Voice Lessons: Local Government Organizations, Social Organizations, and the Quality of Local Governance
Author: V Alatas, L Pritchett, and A Wetterberg
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Is all citizen participation a good thing? Or, do certain types of citizen participation improve local governance more than others? This paper, coming out of the World Bank’s Local Level Institutions study of local life in villages in rural Indonesia, examines the relationship between the involvement of villagers in social activities and the quality of local governance. Local governance indicators consist of the ability of the community to participate in village decisions, voice their opinion about village problems and access information about village funds, in addition to the perceived responsiveness of the village government to citizens’ problems. It finds that household involvement in social organisations, such as religious organisations, youth groups and credit unions, has a more positive net effect on local governance than does involvement in village government organisations. This suggests that greater attention should be paid to how local level participation is structured, rather than merely creating local participation mechanisms.
The authors surveyed the social activities of a sample of village households. This included the frequency with which they visited and were visited by other households and their participation in informal group activities (networks), formal group activities (social organisations) and village government organisations (such as the legislative council). The main findings include:
- Households that engage in a higher frequency of visits with other households reported only marginally more participation, voice and information and marginally better responsiveness of the village government to their problems
- Households that participate in social networks, such as collective harvesting, reported only marginally more participation, voice and information but significantly better responsiveness of the village government to their problems
- Households that are involved in village government organisations report significantly more participation, voice and information and better responsiveness of the village government to their problems
- Households that live in a village where other households are involved in village government organisations report significantly less participation, voice, information and government responsiveness to their problems
- More household involvement in social organisations has a more positive impact upon the ability of the community as a whole to participate in local decision-making, voice problems and access information than does involvement in village government organisations.
The above findings suggest that the way in which citizen participation is structured has an impact on local governance. In order to increase citizen participation, voice and information and to improve the responsiveness of local government to citizen problems, donors should take on board the following:
- The ability of the poor to benefit from decentralisation depends upon how local level organisations are structured, rather than their mere existence
- New local organisations and institutions created for the purpose of securing certain outcomes (such as beneficiary participation) must operate within a context of already existing social organisation and activity
- It may be more effective to design and implement projects with the participation of beneficiaries via locally initiated, less rigidly structured groups rather than structures imposed from above
- However, social organisations may be unable to maintain their positive spillover effects in terms of governance outcomes if they are charged with higher stakes decision-making tasks. This is because the behaviour of members will change as conditions change.
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Alatas, V., Pritchett, L. and Wetterberg, A., 2002, 'Voice Lessons: Local Government Organizations, Social Organizations, and the Quality of Local Governance' World Bank Working Paper 2981, Washington, D.C.