Political empowerment

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Introduction: social, economic and political empowerment

Empowerment and accountability are interrelated, with considerable overlap between them. The empowerment and accountability agenda thus takes an integrated view of how people can gain the necessary resources, assets, and capabilities to demand accountability from those who hold power. This requires not only social and political empowerment, which forms the basis of transformed relations with the state, but also economic empowerment, which enhances people’s abilities to engage. The underlying logic is that greater empowerment also allows for greater accountability.

Work to empower poor people and give them greater control over their own development is closely linked to, and reinforces, work to build accountable and responsive government institutions that can meet the needs of poor people. It also supports the development of inclusive political institutions through which poor people’s interests can be meaningfully represented. Access to information, for example, is an important pre-condition for citizens’ ability to hold decision makers to account. Free and independent media, civil and political society can also strengthen the demand for accountability. They play a key role in providing, collecting and analysing information to inform advocacy as well as citizen engagement in social accountability mechanisms. Civil society mobilisation is a way of supporting citizens’ political empowerment by amplifying their voices, as well as an important vertical accountability mechanism for holding state institutions and service providers to account.

It is commonly argued that supporting people to influence the policy-making process and participate in decision-making is critical to the development of policies that reflect the needs and interests of the poor. Promoting political participation is an important way of improving state accountability and responsiveness, and empowering the poor. This can encompass a range of approaches, including strengthening democratic citizenship, promoting engagement between the state and civil society, promoting access to information, and strengthening citizens’ associations. Decentralisation, civil society activism, and the transparency of and access to information also play a key role in strengthening accountability.

Deepening democracy

While democracy is a highly contested concept, it is generally agreed that, fundamentally, it relates to how people exercise control and scrutiny over political institutions. There is also broad consensus that in order for democratisation processes to be sustainable, they need to come from within. The ‘deepening democracy’ debate – which traditionally focused on the consolidation of democratic norms and principles in governance and society – has evolved from discussing whether and how citizens should engage in the political process, to analysing how to ensure inclusiveness of participation and deepen citizen engagement in decision-making processes. Donors support pro-poor political participation as a means of improving state accountability and responsiveness, and empowering the poor. But have democratisation processes really increased pro-poor political participation? If not, what are the barriers to poor people’s participation?

Gaventa, J., 2006, ‘Triumph, Deficit or Contestation: Deepening the “Deepening Democracy” Debate’, IDS Working Paper 264, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
What are the strengths and weaknesses of current approaches to democracy? What challenges exist in efforts to promote ‘deeper’ democracy? This paper surveys current debates, covering four main strands: ‘civil society’ democracy, participatory democracy, deliberative democracy and empowered participatory governance. It argues that democracy is an ongoing process of contestation, rather than a set of standardised institutional designs: approaches to democracy should combine a range of democratic models.
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Rakner, L., Rocha Menocal, A. and Fritz, V., 2007, ‘Democratisation’s Third Wave and the Challenges of Democratic Deepening: Assessing International Democracy Assistance and Lessons Learned’, Research Paper for the Advisory Board to Irish Aid, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London
What are the main challenges facing incipient democratic regimes in the developing world? How can donors best support democratisation in these countries? This paper from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) argues that incomplete democratisation processes and the predominance of ‘hybrid regimes’ pose serious challenges to the sustainability, capacity, responsiveness and effectiveness of democratic institutions. In order to be sustainable, democratisation impulses need to come from within. External actors have a positive role to play in efforts to strengthen democratic structures, but they cannot act as substitutes when domestic support is lacking.
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A growing body of literature discusses how democratic politics can embody popular demands for participation, social justice and peace. The papers below argue that approaches to building democratic political systems need to go beyond the introduction of minimal, procedural democracy.

Shankland, A., 2006, ‘Making Space for Citizens: Broadening the ‘New Democratic Spaces’ for Citizen Participation’, IDS Policy Briefing No. 27, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
The limits of democratisation strategies which focus only on the formal electoral arena are becoming increasingly clear. There is a growing emphasis on deepening democracy, and emerging ‘new democratic spaces’ seek to extend the range and scope of opportunities for citizen participation. This briefing highlights the key challenges involved in making these spaces effective forms of citizen participation. It argues that much more attention needs to be paid to contextual factors and institutional design.
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Smith, G., 2005, ‘Power Beyond the Ballot: 57 Democratic Innovations from Around the World’, The Power Inquiry, London
Which democratic mechanisms might increase and deepen popular participation in the political process? This paper assesses the capacity of various ‘democratic innovations’ to broaden citizen engagement and deepen participation in agenda-setting and decision-making. It also assesses their adaptability and cost-effectiveness. It argues that creative approaches can improve democratic engagement, although political resistance and civic suspicion need to be countered through cultural change, well-resourced support and imaginative institutional design.
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Cornwall, A. and Goetz, A. M., 2005, ‘Democratising Democracy: Feminist Perspectives’, Democratisation, Vol. 12, No. 5, pp. 783-800
Increasing numbers of women have gained entry to formal political spaces. To what extent has this translated into their political influence, or into gains in policies that redress gendered inequities and inequalities? This article explores the factors that affect and enable women’s political effectiveness in different democratic arenas. It argues that women’s political interests are not necessarily influenced by their sex, but by their “political apprenticeship”, or pathway into politics. To enhance the potential of women’s political participation, democracy itself must be democratised, including by building new pathways into politics.
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Decentralisation is believed to improve service delivery, bring government closer to the people, and allow citizens greater opportunity to participate in decision making, as well as to learn democratic skills and how to exercise their rights. The ‘empowerment’ of local authorities through decentralisation is seen as a way of localising democracy and making public services more accountable. It is also argued that decentralisation can empower communities to hold authorities to account through direct contact with service providers.

