Evidence of the impact of VEA interventions, including on development outcomes, is limited and inconsistent. Much of the empirical research in this area focuses on the effectiveness of VEA initiatives in achieving intermediate outputs (e.g. capacity development, numbers/who participated, service satisfaction), but there remain few rigorous evaluations of broader impacts (e.g. changing norms/attitudes, increased equity, collective action). Only a small body of literature has analysed the (potential) role of VEA in supporting development goals – largely focused on more measurable effects in the area of service delivery, particularly in the health and education sectors.
Albeit limited, the evidence presented below indicates that: i) voice and participation have had positive effects on education outcomes in a small number of isolated cases, but evidence of links between participation and inclusive institutions is mixed; ii) empowerment is positively associated with improvements in health-promoting behaviour and women’s protection against violence, although there remains a gap in evidence of the long-term effects of empowerment on social and political inclusion; and iii) transparency and accountability initiatives have had mixed effects, but transparency has been linked to reduced capture, and some positive impacts on access to services have been documented.
Several studies note that connections between VEA and human development outcomes are not automatic; while there is evidence of positive correlations, causality is more elusive. Overall, the effects of VEA on development processes depend on context: specifically formal and informal political systems, social norms, power relations, leadership capacities and pre-existing levels of equity or exclusion.
Citizen voice and participation are often expected to improve equity and make institutions – whether formal or informal – more inclusive. However, in practice the evidence for this is limited and contradictory. Positive associations between participation and greater state responsiveness and accountability have been found in several cases (Speer, 2012). For example, one recent rigorous study in Indonesia showed that citizen participation in school committees improved education outcomes, particularly when committees were elected and held joint planning meetings with elected village councils (Pradhan et al., 2013). In other cases, citizen engagement with public service providers has led to a backlash by the state, or capture by dominant groups (Gaventa & Barrett, 2012). Participatory development activities can ameliorate or exacerbate horizontal inequalities, depending on who participates (Mansuri & Rao, 2013). They can also generate apathy or disengagement among citizens if viewed as tokenistic.
Speer, J. (2012). Participatory Governance Reform: A Good Strategy for Increasing Government Responsiveness and Improving Public Services? World Development, 40(12), 2379-2398.
What are the public policy benefits of participatory governance, and what are the conditions for effective implementation? This literature review finds that there is limited and mixed evidence on the impacts of participatory governance, with either moderately positive impacts or no discernible impacts on access to public services, well-being and poverty. Evidence on the conditions for effective participatory governance is much more comprehensive, and there is broad agreement that capable and motivated civil society and government actors are key elements. More comparative cross-case research based on medium and large samples is needed for judging whether participatory governance arrangements can increase government responsiveness and service quality.
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Pradhan, M., et al. (2013). Improving educational quality through enhancing community participation: Results from a randomised field experiment in Indonesia.Washington, DC: World Bank.
This paper investigates the role of school committees in improving education quality. It presents the results of a large, randomized evaluation of 520 schools in Central Java. Some schools were randomly assigned to elect school committee members. Another treatment facilitated joint planning meetings between the school committee and the village council. Two other treatments provided resources to existing school committees. The study found that the institutional reforms, in particular those that involved elected committees linked with local councils, were most cost effective at improving learning. The success of the linkage intervention results from the fact that a more powerful community institution, the village council, was involved in planning. This provided the legitimacy needed to ensure that actions to improve learning were actually implemented.
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Gaventa, J. & Barrett, G. (2012). Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement. World Development, 40(12), 2399-2410
Does citizen engagement contribute to development and democracy? This meta-analysis (100 case studies on 20 countries) finds strong evidence that citizen engagement has often contributed to constructing citizenship, strengthening participation, enhancing responsiveness and accountability from states, and developing inclusive and cohesive societies. However, in a quarter of the cases citizen engagement has led to negative outcomes such as backlash from state or society, or capture by dominant groups. Citizen engagement can make a positive difference even in the least democratic settings, though not in a linear way. Participation in local associations has been strongly associated with positive outcomes, but engagement in formal participatory governance much less so.
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Mansuri, G. & Rao, V. (2013) Does Participation Improve Development Outcomes? In Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? Washington, DC: World Bank, 161-246
This chapter rigorously reviews almost 500 studies of participatory community development and decentralisation. It finds that on balance, greater community involvement modestly improves resource sustainability and infrastructure quality. However, the people who benefit are often the most literate, the least geographically isolated, and the most connected to wealthy and powerful people. Demand-driven, competitive application processes can exclude the weakest communities and exacerbate horizontal inequities. Some studies of community participation in health and education find modestly positive results overall, although the causal link between participation and service delivery outcomes is vague. The formation of community health groups appears to have virtually no effect on any health-related outcomes when done in isolation, but is effective when combined with training or upgrading of health facilities. Information given to households and communities about the quality of services in their community as well as government standards of service tends to improve outcomes.
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Citizenship DRC. (2011). Blurring the Boundaries. Citizen Action across States and Boundaries. A Summary of Findings from a Decade of Collaborative Research on Citizen Engagement. Brighton: Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability.
This report draws on ten years of research on citizenship and more than 150 case studies, including cases from post-conflict and insecure settings. It finds that citizen engagement has enabled reforms and helped enhance citizenship, public services, state accountability and capability, and rights and democracy. Impact is determined by legacies of citizen capacities and engagement, by institutional and political context, and context specifics such as the strength of internal champions and the framing of the issue. The report argues donors should work both horizontally and vertically across and within state and society. When it works, citizen engagement contributes to more effective citizen practices, which in turn help to create more responsive and accountable states and more cohesive societies. When it fails, however, engagement can lead to disempowerment, more clientelistic practices, a less responsive state and an increasingly divided society.
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