What works and what does not work in donor support to citizens’ voice and accountability (CV&A) interventions? Why? This report synthesises the findings of a major joint donor evaluation (2006-2008). The positive impact of CV&A interventions has so far remained limited. Donor expectations as to what such work can achieve are too high, and are based on misguided assumptions around the nature of voice and accountability, and the links between the two.
In the first phase of this evaluation, the Overseas Development Institute prepared a literature review, analysed 90 CV&A donor interventions, developed an evaluation framework to assess CV&A interventions and piloted this in Benin and Nicaragua. In the second phase, other independent organisations conducted five country case studies in Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Mozambique and Nepal.
Citizens’ Voice and Accountability are important dimensions of governance. Citizens need effective ‘voice’ in order to convey their views; and governments or states that can be held accountable for their actions are more likely to respond to the needs and demands articulated by their population. Some of the main entry points that donors have used for their CV&A work have included existing formal institutional frameworks in countries where these are available, political junctures, decentralisation, sectors and overall poverty and exclusion.
Donors assume that increasing citizens’ voice will make public institutions more responsive to citizens’ needs and demands and more accountable for their actions. They believe that this combination of voice and accountability will generate outcomes that will contribute to broad developmental outcomes, such as poverty reduction and the MDGs. No evidence of a direct contribution can be found within the sample, however. Findings include the following:
- Citizens’ Voice and Accountability (CV&A) work has emerged as a priority in the international development agenda from the 1990s onwards.
- Donors’ context awareness has not proven sufficient to enable them to grapple with challenges posed by the interaction between formal and informal institutions, the prevalence of the latter over the former in many instances, and underlying power relations and dynamics.
- Some examples of positive impact of CV&A interventions have emerged from the interventions analysed for this study. This is mostly at the level of positive changes in behaviour and practice, especially in terms of raising citizen awareness, empowering certain marginalised groups, and encouraging state officials.
- However, within the sample analysed, such impact/effects have remained limited and isolated, and have so far proven difficult to scale up.
- There is a tension between the long-term processes of transforming state-society relations and donors’ needs/desires to produce quick results. Scaling up and sustainability are also issues not currently sufficiently addressed within intervention design and implementation.
Donors need to build or sharpen ‘political intelligence’ in developing CV&A policies and undertaking CV&A interventions. They need to work with informal institutions and practices. Other core principles for improved donor engagement include:
- Focusing on CV&A mechanisms that address both voice and accountability within the same intervention.
- Focusing capacity building not only on technical skills but also on the political skills of both state and non-state actors. Such skills include the capacity to forge alliances, evidence and build a case, and influence others to make change happen.
- Improving key design and implementation features of CV&A interventions and aid effectiveness: recruit politically informed advisors; establish more realistic expectations of interventions; provide longer term, more flexible and sustainable support; and improve donor coordination.
- Diversifying channels and mechanisms of engagement and working more purposefully with actors outside donors’ ‘zone of comfort’. This includes promoting access to voice and influence among excluded, marginalised and otherwise discriminated against groups (such as women and ethnic minorities).