Wong, S. and Guggenheim, S., 2005, ‘Community-driven Development: Decentralisation’s Accountability Challenge’, in East Asia Decentralizes: Making Local Government Work, The World Bank, Washington D.C., pp. 253-267
How have community-driven development (CDD) projects contributed to the effectiveness of decentralisation reforms? This paper surveys CDD programmes in Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines to assess how far this approach improves accountability, service delivery and regulatory frameworks in local government. It concludes that CDD presents opportunities for enhancing civic participation, state responsiveness and cost-effective service provision, although it requires further evaluation.
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Helling, l., Serrano, R., Warren, D., 2005, ‘Linking Community Empowerment, Decentralized Governance, and Public Service Provision Through a Local Development Framework’, World Bank, Washington DC
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There is a risk that decentralisation can serve to empower local elites rather than the population as a whole. In order to make decentralised governance truly empowering there is a need to recognise, understand, and address underlying structural inequalities.

Gaventa, J., 2004, ‘Towards Participatory Local Governance: Assessing the Transformative Possibilities’, in Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation, eds. S Hickey and G Mohan, Zed Books, London, pp. 25-41
The concept of participation is increasingly being related to rights of citizenship and democratic governance. This is apparent in the multitude of programmes for decentralised governance in both Southern and Northern countries. Linking citizen participation to the state at the local or grassroots level raises important questions about the nature of democracy and how to achieve it. This chapter outlines the importance and potential for assessing the transformative possibilities of citizen engagement with local government.
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International Development Research Centre (IDRC), 2008, ‘Policy Recommendations of the International Conference on Decentralization, Local Power and Women’s Rights: Global Trends in Participation, Representation and Access to Public Services’, policy recommendations from the international conference, Mexico City
How can equal, equitable, and effective citizenship be promoted in relation to decentralisation? This report defines a global agenda on gender and decentralisation. Decentralisation has the potential to empower citizens, including excluded groups such as women. However, it can also reinforce elite power and discrimination against women. It frequently fails to address not only gender discrimination, but also other structural divisions and inequalities. Women’s effective participation must be facilitated through measures that include quotas and reserved seats in political bodies, and support for women’s capacity development and networking.
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Cornwall, A., Romano, J. and Shankland, A., 2008, ‘Brazilian Experiences of Participation and Citizenship: A Critical Look’, IDS Discussion Paper 389, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
What lessons does Brazil offer for democratisation in other countries? This study examines the meanings and practices of participation and citizenship in the north and north east of Brazil. Participatory budgeting, sectoral policy councils and conferences at each tier of government have provided spaces for new meanings and expressions of citizenship and democracy. These innovations may offer lessons on the pre-conditions for effective participatory governance as well as on institutional design.
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Transparency and access to information

Access to accurate, clear and relevant information enables poor people to know about issues that are critical to their lives – such as, amongst other things, their basic rights and entitlements, the availability of basic services, and work opportunities. It also helps them to understand government policies and programmes, how participation and decision-making works, and their role in these processes. Greater knowledge about these matters enables citizens to engage in an informed way in governance and other decision-making processes, and to effectively monitor and hold government to account. Communication structures and processes – including a free media and access to information – thus enable the two-way exchange of information between the state and its citizens. Some experts argue that access to and use of information is a precondition to any form of citizen-led accountability.

Leach, M., and Scoones, I., 2007, ‘Mobilising Citizens: Social Movements and the Politics of Knowledge’, IDS Working Paper No. 276, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
What motivates citizens to mobilise, and why? This paper reflects on case studies of citizen mobilisation in the North and South, arguing that the politics of knowledge is central to how movements are mobilised, framed and identified. Mobilised citizens are knowledgeable actors engaged in dynamic, networked politics, involved in shifting forms of social solidarity and identification at local, national and global levels. Understanding mobilisation processes and the implications for citizenship requires analysis from a combination of perspectives.
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UNDP, 2003, ‘Access to Information’, Practice Note, United Nations Development Programme, Oslo Governance Centre, Oslo
How does access to information support good governance and poverty reduction? What needs to be included in the effective design of access to information programmes? This note argues that access to information is an empowerment tool that underpins democratic governance, and which is also fundamental to other priority programme areas. It is important to: strengthen the legal and regulatory environment for freedom and pluralism in information; support capacity strengthening, networking, and higher standards of media at national and local levels; raise awareness of rights to official information and strengthen mechanisms to provide it; and to strengthen communication mechanisms for vulnerable groups.
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Often, people who do not have access to basic services are not able to demand better service from providers. Providing information is the first step to improving accountability to excluded groups – information helps people to understand the services they are entitled to, and the mechanisms available to them to demand this level of service.

Banerjee, A., et al., 2006, ‘Can Information Campaigns Spark Local Participation and Improve Outcomes? A Study of Primary Education in Uttar Pradesh, India’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3967, World Bank, Washington, DC
What role can local community participation in basic service delivery play in promoting development outcomes? This World Bank working paper considers the participation of Village Education Committees (VECs) in improving primary education services in Uttar Pradesh, India. It reports findings from a survey of public schools, households and VEC members on the state of education services and the extent of community participation in delivering such services. Findings suggest that local participation might be constrained by lack of information regarding VECs and that substantial apathy exists towards education as an area for public action.
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The media can play a powerful role in shaping and influencing public debate and opinion. An independent media can improve governance by raising citizen awareness of social issues, and creating a civic forum for debate. It can also amplify the voice of marginalised and excluded groups. In this way, the media can act as a powerful accountability mechanism and means through which people are empowered to hold other actors to account.

