Beads - Passion for Facilitation

Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress

Blog about learning/change, facilitation, systems: small groups and large scale processes, and poverty/power/progress.


GPSA - forum WDR 2017 Governance and Law

It was with great pleasure that I accepted the request of the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) knowledge platform to co-facilitate an e-forum in preparation for the World Development Report 2017 on Governance and Law, lead by Steve Cummins.

In order not to loose some of my thoughts and contributions to the platform, I am copying a selection of it here, and some of the many interesting responses.

What does governance mean for you?

At the end of this first week, there are a few dimension of governance that I am thinking about, from practice. One is closely related to trust: taxes/user fees/community contribution. I work with the Ethiopia Social Accountability Program (ESAP2). The notion that citizens are paying for their government to serve them has helped, and citizens are actually willing to pay more if it “serves” their purpose.
Purpose or goal is another dimension of governance that I am thinking about now. There has been a lot of focus so far on inequality, but less on conflict, financial crises, climate change, while these are areas where governance fails to produce good results? Citizens will not engage, unless there is a very clear purpose – or advantage to be gained from participation in governance processes. This engagement may be extra difficult for citizens that have experienced violence from previous governments. In a recent review of our Theater for Social Accountability pilot, one of the actors remembered a woman saying publicly – I have buried 5 children during the Red Terror, so you may imagine that is it hard for me to engage with my government today. Discrimination has similar effects. One of our partners works for social accountability in the agriculture sector, where the Productive Safety Nets Program (PSNP) is hosted. In this case PSNP beneficiaries were referred to as bulldozers, because their labor is used for public works. It doesn’t even occur to PSNP beneficiaries that they have a right to be served with respect, leave alone that they may have something to say about what support would work best for them. If they speak up, they may loose their entitlements all together. In such cases trust can only be build through responsive and meaningful government action, that is respectful and touches peoples’ deep needs. We have all been taken by surprise at what can happen when citizens are organised and manage to truly engage their (local) government at the level of the heart. A human connection emerges that from which a lot becomes possible. That is beyond trust really…

A contribution from ESAP colleague Meskerem on unlearning deep rooted behaviour

Indeed I am with you Lucia, people’s experiences and popular thoughts determine citizen’s behaviors to or against real participation which in turn affects the development the right governance in a country. Recently my neighbors and I went to an electric corporation to seek service to which we have paid quite an amount which we should not pay but just to expedite the long process of getting our energy at home. Despite that, after frequent visits of the corporation’s office till this moment, no much progress was gained. Every time with no response, what happens is that we all return to our ways with the usual attitude popular to Ethiopia ‘thou shall not sue a king.. nor do you plow a sky’- to signify that it is impossible for you to ask from higher body. This kind of paradigm has passed from generations to generation that you should not come face to face with an authority. This is why I couldn’t agree more with Fletcher Tambo that we need the real ‘interlocutors’ to unlearn such deep rooted notions and prepare the fertile ground for better governance to flourish.

If we want change, it requires us to change

...“service providers” may have assumptions about how “users” will respond to policies. It reminds me of something I have often heard: our policies do not discriminate, everyone is treated equally. That is certainly the intension most of the time, but different people are not in the same position to take advantage of policies, and some don’t even think it applies to them. There are many female farmers who believe that agricultural services are not for them, because services are not tailored to their specific needs. There is a social group in Ethiopia (potters) who are treated similar to the untouchables in India – they were very surprised to hear that a social protection program also applied to them. They have this mindset that is totally formed by how society views them: an intriguing form of powerlessness. Another example springs to mind – a high school girl that was abducted and gang-raped in Ethiopia, and died of the consequences. her father said: I thought she was my daughter, but I now give her to all of you now – please help so that justice is served and so that this never happens again in our country. The saddest part was that the girl, who died after she was freed, asked her father how she could ever manage to go back to school after this, as if it were her fault. In this case, justice was served, but the mindset shift will take much, much longer to materialise. It is difficult because many people will think “this is not part of our culture” and yet it happens, and when it happens the victims feel guilt. This was not an isolated case. It needs people like the father of the girl, lots of time and courage in society to say – this is in our society – we have to change.

deliberative democracy

a term used on the e-forum – had to look it up. So for those readers/lurkers who are also unfamiliar with the term, here goes (wikipedia)

“deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision-making. It adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the law.

