CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

What Difference Does Citizen Participation Make?

Posted by civilsocietyindex on August 13, 2010

A cross-country analysis on the outcomes of citizen engagement helps to fill the gap in our understanding of the impacts of participatory approaches to development.

Supporters of bottom-up policy approaches to development have been bolstered by a recent study that identified a range of positive outcomes – many hitherto unrecognised – that result when citizens get involved in the institutions that affect their lives. The study, from the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Citizenship DRC) at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), has been well received by policy makers at a time when international donor agencies are under increased pressure to justify their budgets to the public. At a gathering earlier this month organised by Oxfam, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: ‘To the British taxpayer I say this, our aim is to spend every penny of every pound of your money wisely and well. We want to squeeze every last ounce of value from it.’

In a recent synthesis study, ‘So What Difference Does It Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement’ by by John Gaventa and Gregory Barrett, Citizenship DRC researchers reviewed the results of 100 original, qualitative case studies, largely from the developing world. Using a Meta case study approach, the researchers coded over 800 ‘outcomes’ linked to various forms of citizen engagement. An Executive Summary of ‘So What Difference Does It Make’ is also available. The most surprising finding from this project is that there are a host of intermediary outcomes resulting from citizen engagement that donors often fail to recognize. The paper also underscores the importance of associations in fragile contexts, and of social movements in more well established democracies.

There is also a recent IDS Working Paper by Naila Kabeer entitled ‘NGOs’ Strategies and the Challenge of Development and Democracy in Bangladesh’. The paper shares the results of a quantitative study on the impacts felt by the rank-and-file members of six NGOs in Bangladesh, ranging from strict micro-credit lenders to rights-based social movements. Findings from the research indicate that organisations that were purposively designed to promote the identity and practice of citizenship among the working poor and that utilised methods of social mobilization do contribute to political empowerment and voice, which in turn raises peoples’ expectations from the government. The expectations lead to a demand for accountability and thus provide an opportunity for collaboration between the government and the grassroots organisations to enable an effective mechanism for accountability and transparency of local institutions. This is perhaps not surprising, but the quantitative results also produced some very unexpected conclusions. Organisations concerned with rights have had unexpected impacts on developmental indicators such as food security and diversity of diet, while Grameen Bank, one of the organisations considered to be a minimalist micro-credit lender, appeared to have a larger range of positive impacts (including on the likelihood that members vote) than organisations with broader missions. The findings are now helping to promote a wider dialogue on these issues among stakeholders in Bangladesh.

To read the full article click here Wp343 NGOs’ strategies

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