Hudock, A., 2003, ‘Hearing the Voices of the Poor: Encouraging Good Governance and Poverty Reduction Through Media Sector Support’, World Learning for International Development, Washington, DC
This paper argues that a robust and independent media can provide timely, relevant and clear information to facilitate dialogue between policymakers and citizens and serve as a watchdog of political processes. Facilitating media involvement in PRSPs can enhance informed participation by encouraging serious debate and disseminating representative information. The PRSP can also propose legal and regulatory reforms to support the development of an independent media.
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Berger, G., 2009, ‘Freedom of Expression, Access to Information, and Empowerment of People’, UNESCO, Paris
How can media freedom and access to information support the wider development objective of empowering people? This book highlights freedom of expression and the right to information as fundamental human rights. Press freedom and access to information support participatory democracy and empower people by giving them information that can help them gain control over their own lives. An open, pluralistic media sector relies on political will and an enabling legal and regulatory environment.
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See also the discussion of media development in the topic guide on Communication and Governance.

The potential contribution to good governance of access to information lies in both the willingness of government to be transparent, as well as the ability of citizens to demand and use information. In many developing countries, there are real structural and political barriers which hinder both the capacity and incentives of governments to produce information, and the ability of citizens to claim their right to information and to use it to demand better governance and public services. For example, the capacity of public bodies to provide information can be weak, and officials may be unaware of their obligations. Or governments may not be actively supportive of the right to information, particularly in contexts where there is a legacy of undemocratic political systems or closed government. Many developing countries do not have adequate legal provisions for the right to information, which if enforced adequately and acted upon by rights-holders, provides a key accountability mechanism between citizens and decision-makers, and in theory, should increase government openness and responsiveness to requests for information.

Daruwala, M. and Nayak, V. (eds), 2007, ‘Our Rights, Our Information: Empowering People to Demand Rights through Knowledge’, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi
This Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report provides case studies to show that information empowers people to demand adherence to the whole range of their human rights. By establishing the right to information in domestic law and by setting up public information systems, governments can enhance citizens’ participation in governance, advance equitable economic development, reduce poverty and fight corruption.
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Pande, S., 2008, ‘The Right to Information and Societal Accountability: The Case of the Delhi PDS Campaign’, IDS Bulletin, vol. 38 no. 6, pp 47-55
To what extent can tools like the Right to Information (RTI) help ensure transparency and accountability? This article from the IDS Bulletin draws on the example of Parivartan, a Delhi-based citizens’ group working on issues of corruption and accountability. This group has used the RTI to mobilise poor people and has used information to generate awareness through the media, holding government to account. The combination of a dedicated grassroots activist organisation and a RTI Act was necessary for achieving successful accountability.
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Citizens and civil society organizations often do not have the skills and knowledge to process, analyse or use complex information. They may also have limited capacity to conduct advocacy, and to develop the networks and platforms that are needed in order to ensure that the concerns of their constituencies are heard. Experience suggests that effective communication plays a critical role in building consensus, cooperation and support among key stakeholders in the pursuit of reforms. The paper below argues that communications can persuade stakeholders to join a coalition through ‘framing for collective action’ – which emphasises their shared purpose, as well as the potential benefits for individual stakeholders. However, it is important that communications are able to: (a) build trust among members to enable them to collaborate effectively; and (b) draw on members’ diversity by using their access to different networks and interest groups to increase the coalition’s scope and influence.

CommGAP, 2008, ‘Coalition Building’, Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP), World Bank, Washington DC
This report provides an introduction to the issue of coalition-building and provides some information about how coalitions are built. Drawing on a wide range of case studies, the paper outlines several key coalition building stages that increase the likelihood of success of change initiatives. It adds the caveat that coalition building can be carried out in different sequences and that reform leaders should always take stock of the ways in which coalitions have previously been successfully built and made sustainable.
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Some analysts have found that the actual evidence on transparency’s impacts on accountability is not as strong as one might expect. Others argue that the process through which information accessibility affects accountability is still poorly understood.

Bellver, A., and Kaufmann, D., 2005, ‘Transparenting Transparency: Initial Empirics and Policy Applications’, Draft discussion paper presented at the IMF conference on transparency and integrity 6-7 July 2005, World Bank, Washington, DC
Can access to information and transparency reforms improve governance and development outcomes? How can transparency reforms be empirically measured and effectively implemented? This World Bank paper reviews existing literature and develops and applies a new transparency index for 194 countries. While causality remains difficult to determine, transparency is associated with better socio-economic and human development indicators, and with higher competitiveness and lower corruption. Where there is political will for transparency reform, much progress can be made without excessive resource requirements.
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McGee, R. And Gaventa, J., 2010, ‘Review of Impact and Effectiveness of Accountability and Transparency Initiatives’, DFID
Transparency and accountability have emerged over the past decade as key ways to address both developmental failures and democratic deficits. In the development context, the argument is that through greater accountability, ‘leaky pipes’ of corruption and inefficiency will be repaired, aid will be channelled more effectively, and in turn development initiatives will produce greater and more visible results. For scholars and practitioners of democracy, a parallel argument holds that following the twentieth-century wave of democratisation, democracy now has to ‘deliver the goods’, especially in terms of material outcomes, and that new forms of democratic accountability can help it do so. While traditional forms of state-led accountability are increasingly found to be inadequate, thousands of multi-stakeholder and citizen-led approaches have come to the fore, to supplement or supplant them.
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However, several studies – both at the macro and micro level, and including econometric studies – have found a correlation between political and economic transparency and improved governance and socio-economic indicators. The research study below analysed empirical data on mass media penetration, the spread of ICT and press freedom to assess their impact on corruption, inequality and poverty, and found that higher mass media penetration (in terms of newspapers, radio and TV ownership) is associated with lower corruption.

