3ie and IEG conference on citizen engagement and accountable government

3ie and IEG partnered to organise a highly-interactive and well-attended conference on citizen engagement and accountable government in Washington, DC on 8 April 2019. This one-day public event was part of 3ie’s Washington Evidence Week. Around 130 participants had the opportunity to hear from experts, interact with their peers and share their thoughts on what works and what does not work on citizen engagement that can hold governments accountable. Click on the session title to read the summary or watch the discussion. 

Venue: World Bank (C-Building), Room C 8- 150, 1225 Connecticut Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Start Date: 08 April 2019 End Date: 08 April 2019
Citizen engagement and accountable government

In her opening remarks, Alison Evans (World Bank Group) talked about the importance of evidence in the field of citizen engagement and how institutions need to be committed to seeking evidence in this field to hold governments accountable. Emmanuel Jimenez (3ie) talked about 3ie’s work in the extractives industries through our transparency and accountability evidence programme. He also discussed how we need to make sure decision makers are equipped with the tools in order to make a difference to the lives of ordinary citizens.


Highlights from the panels and sessions

The world today – citizen engagement and government accountability

Moderator: Brenda Barbour, World Bank Group
Discussants: Santiago Levy, Brookings Economic and Social Policy in Latin America Initiative; and Lily Tsai, MIT Political Science

Lily Tsai (MIT Political Science) talked about the linkages between citizen engagement, governance and development. She explained, that the evidence on citizen engagement for improving government accountability and development is strongest when we have alignment between the kind of inputs citizens are asked to give and governments that are willing and able to respond to them. While there is less evidence that looks at a long route to accountability, most evidence is focused on the short route, and that evidence in this sector needs to be synthesised and looked at it as a whole, not just as individual studies. Santiago Levy (Brookings Economic and Social Policy in Latin America) talked about the challenges of communicating evidence to decision makers. Academics assume that studies are approachable and understandable, which is often not the case. Academic institutions need to build credibility, and involve civil society to ensure that evidence has an impact.

Reality check

Moderator: Ruth Levine, William Flora and Hewlett Foundation and chair, 3ie Board of Commissioners
Discussants: Jean Arkedis, Results for Development; Jeff Thindwa, Global Partnership for Social Accountability, World Bank; Jonathan Fox, School of International Service, American University; and Warren Krafchik, International Budget Partnership

Panellists discussed the translation of evidence into action based on ground realities. They discussed the importance of using a community-level approach that creates multi-stakeholder synergies. Practitioners must work to build accountability ecosystems and coalitions to connect civil society with governmental institutions. The panellists emphasised the importance of carefully examining how research is operationalised from theory into practice and translating research into long-term institutionalised change. They discussed the necessity of getting buy-in from communities to generate demand for transparency and accountability to hold governments accountable.

Mapping the future

Moderator: Marie Gaarder, 3ie
Presenters: Elena Bardasi, IEG; Francis Rathinam, 3ie

Marie Gaarder (3ie) discussed the upcoming systematic review on participation, inclusion, transparency and accountability to improve public service delivery in low-and middle-income countries. She explained that citizen engagement interventions are more likely to be successful when they target citizen access directly and stimulate local capacity for collection action. Few studies have disaggregated data on women and vulnerable groups, which is an area for further study.

Elana Bardasi (IEG) stated that it was necessary to engage all citizens and ensure that voices of women, youth, indigenous persons and other vulnerable groups are heard. Local government needs to do their part as well. There is a need to go beyond merely increasing the number of projects that look at citizen engagement; implementation and evaluation institutions must buy into these projects and embrace them.

Francis Rathinam (3ie) explained how 3ie produces evidence gap maps, using the upcoming 3ie evidence gap map on transparency and accountability in the extractives sector as an example. He highlighted some of the main evidence gaps, for instance, how there were few studies on interventions in environment and financial audits. He also pointed out gaps in research on long-term development outcomes.

After these presentations, participants were asked to join groups to tackle questions on research, implementation, and mainstreaming citizen engagement and government accountability interventions.

Participants were asked to reflect on the presentations and tasked with brainstorming ideas on how best to spend evaluation funds. They suggested investing in sector-specific gap maps and synthesis or even consider region or country-focused products. They raised the need for nimble evaluations and providing real-time data to policymakers by embedding evaluation units in government implementing teams. They called on policymakers to lead the agenda and engage with evaluators on what evidence is needed. There were also suggestions on revising methods used for evidence gap maps to be more inclusive; evaluate more government-run national programmes; and, explore how effectively we communicate evaluation findings to citizens for better engagement.

Participants discussed if the mandatory integration of citizen engagement components into development projects could lead to quality outcomes. They started by clarifying that mandatory integration might not actually lead to citizen engagement. It is important to understand the context, resources and existing levels of citizen engagement, before considering making something mandatory. They also emphasised the need to institute a culture of learning and prioritise institutional behaviour change. They pointed out that changing the incentive structure for task team leaders (at the World Bank) could be useful to achieve the desired outcomes. This group also discussed which concrete measures are more likely to succeed and create conditions for long-term success. They said that initiatives must be connected to monitoring and evaluation activities, and it is vital to include citizen engagement activities during the design phase.

The implementers group took on three questions, the first was about stimulating local capacity for collective action. Participants agreed that it was important to have politically aware context analysis, understand that the exercise is dynamic and ever-changing, and design programmes keeping in mind existing capacities. They also discussed how there is more interaction between health and education service providers and citizens, particularly because they affect citizens directly, and are easy and affordable to monitor. Participants also pointed out that for community-based monitoring to work, linkages between local and national communities, as well as institutions needed to be strengthened. Some keys to long-term success to stimulate capacity and improve interactions include; having power to be a change agent, connecting users to change agents, promoting buy-in amongst stakeholders, and promote an enabling environment through meaningful and inclusive feedback.

Bridging the disconnect

Moderator: David de Ferranti, 3ie
Presenter: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, board chair, Gavi
Discussants: Daniel Kaufmann, Natural Resources Governance Institute; Deborah Wetzel, World Bank Group

Ngozi described her personal experiences with citizen engagement in Nigeria. She emphasised that in each part of the world, there are embedded practices of engagement . At a macro level, opinion research should be conducted to understand how citizens think, even though many countries are opposed to this sort of research. She explained the role civil society organisations can play, and how we should build an approach where we are able to help them engage with policymakers.

In talking of next steps, particularly for evaluation models and data collection, Daniel Kaufmann said that researchers need to look at ‘context’ and ‘ecosystems’ when designing evaluations that look at increasing citizen engagement. We must use interdisciplinary thinking to create successful projects in this sector.

Closing remarks

Alison Evans, World Bank Group; Emmanuel Jimenez, 3ie; and Roberta Gatti, the World Bank

Roberta stressed the importance of reflecting carefully on the theory of change and the production function when designing evaluations that look at citizen engagement and accountable government. Alison stressed Lily Tsai’s point on the importance of looking at a body of evidence as a whole, and not as individual studies. Emmanuel discussed the need to communicate findings effectively. Evidence should not just be digestible, but appetising. He also asserted that researchers need to have the courage to stand up to people or organisations in positions of power, and be fully aware of echo systems.