expectations. True, the absence of conducive environments did pose additional challenges in making public institutions more responsive and accountable. However, these deficiencies were easily compensated for. CE mechanisms filled crucial gaps of state institutions, whether they were non-existent, weak, or compromised, by delegating tasks such as monitoring and prioritization of needs to communities.
Citizen engagement also helped in some contexts to reinforce positive interactions between the state and citizens. There is emerging consensus among scholars that state legitimacy is enhanced not by service delivery per se but by the opportunities the process provides for citizens to interact with the state positively. And citizen engagement provides exactly that by getting citizens involved in identifying priority needs, registering complaints, voicing disagreements, and providing feedback etc.
In other words, MENA’s experience in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in fragile and conflict-affected situations has highlighted the transformative potential of citizen engagement, not only in improving development results, but also in addressing issues at the heart of fragility and conflict. CE mechanisms tend to empower citizens by giving them the space and channels to hold the state accountable. It facilitates a gradual change in stakeholders’ mindset with citizens realizing that they can influence the quality of services and resource allocations—issues that are typically at the heart of societal tensions.
When citizens engage with government officials, the state becomes visible and citizens gain more knowledge about government processes as well as constraints that affect government performance. They also gain skills that help them better negotiate and communicate with the government in presenting their demands more coherently. Such interactions often tend to strengthen the vertical link between the state and society.
Furthermore, citizen engagement can also strengthen horizontal links in society by increasing face-to-face interaction among community members. This enhances social cohesion by promoting trust across community members and improving social cooperation. , generating consensus and a common understanding of problems as well as potential solutions. Such collaboration strengthens associational links and helps build social cohesion.
For instance under the Municipal Development Program in West Bank and Gaza, citizens in each targeted municipality participate in planning committees on Strategic Development and Investment Planning. This process allows citizens to voice their priorities, have insights into the budget making process and participate in decision making regarding how resources are allocated and used. While improving the quality of services this process has also increased inter-community collaboration.
In sum, by reassuring citizens that procedures are fair, providing more information on constraints, and enhancing their skills in communicating with the government. Citizen engagement can also help strengthen social cohesion by developing a capacity for constructive engagement through cooperation and reciprocity. Our experience has shown that far from considering CE mechanisms in fragile situations as challenging and risky, they should be embraced for their potential to address dynamics that are at the heart of fragility and conflict.
Strengthening citizen engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Yes, really! It is happening in MENA.
Watch a video, "Citizen Engagement in the Palestinian Cash Transfer Program": English | Arabic
Citizen engagement activities in MENA countries affected by fragility and conflict were supported by the Korean Trust Fund for Economic and Peace Building Transitions.
Overjoyed at the emergency rehabilitation of Bauerfield International Airport, Vanuatu’s gateway for travelers, Linda Kalpoi, the general manager of the Vauatu Tourism Office, was in buoyant spirits as she attended the May 6 ceremony announcing the repair’s completion.
Vanuatu yearned for good news. Still recovering from Cyclone Pam’s devastation in March 2015, it was hit by political turmoil after the unprecedented conviction of 14 members of Parliament in October 2015. Then, on January 22, 2016 – the same day Ni-Vanuatu citizens were casting ballots for a snap election – Air New Zealand suspended flights due to safety concerns over the runway condition. Qantas and Virgin Australia followed suit a week later. With only a few airlines still operating, the country lost a sizeable chunk of international tourists.
Airport planning in Vanuatu has long been fraught with differing opinions and priorities. Multiple governments with conflicting visions for developing international air transport, as well frequent changes to the staff and leadership of Airports Vanuatu Ltd (AVL), had left the runway in critical need of repair.
Duncan Green’s blog hosted a post by LSE’s Jean-Paul Faguet titled: Is Decentralisation good for Development? Faguet has edited a book by the same name that you can find here. This is a subject very close to my heart, and I believe in decentralisation as a value, just as I believe in democracy. It is often a work in progress, but it is a project worth persisting with, an ideal worth pursuing. Faguet’s research (at least, my interpretation of his work) therefore, really speaks to me. In this post, he makes several interesting and compelling points. For instance:
On the advantage of competitive politics generated by decentralised systems:
Imagine you live in a centralized country, a hurricane is coming, and the government is inept. To whom can you turn? No one – you’re sunk. In a decentralized country, ineptitude in regional government implies nothing about the ability of local government. And even if both regional and local governments are inept, central government is independently constituted, probably run by a different party, and may be able to help. Indeed, the very fact of multiple government levels in a democracy generates a competitive dynamic in which candidates and parties use the far greater number of platforms to outdo each other by showing competence, and project themselves hierarchically upwards. In a centralized system, by contrast, there is only really one – very big – prize, and not much of a training ground on which to prepare.
In post decentralization Indonesia, the responsibility to deliver services falls largely at the hands of the local government. So, too, does the management of public money. Local governments currently manage about half of Indonesia’s public finances. Transfers to the regions increased by more than threefold in real terms since the onset of decentralization.
However, with few improvements in health and education indicators, the results of these increased transfers are not encouraging.