Bandyopadhyay, S., 2009, ‘Knowledge-Based Economic Development: Mass Media and the Weightless Economy’, STICERD, London School of Economics and Political Science, London
This paper examines associations of mass media and information and communications technologies (ICT) as knowledge-based infrastructures on some economic development outcomes. It finds that several mass media and ICT penetration variables are negatively associated with three development outcomes: corruption, inequality and poverty. Of the media variables, newspapers are observed to have a robust negative association with both corruption and inequality. Radios and TVs are also observed to have a robust negative association with inequality and poverty. ICTs and telephony infrastructures.association with corruption, inequality and poverty are mixed. There is some robust evidence of the negative association of ICT expenditures with corruption. An ICT index is constructed, which also has a negative association with corruption. ICTs association with inequality varies with the sample chosen – it is positively associated with inequality for the sample with both developed and developing countries, but negatively associated with inequality for the developing country sample. Finally, ICT expenditure is negatively associated with poverty.
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The paper below finds that literacy rates among school children in Benin are higher in villages exposed to signals from a larger number of community radio stations. The authors argue that households with greater access to community radio are more likely to make financial investments in the education of their children.

Keefer, P. and Khemani, S., 2011, ‘Mass Media and Public Services: The Effect of Radio Access on Public Education in Benin’, Policy Research Working Paper, World Bank, Washington, DC
Does radio access improve public service provision? And if so, does it do so by increasing government accountability to citizens, or by persuading households to take advantage of publicly-provided services? Using data from Benin, this paper finds that literacy rates among school children are higher in villages exposed to signals from a larger number of community radio stations. However, government inputs into village schools and household knowledge of government education policies are no different in villages with greater access to community radio than in other villages. Instead, households with greater access are more likely to make financial investments in the education of their children.
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Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can also promote government transparency and accountability, and empower people by increasing flows of information between government and citizens. The increasing use of mobile telephones for film and photo documentation and the use of SMS for networking and mobilisation have created new opportunities for citizen participation.

Social media has played a critical role in recent uprisings, such as 2011’s Arab Spring, when political blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other online content helped to organise political action and build solidarity between opposition groups.

Howard, P. N. and Hussain, M.H., 2011, ‘The Role of Digital Media’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 35-48
What role did digital media play during the “Arab Spring”? At first, digital media allowed democratization movements to develop new tactics for catching dictators off guard. Eventually, authoritarian governments worked social media into their own counter-insurgency strategies. What have we learned about the role of digital media in modern protest? Digital media helped to turn individualized, localized, and community-specific dissent into structured movements with a collective consciousness about both shared grievances and opportunities for action.
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Manrique, M. 2011, ‘Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya’, Policy Brief, FRIDE, Madrid
International support for Kenyan NGOs working on democracy promotion faces important limitations. An emerging layer of activists and initiatives is changing the tools and discourses through which democratic demands are voiced. Donors should respond to this by reassessing their relations with, and even ideas of, domestic actors.
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Hoffmann, B., 2010, ‘Civil Society 2.0? – How the Internet Changes State-Society Relations in Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Cuba’, GIGA Working Paper no. 156, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg
How has the spread of digital media across international boundaries affected the role of civil society under authoritarian regimes? Examining the case of Cuba, this paper compares civil society dynamics prior to the internet – in the early to mid-1990s – and a decade later. It finds that in the pre-internet period, civil society’s focus was on behind-the-scenes struggles for associational autonomy within the state-socialist framework. A decade later, digital media has supported the emergence of a new type of public sphere in which the civil society debate involves autonomous citizen action. However, its effects on political reform depend on the extent to which web-based voices connect with off-line debate and action.
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The use of ICTs is also thought to increase people’s access to markets and jobs, and to help make public services more responsive and accountable to users. Donors have supported public information and literacy campaigns via mobile telephones, as well as citizen monitoring of government and donor policies and programmes from the ground up.

Berdou, E., 2011, ‘Mediating Voices and Communicating Realities: Using Information Crowdsourcing Tools, Open Data Initiatives and Digital Media to Support and Protect the Vulnerable and Marginalised’, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
Can the new generation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) enhance community empowerment and democratisation? This report looks at the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable and marginalised communities presented by the latest wave of ICT innovations. Assessing ICT projects in Kenya, Haiti, Peru, Georgia and Egypt, it notes the challenges of sustaining participation and of governing new information commons in under-resourced and politically contested spaces.
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Beardon, H. et al., n.d., ‘ICTs for Development: Empowerment or Exploitation? Learning from the Reflect ICTs project’, ActionAid UK, London
This report considers the value of ICTs for development (ICT4D) from a rights and empowerment perspective. It presents lessons from ActionAid’s Reflect ICTs project that challenge how ICT4D is currently understood and practiced. ICTs cannot create communication capacity, and should not start from scratch. They should be built into existing structures to enhance what works, or to increase equal participation in existing communication channels. This means enhancing resources provided by other projects, such as community radio, television stations or telecentres, and recognising less formal communication arenas and structures.
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Walton, O., 2010, ‘Helpdesk Research Report: New ICTs for Development’, GSDRC, University of Birmingham
ICTs are being used to support development outcomes in five primary areas. First, they have helped to improve poor people’s access to markets, financial services and employment. Second, they have helped to improve the provision of services to poor people by governments, the private sector and NGOs, and to make these services more responsive to the needs of poor communities. Third, they have supported improvements in accountability, transparency and participation, by allowing citizens to publicise their concerns and grievances, share ideas, present information and hold governments to account. Fourth, they have contributed to improvements in security and supported efforts to protect human rights. Fifth, ICTs have affected the operational approaches of donors and other development actors. Recent research has stressed the need to shift from a technology-led approach, where the emphasis is on technical innovation, towards an approach that emphasises innovative use of already established technology (mobiles, radio, television).
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Increased access to technology is thought to be particularly empowering for women, especially in terms of enhancing decision-making ability and social standing.

