Institutions that strengthen the voice and empowerment of marginalised people and groups set the framework for state-society and intra-society interactions. There may be tensions between reforming and challenging existing institutions and institutionalising new practices, such as greater citizen-state engagement.
Key resource on empowerment and accountability
The GSDRC Topic Guide on Voice, Empowerment and Accountability (Combaz & Mcloughlin, 2014) introduces key debates and evidence on concepts of empowerment and accountability, and how they have been applied.
Inclusive education institutions
Ensuring education is inclusive involves reforming the institutions that shape the strategies and activities of education providers (state and non-state) and associated organisations (for example, parent-teacher bodies). The 2010 Education For All report recommends establishing equitable regulations that target support to disadvantaged areas; improve affordability for excluded groups; and meet the needs of traditionally excluded communities, including by overcoming informal social norms that act as barriers to access (UNESCO, 2010: 2).
There is case-study evidence of a range of successful approaches to support inclusive educational institutions. Examples include adapting state educational provision regulations to fit tribal contexts (with success in India and Mongolia); nurturing female teachers and chaperoning girls to school (overcoming discriminatory social norms in Afghanistan and Pakistan); and delivering bilingual education (with some success in Latin America) (Kabeer, 2010: 52, 53; UNESCO, 2010: 174).
In some cases, reforms to supply-side institutions have been complemented by social protection programmes to transform the social norms and incentives perpetuating exclusion. Studies show these can improve access for traditionally excluded groups: in Cambodia a scholarship programme for poor lower-secondary students improved attendance but not test scores (Filmer & Schady, 2009). In Kenya, a merit-based scholarship for adolescent girls resulted in improvements in both attendance and test scores (Kremer et al., 2009).
Despite progress in the last decade, UNESCO (2010: 9) highlight that absolute deprivation in education remains at ‘extraordinarily high’ levels, with averages masking extreme inequalities linked to wealth and gender. Institutions underlying the marginalisation of women and girls, ethnic minorities and other groups are often deeply ingrained, caused by unequal power relationships and sustained by political indifference (UNESCO, 2010: 9).
Inclusive local governance and service delivery
Donors also promote inclusive rules and norms for local governance and service delivery. These are often part of wider decentralisation reforms that aim to support greater citizen participation in decision-making and accountability (Combaz & Mcloughlin, 2014: 15). These types of reforms are under way in many sectors (e.g. local development planning; budget and taxation; and health, education, livelihoods, infrastructure and water and sanitation services), using a range of tools.
Tools for empowering citizens
There are various ways of empowering citizens to participate in local governance decision-making and public service delivery. Examples include: social guarantees; participatory budgeting; tracking public expenditure; social audits; community score cards; complaints mechanisms; participatory monitoring and evaluation; and public information/transparency campaigns. Chapter 3 (Methods and Tools) of the World Bank’s Social Accountability Sourcebook provides details on these. The GSDRC Topic Guide on Empowerment and Accountability gives an annotated bibliography of relevant references on these tools.
Recent research based on cross-country qualitative data suggests some citizenship, participation, transparency and accountability programmes have had positive outcomes. These initiatives have contributed, in some cases, to more responsive states, better budgets and services, better protected and extended rights, and the empowerment of previously marginalised groups. Positive outcomes are, however, not guaranteed. In some cases, interventions have led to ‘a sense of disempowerment, a reduced sense of agency […] or reinforced exclusions’ (Citizenship DRC, 2011: 7). Participatory initiatives that operate within existing structures and without affirmative action can reproduce inequalities and be susceptible to capture by state and/or non-state elites. Studies underline that achieving true inclusion, voice and empowerment requires addressing the power relations between citizens and the state.
Research on citizenship, participation and transparency and accountability interventions
- Blurring the Boundaries: Citizen Action Across States and Societies: This synthesis report (Citizenship DRC, 2011) draws together findings from a decade-long research programme involving 60 researchers across 30 countries over 150 empirical case studies.
- So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement: Gaventa and Barrett (2010) analyse a dataset from the Citizenship DRC programme of over 800 outcomes of citizen engagement.
- Review of Impact and Effectiveness of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives: McGee and Gaventa (2010) synthesise a review of transparency and accountability work in service delivery, budget process, freedom of information, natural resource governance and aid transparency.
- Localising Development: Does Participation Work? This World Bank comprehensive review (Mansuri & Rao, 2013) assesses evidence on local-level participatory initiatives.
- Mapping Context for Social Accountability: This World Bank paper (O’Meally, 2013) reviews the evidence on impacts of demand-side governance and social accountability approaches.
Research summary: Ensuring São Paulo health councils are genuinely inclusive
Thirty-one citizen health councils in São Paulo, Brazil inspect public accounts and demand accountability from health service providers. Research in the 1990s and early 2000s found that the poorest people continued to be excluded from the councils. When they did participate, they were unable to articulate their demands. Blockages included the lingering authoritarian political culture, lack of social mobilisation and bureaucrats’ resistance to power-sharing. Analysing a 2004-5 survey, Schattan Coelho (2006) finds some progress, with a diverse spectrum of participants on the Councils. The more inclusive councils have implemented procedures that genuinely empower the marginalised, including allowing participants to, set the agenda, and decide the language and style of debate. The findings highlight the importance of several enabling factors: managers committed to ensuring participation; participation by a wide spectrum of social movements, CSOs and engaged citizens; and ‘a certain know-how’ in organising participation to ensure genuine inclusion (Schattan Coelho, 2006: 667).
