In recent years we have observed an intensification of aid agencies’ efforts to put citizens front and center in defining their development agenda. The massive participatory process deployed in setting up the Sustainable Development Goals is probably the best example. The notion that citizens are change agents and can improve development outcomes has existed for quite some time. In principle, they can do so by participating in the design and monitoring of projects, and by voicing their grievances.

The findings of the evaluation confirm that mainstreaming citizen engagement is both technically ambitious and politically challenging. As it sets out to define the next phase of this important agenda, the Bank Group may well be facing a trade-off between including citizen engagement mechanisms everywhere and maximizing quality – and hence effectiveness.

However, in the prevailing development practice citizens are not yet at the center. At the World Bank Group for example, the engagement of citizens in projects has historically been circumscribed to the application of safeguards policies. In 2013, however, the Bank Group decided to put citizen engagement in the mainstream of its development practice. Through the voice of its President, the organization committed to engage citizens in every project with identifiable beneficiaries. This call for action was followed by a corporate indicator to track progress and a strategic framework in 2014 to crystallize the World Bank’s approach to engaging citizens. Central to this approach is generating “feedback loops” where the Bank is not just listening or informing citizens, but also acting on their input.

This commitment has the potential to transform quite dramatically how the Bank Group does business and how it achieves its goals. It generated a lot of expectations from observers and from civil society. How is the Bank Group doing in delivering on its commitment?

A recent IEG evaluation, Engaging Citizens for Better Development Results, looked closely at the early results of this new approach, at the challenges that the organization encountered in scaling up and broadening its engagement with citizens, and at the extent to which this process has contributed to achieve better development outcomes. In this first (of three) blogs on the topic, we will share the evaluation key findings with you. A second blog will dig deeper into what effective citizen engagements look like. The third and final blog will share the evaluation insights on what it takes—in terms of incentives, tools, skills, organizational model—for a development actor like the World Bank to mainstream citizen engagement throughout its operations.

Let’s now turn to the key messages that emerged from the evaluation; we highlight three.

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First, the evaluation found that the Bank has firmly embraced the Citizen Engagement commitment. The corporate indicators have been crucial in strengthening buy-in and have triggered an increase in the number of project-level engagement and indicators in result frameworks – which is very good news. The risk, though, is that the emphasis on the corporate indicators and its targets may generate this a “check-the-box” attitude.

Second, the Bank Group committed to citizens engagement not only because it is the “right thing to do”, but primarily because it can improve development results. Now, the existing evidence and the Bank’s strategic framework are quite clear on the conditions under which engaging citizens can truly improve the trajectory of development projects. These engagements need to apply quality standards, that is be “thick” (use multiple tools), ensure participation of women and vulnerable groups, integrate capacity building, and importantly close the feedback loops. While more projects are applying these quality standards, the evaluation found that their application s in the design, implementation, and monitoring of citizen engagement has remained rather limited. This is somewhat not surprising as this type of high quality engagement is intensive—it requires dedicated skills, time and resources—and cannot be realistically applied in all projects and countries.

Third, our field work indicates that engagement that meets quality standards can generate the necessary changes to achieve better development outcomes. For example, it can lead citizens to better trust service providers and be willing to intensify their contribution to the project’s activities. Bank’s projects that integrate citizens’ inputs at the design and implementation stage can succeed in improving targeting or providing satisfactory responses to beneficiaries’ grievances. Government and service providers can ultimately institutionalize mechanisms for greater accountability. Unfortunately, the Bank is not currently providing incentives to track results at this level and to learn from failure and successes.

Which brings us to our overall conclusion. The findings of the evaluation confirm that mainstreaming citizen engagement is both technically ambitious and politically challenging. As it sets out to define the next phase of this important agenda, the Bank Group may well be facing a trade-off between including citizen engagement mechanisms everywhere and maximizing quality – and hence effectiveness. In the two forthcoming blogs we will explain the course of actions that the evaluation recommends. You can also take a look at the last chapter of the report, if you want to read ahead. 

Read the Evaluation: Engaging Citizens for Better Development Results

 

Photo: Community meeting discussing reconstruction of village hit by volcanic eruption. Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Project / Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo / World Bank

 

 

Comments

Submitted by Gérard on Tue, 11/13/2018 - 11:15

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Un rapport édifiant et instructif du travail et de la vision de la BM en matière de la participation citoyenne.

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