Melhem, S., Tandon, N., and Morrell, C., 2009, ‘Information and Communication Technologies for Women’s Socio-Economic Empowerment’, World Bank, Washington DC
How do ICTs impact women and men differently? What are the implications of women’s lack of engagement, participation and leadership in the use of ICTs for business and development? This report provides an overview of issues relating to women and Information and Communication Technology, including issues of: access and education; inclusion in the ICT workforce; qualifications and appetite for ICT career adoption; and opportunities and threats of ICTs on women’s lives. A ‘one policy fits all’ approach to mainstreaming ICTs has thus far been unsuccessful; a ‘female first’ policy is required. The impact on and engagement of women should be a key consideration in all projects.
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GSMA/Cherie Blair Foundation/Vital Wave Consulting, 2010, ‘Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity’, GSMA/Cherie Blair Foundation/Vital Consulting, London
How can mobile phones advance the socio-economic development of women? This report highlights the gender gap in mobile phone ownership in low- and middle-income countries. Closing this gap would bring the benefits of mobile phones to 300 million women and represent a 13 billion US dollar opportunity for mobile operators. Mobile phone ownership offers women opportunities such as improved access to education, health, business and employment. Empowering women with mobile phones requires the involvement of the private, non-profit and public sectors.
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However, the success of ICTs is dependent on the political will of organisations to be transparent. In addition, ICTs can only bring about improvements in government-citizen communication if citizens have the capacity to access and use them. In many developing countries, access to ICTs is still limited, particularly in remote areas.

Association for Progressive Communications, 2009, ‘ICTs for Democracy: Information and Communication Technologies for the Enhancement of Democracy – with a Focus on Empowerment’, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Stockholm
What is the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to support processes of democratisation and empowerment in developing countries? This report, prepared for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, outlines the theoretical background to discussions on ICTs and democracy, and presents case studies from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It argues for raising awareness and understanding of ICTs, and for making ICTs central to development cooperation and support for democratisation in the case study countries.
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For more information on the role and impact of ICTs in development, please see the social media section of the GSDRC’s Communication and Governance Topic Guide.

The topic guide on Communication and Governance also discusses access to information and its constraints.

Citizen engagement with policy processes

It is increasingly argued that the role of organised citizens in influencing change by articulating their needs and concerns, mobilising to press for change, and monitoring the performance of government institutions should receive greater attention from development actors. Through its research, the Citizenship DRC has collected evidence which shows that – even where formal mechanisms of accountability are weak – citizens can and do engage with states through collective action to create policy reforms. Poor people’s organizations, associations, participatory fora, federations, networks, and social movements are thus key players in the institutional landscape. Therefore, as important as the relationship between citizens and the state, is a ‘horizontal’ view of citizenship – one which focuses on the relationship between citizens.

Citizenship DRC, 2011, ‘Blurring the Boundaries: Citizen Action Across States and Societies’, Citizenship DRC, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
This report synthesises the findings of ten years of research from the Development Resource Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. Findings suggest that governments often become more capable, accountable and responsive when state-led reform to strengthen institutions of accountability and social mobilisation occur simultaneously. Further, change happens not just through strategies that work on both sides of the governance supply and demand equation, but also through strategies that work across them: it is important to link champions of change from both state and society.
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Katito, G. and Aggad, F., 2009, ‘Strategies for Effective Policy Advocacy: Demanding Good Governance in Africa’, Research Report 3, Governance and APRM Programme, South African Institute of International Affairs, Johannesburg
What strategies have been effective in influencing policy reform? This study distils lessons learned by a handful of African civil society coalitions on the dynamics of demanding improved governance of governments that are often averse to governance reform.
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Stalker, C. with Sandberg, D., 2011, ‘Capacity Building for Advocacy’, Praxis Paper 25, INTRAC, London
What has been learnt about how civil society organisations should be conducting advocacy, engaging with and influencing key policies and decision makers? This paper examines current practice, experiences and theory in advocacy capacity building.
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Jha, C., et al., 2009, ‘Citizen Mobilisation in Nepal: Building on Nepal’s Tradition of Social Mobilisation to make Local Governance more Inclusive and Accountable’, Report prepared for DFID, World Bank and SDC
How can citizen mobilisation be supported to make local governance more inclusive and accountable in Nepal? This report analyses social mobilisation in Nepal. Transformational mobilisation processes are needed to build peoples’ capacity to actively participate in their own governance. Lessons learned include providing evidence of change in the ‘capability to demand’ and addressing obstacles in processes that target the disadvantaged by engaging the elites as ‘champions of the poor’.
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Tadesse, E. et al., 2006, ‘The People Shall Govern: A research report on public participation in the policy processes’, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and Action for Conflict Transformation (ACTION), Johannesburg
How can public participation in government policy formulation and implementation be improved? This paper examines two South African case studies to evaluate the extent and effectiveness of citizens’ engagement in domestic and foreign policy. It argues that, despite important post-Apartheid reforms, public participation is still limited. Two-way information flows between governments and communities need to be fostered. Capacity-building and organisational change in government, civil society and the media could encourage a more participatory governance approach.
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The presence of active, informed and coordinated civil society organisations (CSOs) is generally regarded as another important precondition to amplifying the voices of the poor. CSOs play a key role in collecting, analysing and using information to bridge information gaps. They also contribute significantly to empowering marginalised groups, acting as checks and balances, and providing opportunities for people to engage in collective action and social mobilisation.

Tandon, R., 2003, ‘Civil Society and Policy Reforms’, IDS Civil Society and Governance Policy Brief No. 9, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
How can civil society’s engagement in the policy-making process benefit the marginalised? This brief draws on case studies from India. It identifies three ways in which civil society engages in the policy making process in that country: resisting policy reform, including certain constituencies in policy making and implementing existing progressive public policies. It concludes that the latter type of intervention is the least visible and analysed, yet the most urgently needed to realise better and more concrete results in favour of marginalised communities.
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Civil society actors are also becoming involved in independent budget analysis and advocacy initiatives designed to enhance the transparency and poverty focus of public budgets.

