Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress
A Social Accountability practitioner was arguing the other day that citizens needed their own space to reflect on service issues, and should be protected from political and government interference during that process. In his view, citizens need to be empowered first. While I certainly agree that citizens need their own spaces, I strongly disagree that citizens can be empowered in isolation from the politics and administrative agendas that surround them. It is in fact through engaging with politicians and administrators that citizen capacities will develop.
During the same monitoring trip in Ethiopia, a disabled person told me, with sparkles in his eyes, that it was the first time for him to attend a public meeting. You could "see" that he developed more confidence, just from the fact that he had been considered as a person like everyone else. He had been invited to say something during the meeting, and people had actually listened. There is no training in the world that can have this empowering effect. Not only did he begin to see himself in a different light, just because he had been invited to a public meeting, but others in the meeting also had a very different experience: a disabled person who actually makes a contribution. That had never been seen before.
This is why it is so critical to design capacity development strategies that enable different parties to engage with each other: a lot of capacity develops through interaction between actors. You can teach citizens about an interface meeting in which they can have a dialogue with service providers about improvements they would like to see, but the real capacity develops from actually participating in such a meeting, and getting a good result. Or getting a bad result for that matter, and wondering what should have been done differently. The most important role of Social Accountability practitioners in Ethiopia is to enable interactions between citiznes, government and council to take place, and to help each of these stakeholders make sense of what happens in those interactions.
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