Voice, Empowerment and Accountability

Refugees from Guinea speaking at a local radio station in Cote d’Ivoire about the problems they face (Photo: Ami Vitale / World Bank)
Topic Guide
Supporting VEA: Approaches, tools and frameworks

Strengthening voice and participation

Evidence suggests the success of participatory and community-driven development projects depends on the degree to which communities are willing and able to mobilise, and the state’s commitment to responding to citizens' concerns (Mansuri & Rao, 2013). Citizen engagement may also depend on the opportunity costs of participation, which can be especially high for poor people. Development actors are increasingly aware of potential unintended consequences of engineering participatory processes: evidence shows participants tend to be wealthier, more educated, of higher social status by caste or ethnicity, male, and more politically connected than non-participants. In this situation, a large injection of resources for a participatory project can reinforce inequalities (Mansuri & Rao, 2013).

A recent evaluation of DFID’s support to civil society advocacy highlighted a need for more flexible and long-term partnerships that can identify and support innovative VEA activities (ICAI, 2013). Other recent case studies reinforce the importance of developing leadership, innovation and autonomy within civil society itself (Tremblay & Gutberlet, 2012). Combining evidence with citizen mobilisation – termed ‘evidence-based mobilisation’ – has been effective in driving pro-poor policy reform in some cases (Hooton, 2010).

Mansuri, G. & Rao, V. (2013). Can Participation be Induced? Some Evidence from Developing Countries. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 16(2), 284-304.
Can external actors successfully induce participation, or does it have to emerge organically? This article summarises the findings of a review of hundreds of World Bank participatory projects. It finds the success of these programmes is hindered by both endogenous factors and flawed design and implementation. Two especially important local obstacles are (1) entrenched interests of political agents, civil bureaucrats, and NGOs with either incentives to resist or capabilities to appropriate programme resources; and (2) poverty and illiteracy, as the poor and illiterate participate less and benefit less from participatory projects than do the wealthier, more educated, and more connected citizens. The principal lessons emerging from the study are that inequality, history, geography and political systems are important; communities do not necessarily have a ready stock of ‘social capital’ to mobilise; induced participation works best when supported by a responsive state; and donor agencies should exercise greater patience, adopt more flexible, long-term engagement, and learn from failure.
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Independent Commission for Aid Impact (2013). DFID’s Empowerment and Accountability Programming in Ghana and Malawi. Independent Commission for Aid Impact (Report No. 28). London: ICAI.
This independent evaluation examined two DFID programmes that aimed to strengthen citizen engagement with government in Ghana and Malawi through grants for civil society organisations (CSOs) and community monitoring of local services. The evaluation found that the programmes empowered communities to engage constructively with government to resolve problems with the delivery of public services and development programmes. However, DFID had often defaulted to CSO grant-making, which was not always strategic. Programmes were not always flexible enough to support innovation, rapid learning and scaling up. Monitoring was used primarily to demonstrate efficiency rather than to support learning. The programmes had not yet developed strategies to ensure the sustainability of their results. Recommendations include greater targeting of support for national advocacy and influencing by CSOs, using smaller portfolios, longer partnerships and more tailored capacity-building.
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Tremblay, C. & Gutberlet, J. (2012). Empowerment through Participation: Assessing the Voices of Leaders from Recycling Cooperatives in São Paulo, Brazil. Community Development Journal, 47(2), 282-302.
This qualitative assessment of a waste management project in metropolitan São Paulo used interviews and oral histories to explore the impact of capacity building programmes. It found that developing leadership and solidarity within recycling cooperatives helped foster their autonomy. Building networks with government was also important to secure recyclers’ participation in policy and implementation. Community outreach was effective at increasing awareness of the benefits of recycling, including improved working conditions.
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Tacchi, J., Watkins, J., & Keerthirathne, K. (2009). Participatory Content Creation: Voice, Communication, and Development. Development in Practice, 19(4-5), 573-584.
This mixed-method qualitative study examined a Sri Lankan community media project that enabled remote areas to access various ICTs and contribute to community radio programmes. It found that the programme enabled marginalised individuals and communities to have a voice in local public spheres and demonstrated that local content can generate locally meaningful debate around local issues. The study noted the importance of paying attention to context when considering what might be locally appropriate, relevant and bene?cial in participatory content creation.
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Hooton, N. A. (2010). Linking Evidence with User Voice for Pro-Poor Policy: Lessons from East Africa. Development in Practice, 20(8), 985-1000.
This qualitative research compares two cases of successful pro-poor policy changes that followed evidence-based mobilisations: new city ordinances on urban agriculture in Kampala (Uganda) and changes in dairy-marketing policy and practice in Kenya. It finds that the voices of farmers, traders and consumers, supported by good evidence, can provide powerful pressure for change, whether these voices are conveyed directly or indirectly (through representatives or even video). The key success factors were links with civil society organisations (CSOs) and user groups, and strong links with ‘formal’ actors of policy processes.
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For further resources, see the section on Communication for social change and transformation in the GSDRC's communication and governance topic guide.


Transparency and accountability

Thinking and working politically