Robinson, M., 2006, ‘Budget Analysis and Policy Advocacy: The Role of Non-Governmental Public Action’, Working Paper no. 279, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
What effect do civil society budget groups have on public budget allocations and implementation? Can they contribute towards social justice objectives or strengthening democracy? This working paper from the Institute of Development Studies examines the impact and significance of independent budget analysis and advocacy initiatives designed to enhance the transparency and poverty focus of public budgets. Using research on six civil society budget groups in Brazil, Croatia, India, Mexico, South Africa and Uganda, it argues that while the structure of the budget process makes substantial changes in expenditure priorities difficult to achieve, budget groups can increase the accountability of decision-makers.
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Increasingly, efforts are being made to help civil society organisations to influence policy more effectively. Support involves promoting understanding of the socio-political context, better research communication and use of evidence, and the creation of an explicit influencing strategy.

Court, J, et al., 2006, ‘Policy Engagement: How Civil Society Can be More Effective’, Rapid Programme, Overseas Development Institute, London
How can civil society organisations strengthen their influence on government policy processes? This report argues that a combination of unfavourable political contexts and weaknesses in the strategies, evidence-use and capacities of CSOs has limited the effectiveness of civil society. It recommends that CSOs enhance their networking, research and communication skills and their understanding of political processes in order to improve their policy engagement.
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However, the dynamics of how citizens mobilise differs depending on the political context. The general relevance of social movements to poverty reduction is clear; poverty is a product of prevailing relations of power, and social movements emerge to challenge or deepen these prevailing relations of power. But the roles of civil society mobilisation in poverty reduction will vary significantly depending on the political context and the space provided by the state for citizen engagement. This can range from the state providing constitutionally mandated ‘invited’ spaces for civil society actors, to fragile and conflict-affected contexts where powerholders are less willing to open up debate to citizens. This in turn shapes the most appropriate and effective strategies adopted by civil society actors.

Bebbington, A., 2009, ‘Poverty Reduction and Social Movements: A Framework With Cases’, paper prepared as a background paper for UNRISD’s forthcoming Poverty Report, Institute for Development Policy and Management and Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester, UK
This paper argues there are many causal pathways through which social movements can affect poverty, but that the relative significance of any particular pathway depends on the domain of contention in question, the type of social movement involved, and the more general political economy context. The general relevance of social movements to poverty reduction is clear; poverty is a product of prevailing relations of power, and social movements emerge to challenge or deepen these prevailing relations of power. But the roles of movements in poverty reduction will vary significantly depending on the political regime of the moment – and that context defines both the most likely, as well as potentially the most productive, strategy for movements to assume. One of the most important effects of movements (when they are “successful”) is to induce the creation of new public institutions that contribute to poverty reduction.
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Mohanty, R. et al. (eds.), 2011, ‘States of mobilisation? A comparison of modes of interaction between states and social actors in India, Brazil & South Africa’, African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, University of the Western Cape
In what circumstances is citizen mobilisation to claim rights and entitlements responded to by democratic states in ways that deepen democracy? This book explores the interaction between citizen mobilisation and the state in India, Brazil and South Africa. It finds that the gains won through mobilisation are often selective and partial, and sometimes non-existent. Mobilisation that adopts a critique or protest approach seems less likely to elicit a positive state response than collaborative engagement. State actors prefer to interact with citizens within their own policy frameworks and spaces, and within their own ideologies. State engagement with mobilised citizens in the countries studied has had both progressive and regressive outcomes: it has increased space for participation in policymaking, and increased state resistance to critique.
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Haider, H., 2010, ‘Community Empowerment Outcomes – South Asia’, Helpdesk Research Report, GSDRC, Birmingham
The vast majority of the literature focuses on the empowerment of women in the community. Some of the key outcomes of empowerment initiatives in South Asia can be catagorised into personal, economic, political and social outcomes. The literature is split on whether the empowerment of women necessarily translates into community empowerment and collective action. Other lessons from the literature highlight that firstly, the mere set-up of participatory community institutions is not self-activating. Secondly, it may be beneficial to extend targeting beyond the poor. Thirdly, it may be beneficial to rely on indigenous culture and local values as a foundation for social transformation, rather than the adoption of universal values.
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Amplifying the voices of the poor will have little impact if there is not a strong commitment within the government to respond. Institutional arrangements that preserve the rights of citizens to participate are important enabling conditions.

Fung, A., 2003, Recipes for Public Spheres: Eight Institutional Design Choices and Their Consequences’, The Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 11, No. 3, Pp. 338-367
How can the quality of civic engagement and public deliberation be improved? This article examines ‘minipublics’ (deliberately convened publics). Educative forums and participatory advisory panels, for example, inform officials of citizens’ interests, values and preferences, and problem-solving and participatory governance minipublics provide richer information about what is and is not working in operations, strategies and project design. Institutional design choices have implications for the character of participation, how officials and citizens are informed, the fostering of citizenship skills, connections between public deliberation and state action, and public mobilisation. Citizens are more likely to gain democratic skills and dispositions where deliberations have tangible consequences for them. Iterated interaction increases both incentives and opportunities for cooperation.
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National and local laws and policies mandating citizen participation can be important enabling conditions, although their effectiveness will depend on the historical and cultural context in which they are applied and the actors involved.

McGee, R. et al, 2003, ‘Legal Frameworks for Citizen Participation: Synthesis Report’, Learning Initiative on Citizen Participation and Local Governance (Logolink), Sao Paulo
What kind of legal framework best enables citizen participation in local governance? What contextual factors constrain or enable citizen participation? This report from the Learning Initiative on Citizen Participation and Local Governance (LogoLink) synthesises the findings of a research project on frameworks for citizen participation in East Africa, Latin America, South and South-East Asia and the North.
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Social movements and coalitions

In order to exert real influence, citizen action must scale up from the local to the national. While poor people’s membership-based organisations may be effective in supporting their immediate survival needs, these organisations are often constrained by limited resources and technical knowledge. They also often lack bridging and linking social capital – in that they may not be connected to other groups unlike themselves or to the state. It is when groups connect with each other across communities and form networks or associations – eventually becoming large federations with a regional or national presence – that they begin to gain collective bargaining power and influence government decision making.

