Co-governance for Accountability: Beyond “Exit” and “Voice"
Author: J Ackerman
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How can government accountability be improved through a combined strengthening of civic participation and state engagement? This paper from World Development surveys various accountability strategies, focusing on “co-governance for accountability” programmes in Brazil, Mexico, the US and India. It argues that, by giving social actors direct access to state institutions, these projects’ approaches have achieved significant pro-accountability success. Co-governance is the best way to tap in to the energy of society.
Accountability imposes “answerability” on public officials, enforced through sanctions for violation of public duties. Vertical accountability mechanisms, like elections, in which governments are accountable “downwards” to the people, can be a cumbersome and intermittent approach, applicable often just to elected officials. Horizontal accountability, in which governments report to other state agencies, can lack sufficient capacity to monitor state activity.
A third kind of accountability, based on direct societal participation, has been identified. These strategies include “societal participation” which challenges governments through the media or courts and “empowered participatory governance”, where citizens directly participate in state functions. “Co-governance” follows this latter approach, breaking the state monopoly on official executive oversight.
The four case studies suggest various strengths in the “co-governance” approach:
- Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which places 10 percent of the budget under direct citizen control, has reduced corruption, the political use of public funds and the capture of state institutions by wealthy interests. The scheme demonstrates that, with government support, poor people can effectively participate in core governance.
- Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is a citizen-run body which organises elections, distributes and monitors party funding, assesses media bias and manages public education campaigns. The lack of significant protests after the 2000 elections and IFE’s aggressive investigations of two parties indicates its pro-accountability success.
- Participatory reforms in the Chicago police and education services, involving community meetings and local school councils, have been followed by crime reductions and better “school productivity”. Poorer citizens tended to be more active; more accountability success was encountered with early citizen involvement and well-financed state support.
- A World Bank Municipal Funds Programme to support infrastructure improvement in rural Mexico engaged community committees to decide on, and oversee, funding priorities. Government transparency and institutional design had an impact on community participation, while the direct involvement of social actors improved accountability.
- Grassroots, anti-corruption initiatives in India were initiated by civil society after previous programmes had failed. The success of these projects depended on alliances with progressive government officials and the degree of state access provided to citizens.
“Co-governance” entails fostering civil society participation and simultaneously strengthening state apparatus, as decentralisation can reinforce inequalities without central supervision. Accountability can be achieved by challenging the “insulation” of state bureaucrats:
- Societal actors should be involved from the start of participatory mechanism design.
- Issues and locations where social demands exist around an accountability issue are the best “entry points” for co-governance mechanisms.
- Transparency from governments is important to encourage participation, but they should also actively stimulate broad-based social engagement.
- Participation can be sustained by institutionalising mechanisms through legal or government agency structures.
- Professionalism and independence in accountability participants is not sufficient to ensure long-term survival: reformers should encourage the involvement of diverse political actors.
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Ackerman, J., 2003, ‘Co-governance for Accountability: Beyond “Exit” and “Voice”’, University of California, Santa Cruz