From their review of the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives, McGee and Gaventa (2010) identify key supply and demand factors enabling more inclusive local governance and service delivery institutions. The supply side includes the level of democratisation and political will, and the broader enabling legal frameworks, political incentives and sanctions. On the demand side, supportive structures are needed that facilitate the meaningful participation of marginalised people and groups. These include building citizens’ and civil society organisations’ (CSOs) capabilities and engaging citizens in the planning and design of interventions (McGee & Gaventa, 2010).
Citizen and community mobilisation and participation
Another approach to supporting more inclusive institutions is to assist marginalised citizens to organise and build collective agency (to articulate their needs, influence policy and monitor the inclusiveness of government political institutions) through CSOs, social movements and other participatory associations and networks (Combaz & Mcloughlin, 2014).
Tools for working with civil society organisations
The UNDP has produced several tools for working with civil society organisations including A Toolkit For Strengthening Partnerships (UNDP, 2006) and A Users’ Guide To Civil Society Assessments (UNDP, 2010). See also How To Note: Capacity Development (DFID, 2013).
Taking one sector as an example, there is a growing body of evidence on the role of CSOs in improving the inclusiveness of fiscal institutions. For example:
- Case studies by the International Budget Partnership report how evidence-based budget advocacy has resulted in reforms to budget rules and processes in several countries, and in more funding for excluded groups (such as the extra HIV/AIDS funding in South Africa – Overy, 2011 – and financing for the marginalised Dalit community in India – Ramachandran & Goel, 2011).
- A review by Robinson (2008) finds that civil society budget analysis and advocacy is more likely to improve resources for existing programmes than to result in major changes to policy priorities: the latter require a change in political power relations.
- Other reviews find that participatory budget initiatives can be impeded by discriminatory social norms (blocking formal and informal engagement in the budget process), by low levels of education, and by male dominance (Fölscher, 2010; Shah, 2007).
Studies highlight that successful CSOs combine social and political mobilisation, originate in locally generated concerns, and establish broad-based and cross-cutting state and non-state coalitions (Citizenship DRC, 2011; Gaventa & Barrett, 2010; McGee & Gaventa, 2010). Reviews of interventions recommend that, given the complexity and rapidly changing nature of social movements and other forms of civil society mobilisation, donors should set incentives to report and learn from failure and ensure their support is flexible enough to respond to changing events (Mansuri & Rao, 2013: 14).
- Citizenship DRC (2011). Blurring the boundaries: Citizen action across states and societies. Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. Brighton: IDS. See document online
- DFID (2013). How to note: Capacity development. London: Department for International Development. See document online
- Filmer, D. & Schady, N. (2009). School Enrollment, Selection and Test Scores. Policy Research Working Paper No. 4998. Washington D.C.: World Bank. See document online
- Fölscher, A. (2010). Budget transparency: New frontiers in transparency and accountability. Transparency and Accountability Initiative. London: Open Society Foundation. See document online
- Gaventa, J. & Barrett, G. (2010). So what difference does it make? Mapping the outcomes of citizen engagement. Working Paper No. 347. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies. See document online
- Kabeer, N. (2010). Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice? The challenge of intersecting inequalities. New York: MDG Achievement Fund, Institute of Development Studies and UNDP. See document online
- Combaz, E., & Mcloughlin, C. (2014). Voice, empowerment and accountability: Topic guide. Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham. See document online
- Kremer, M., Miguel, E. & Thornton, R. (2009). Incentives to learn. Review of Economics and Statistics, 91(3), 437-456. See document online
- Mansuri, G. & V. Rao (2013). Localizing Development: Does participation work? World Bank Policy Research Report. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. See document online
- McGee, R., & Gaventa. J. (2010). Review of impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives. Synthesis Report Prepared for the Transparency and Accountability Initiative Workshop, October 14–15. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies. See document online
- O’Meally, S. C. (2013). Mapping context for social accountability: A resource paper. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. See document online
- Overy, N. (2011). In the face of crisis: The treatment action campaign fights government inertia with budget advocacy and litigation. International Budget Partnership. See document online
- Ramachandran, V. and Goel, S. (2011). Tracking funds for india’s most deprived: The story of the national campaign for dalit human rights’ “Campaign 789”. International Budget Partnership. See document online
- Robinson, M. (ed.) (2008). Budgeting for the poor. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Schattan Coelho, V. (2006). Democratization of Brazilian health councils: The paradox of bringing the other side into the tent. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(3), 656–671. See document online
- Shah, A. (Ed.) (2007). Participatory budgeting. Public Sector Governance and Accountability Series. Washington D.C.: World Bank. See document online
- UNDP (2006). UNDP and civil society organizations. A toolkit for strengthening partnerships. New York: UNDP. See document online
- UNDP (2010). A user’s guide to civil society assessments. Oslo: UNDP Governance Centre. See document online
- UNESCO (2010). Education For All Global Monitoring Report. Reaching the marginalized. Oxford / Paris: Oxford University Press and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. See document online