Earle, L., 2008, ‘Social Movements and Citizenship: Some Challenges for INGOs’, International Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), Oxford
How can social movements in developing countries use concepts of citizenship to demand basic rights from the state? This report by the International NGO Training and Research Centre examines a social movement focusing on low-income housing in São Paulo. In Brazil, the concept of citizenship is linked to service provision. Lack of access to basic services is regarded as having ‘limited citizenship’. Framing basic rights as ‘citizenship rights’ is a powerful weapon in social movements’ state-focused campaigning. International donors can best support social movements through flexible approaches that fund communications and training.
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Research from the Citizenship DRC has found that, across various contexts, broad-based coalitions (formal collaborative structures that aim to combine their influence and resources to carry out joint or coordinated activities) have been most successful in bringing about policy change. Coalitions can promote governance reform by highlighting issues and pressuring power-holders to initiate and implement change. They can achieve what one citizen or organisation cannot do alone, making those members perceived to be weak less vulnerable to harassment and intimidation.

Beall J., and Ngonyama M., 2009, ‘Indigenous Institutions, Traditional Leaders and Elite Coalitions for Development: The case of Greater Durban, South Africa’, Leadership, Elites and Coalitions Research Programme (LECRP) managed by the World Bank and Crisis States Research Centre, London
What factors facilitate inclusive political settlements and developmental coalitions within a hybrid political order? This study, building on earlier work undertaken for the Crisis States Research Centre, further developed for the Leadership, Elites and Coalitions Research Programme (LECRP) and also published by the Crisis States Research Centre, suggests that in South Africa, state-making and peace-building has been facilitated by: (1) the creation of an administrative machinery that can contain customary authority institutions within a broader polity; (2) political structures that channel the ambitions and grievances of traditional leaders; and (3) a system of local government that draws on the experience and access of chieftaincies to bring development to hard-to-reach areas. A key success factor is inclusive coalitions and the commitment to development of influential political leaders able to forge broad coalitions through their links to multiple institutions.
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The mobilisation of citizens around the tax system is another approach for participation in public policy. The paper below argues that larger, flexible budgets; higher proportions of tax revenues from a local base; and the lower costs for public participation all promote citizen and local government empowerment.

Raich, U., 2005, ‘Fiscal Determinants of Empowerment’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3705, World Bank, Washington
How do local fiscal conditions relate to, and stimulate, citizen and local government empowerment? This paper from the World Bank explores how varying forms of local revenue-raising and expenditure provide incentives and impediments to citizen engagement and local government accountability. It argues that three factors – large, flexible budgets; higher proportions of tax revenues from a local base; and lower costs for public participation – promote citizen and local government empowerment.
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Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2008, ‘Governance, Taxation and Accountability: Issues and Practices’ OECD DAC Guidelines and reference series, Paris
How can taxation policy help to improve governance and accountability in developing countries? This paper from the OECD’s DAC guidelines and reference series argues that taxation systems contribute significantly to shaping accountability relationships and strengthening state capacities. Further coordinated efforts from both developing countries and donors are needed to secure larger tax bases, better tax compliance, and comprehensive tax reform in order to improve state responsiveness and accountability. Donors should combine high-level international efforts with work to improve the enabling environment and with more direct support to organisational changes.
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Prichard, W., 2009, ‘The Politics of Taxation and Implications for Accountability in Ghana 1981-2008′, IDS Working Paper 330, Centre for the Future State, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
Is a government that relies on tax revenue, as opposed to natural resources or foreign aid, more likely to be accountable to its citizens? Have government efforts to raise taxes in Ghana produced successful demands for greater accountability? This paper examines the evolution and political dynamics of Ghana’s central government tax system. It finds that taxation has often catalysed demands for greater accountability, but that outcomes have varied. State-society bargaining over taxation seems to be shaped by the broader state of politics, the role of elites, the mobilising capacity of civil society, the motives for the tax increase and the type of tax in question.
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The following paper from the Citizenship DRC also highlights the increasingly common, but under-researched, practice of ‘democratic mediation’. Democratic mediation involves organisations, ranging from local CSOs to international NGOs, linking citizens’ claims to existing local, national or international policy debates or decision-making processes, in order to gain profile or legitimacy for citizens’ demands. In contexts where certain groups can remain systematically excluded, these actors step in to act for the poor and marginalised, without necessarily being of the marginalised. Whilst this invites important questions of political legitimacy, the authors note that almost all successful cases of public participation involve some form of democratic mediation.

Piper, L. and von Lieres, B., 2011, ‘Expert Advocacy for the Marginalised: How and Why Democratic Mediation Matters to Deepening Democracy in the Global South’, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, Brighton
The paper argues that the practice of democratic mediation is an increasingly common, yet under-researched, component of engagements between citizens and public authorities across the globe. While the actors who mediate (and their tactics) are diverse and are not necessarily of the marginalised group, they share a commitment to overcoming representational, knowledge or ideological deficits in decision-making for the marginalised group. While the ‘speaking for’ nature of democratic mediation clearly opens up critical legitimacy problems, the practice of democratic mediation appears to be remarkably common, and even effective.
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So far, however donors have paid little attention to these processes of mobilisation and coalition building.

Haider, H., 2009, ‘Helpdesk Research Report: Donor Engagement with Social Movements’, Governance and Social Development Resource centre, University of Birmingham
There is very limited literature on donor engagement with social movements. Of the literature that exists, the majority have been critical of such engagement. It is argued that donor funding of social movements, often through the funding of civil society organisations (CSOs) and NGOs, has co-opted and diluted these movements and led to the defection of its members. This has occurred primarily through donor pressures to institutionalise movements in the form of professionalised NGOs and CSOs.
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Mcloughlin, C., 2009, ‘Helpdesk Research Report: Social Movements and Poverty Reduction’, Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham
There is limited research available on the role of social movements in development processes. It is widely acknowledged that establishing a causal relationship between social movements and any observed change in societies is problematic. In particular, attribution is difficult because there are usually multiple variables involved in any process of social change, including other actors and networks. The vast majority of the available case study material on social movements does not focus specifically on assessing their impact, but rather on describing their goals, tactics and experiences of engagement with the state.
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Public participation in service delivery

Participation and accountability initiatives used to adopt a state-centric approach which viewed citizens as clients or consumers of services or policies (see World Bank, 2003, ‘Making Services Work for Poor People, World Development Report 2004′, World Bank, Washington D.C, Chapters 3, 5 and 6). Now, however, the active involvement of citizens in shaping the policies that impact their lives is being emphasised, and the operational meaning of ‘participation’ has shifted from beneficiary involvement in community-level projects to citizen engagement in policy formation and implementation to influence and hold governments accountable. Recent research has found that community participation in service delivery can significantly enhance the responsiveness and accountability of service providers to users, and contributes to the functioning of public services that are accessible and equitable.

Commins, S., 2007, ‘Community Participation in Service Delivery and Accountability’, UCLA, Los Angeles
How can citizens affect service delivery and accountability? This paper, from the University of Los Angeles, provides an overview of issues and experiences with diverse forms of community participation in the provision of services. Service provision arrangements linked to various forms of community participation may improve MDG-related outcomes. Community participation also affects public sector accountability at local, regional and national levels.
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DFID, 2010, ‘Improving Public Services’, in The Politics of Poverty: Elites, Citizens and States: Findings from ten years of DFID-funded research on Governance and Fragile States 2001–2010′, Department for International Development, London, ch. 7
How can public services in developing countries be improved? How can poor people be encouraged to participate in service delivery? There is little evidence that market-oriented reforms have improved public services in developing countries. As a result, donors have begun emphasising the importance of strengthening service providers’ direct accountability to users. Involving citizens in service delivery can improve accountability, but formal participatory mechanisms can exclude the poor.
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How can service provision be designed and delivered in a way that ensures the opinions of the users, socially excluded groups and the voices of the poor are heard and represented? Access to and broad dissemination of information is a key precondition for this. This is used to inform citizen participation in various mechanisms designed to improve participation and accountability of services, for example user groups and resource management committees, citizen report cards, etc. State accountability to citizens can also involve participatory budgeting and various public oversight initiatives.

The IDL Group, 2008, ‘Accountability and Voice for Service Delivery at the Local Level’, A background paper for the UNDP regional training event: Developing Capacities for Accountability and Voice, Sofia, Bulgaria, October 1-2, 2008, United Nations Development Program and the IDL Group
How can service providers and governments become more accountable to citizens? This background paper, published by UNDP and the IDL Group, examines the crucial role of accountability and voice (A&V) and methods for implementing A&V mechanisms. The issue is two-fold: bolstering the responsiveness of service providers and local government, while also enabling poor people to demand promised poverty reduction results. Capacity development should not proceed in an overly technocratic fashion, but should take account of the environment’s complex political realities.
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Logolink, 2002, Participatory Planning Process IUCN Pakistan Experience with Environmental Rehabilitation in NWFP and Punjab (ERNP), case study, Logolink International Workshop on Participatory Planning Approaches for Local Government, Bandung, Indonesia
What can be achieved through social organisation? What is needed for successful participatory planning? This Logolink case study recounts the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Pakistan experience of participatory planning processes within the seven-year (1996-2003) Environmental Rehabilitation in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Punjab (ERNP) programme.
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Subedi, B. et al, ‘Local Communities and Natural Products: a Manual for Organising Natural Resource Management Groups for Resource Management Planning, Enterprise Development and Integration into Value Chains’, USAID/ANSAB
Policies promoting community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) have created an important role for communities in the conservation, management, and use of natural resources. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations and other service providers are supporting local people to get organized in various forms of Natural Resource Management (NRM) groups. Such groups are also taking up responsibilities to achieve their objectives and have made significant progress in several areas of resource governance and management. Critical to the success of CBNRM efforts is ensuring that local communities’ livelihoods needs are met through the sustainable management of natural resources. Natural resource based enterprises play an important role in helping communities realize economic benefits from such resource management. Learning how to organize communities to effective manage natural resources, and natural resource based enterprises is an essential skill for any NGO or government agency dedicated to promoting CBNRM.
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However, poor people and other vulnerable minorities can often be excluded from participating in policy design and programmes that have a direct impact on their lives. Their voices can be constrained by low awareness of rights, government resistance, poor access to information and complex laws and procedures for involvement in local decision-making. It is also important to recognise that the poor face particular barriers to participation, for example, illiteracy, lack of time and an inability to travel long distances. As a result participatory mechanisms can suffer from elite capture, and poor credibility. They can also become politicised, and adopt undemocratic and non-inclusive practices. In some instances, efforts to improve participation and accountability may increase inequalities between organised groups from better-off areas and the urban poor. Women are at particular risk of being marginalised – at all stages of the policy process.

Kabeer, N., 2010, ‘Women’s Empowerment, Development Interventions, and Management of Information Flows’, IDS Bulletin Vol. 41, Issue 6, pp. 105-113
How can development interventions manage information and ideas so as to empower women more effectively? This paper suggests that particular attention must be given to strengthening women’s capacity for voice and action at five ‘critical moments’ of an intervention’s planning cycle: conception, design, implementation, evaluation, and learning. At these moments, the ideas, values and knowledge of key actors profoundly affect how an intervention plays out in practice, and thus what it is able to achieve. Gender equality concerns are especially important at the conceptualisation stage, so as to plan follow-through.
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For more information on community involvement in service delivery, please see the User involvement and accountability section of the GSDRC’s Service Delivery Topic Guide.