Deliberative democracy is compatible with both representative democracy and direct democracy. Some practitioners and theorists use the term to encompass representative bodies whose members authentically deliberate on legislation without unequal distributions of power, while others use the term exclusively to refer to decision-making directly by lay citizens, as in direct democracy.

The term “deliberative democracy” was originally coined by Joseph M. Bessette in his 1980 work “Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government”.

It's not about challenges, is it?

Whenever I meet social accountability practitioners abroad, they wonder: Social accountability (SA) in Ethiopia, with civil society involvement, really? We all have these boxes in our head – Ethiopia, restrictive NGO environment, political economy similar to Vietnam, etc… So many “challenges” can be named, and yet, we are running the largest single SA investment in Africa, and the results are surprising everyone involved.
I remember early on in the program, some of the CSOs were challenging me – you don’t know Ethiopia, it’s only because of the donors that this program is allowed. And I was thinking – really? This strong government is allowing NGOs to work in close to 30% of its districts, all over the country, just because of donors? My advise was – just sit in that space you have been given and show the difference you can make.
Early on in the program regional governments were challenging us – we don’t know what ‘you’ are up to. And I was thinking – we are implementing a government program in partnership with NGOs. So our question to them was – how can we better inform, collaborate? A year later, colleagues were at a workshop where regional governments were promoting the great work of ESAP.
ESAP is to work at the level of decentralised local government, but certain accountabilities lie at the regional level. Many stakeholders were pointing at the political sensitivities of this. Our question was – who has connections, who can explore? Two years later many service issues (especially water and roads) have been solved through involvement of government levels beyond the district.
Initially concepts of vulnerability were both vague and daunting (e.g in many cases disabled people are hidden from society), but we asked communities ‘who is not (yet) being served?’ and our partners helped local governments to hear the service experience stories of these groups. This has had empowering effects, and has inspired citizens and local governments alike to do more for vulnerable groups with the limited resources available to them.

The practice pattern that seems to work is open mind, connecting with what drives people, and supporting the actions they want to take.

Fletcher Tambo (I shortened it a bit): I would like to comment on the interesting contribution that Lucia made that speaks to the question of ‘how do you address the governance challenges’. Two main points – the first is that working in a context where many researchers and practitioners, based on their analysis, think that you cannot do effective governance work. ESAP has managed to get regional government on board and is managing to get service provision improvements. The second is dealing with language, from the loaded language of ‘vulnerability’ to asking the simple but effective question ‘who is not being served?’ Based on these two observations, my comments are as follows:

a) Having worked on an action research governance programme in Ethiopia (the Mwananchi programme) for five years, I noticed a striking difference between Ethiopia and the other five countries. Ethiopia was the only country (it might sound an exaggeration) where government officials at the local level (Zone, Woreda and Kebele) would attend social accountability meetings without too much push. As an action researcher, while I was very happy with this response, I wondered if there was a wider political regime orientation that incentivised this response/behaviour. Having recently done research on Ethiopia at the regime level for the UNECA, I am convinced that there is something there that amounts to what the ODI research findings on the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP) called ‘policy disciplines’, that works through the bureaucracy that is different from one country to another. This makes me think that while acknowledging the positive local level governance changes and improvements in service provision that comes from it, in the WDR 17 exploration, we need to interrogate where the wider regime incentives, for or against, are coming from.

b) In the case of vocabulary, I know that ESAP in my opinion has done an excellent job in avoiding the loaded, and rather combative demand side language, to a more neutral collaborative one, as implicit in the question ‘who is not being served here?’ as opposed to ‘whose rights are not being demanded, or who is not demanding their rights here?’. I think where as the analytical language of what good governance can be articulated in the broadly understood fundamentals obtained from academic literature, we have to acknowledge that they might not have a universal way of translating them into practice – those who ‘cut’ language from theory and ‘paste’ it wholesome in practice are bound to fail in certain contexts. Unfortunately funded projects look for this universal language to qualify projects, which then affects practice as practitioners strive to look fashionable in their writing by adopting this speak – perhaps this is okay but they should also remember to do things differently in practice.

Lastly, the ‘human element’, e.g. volunteering etc that you refer to in the second question is very important, and operates most effectively in localised initiatives, where trust is high and actors obtain a lot of non-monetary rewards from these actions. The disconnect happens when we move from these localised actions to the sub-national and national levels when these local practices are not allowed to inform the sub-national and national practice, mainly because at that level other wider incentives kick in – e.g. strong elite interests colluding with businesses and the way the bureaucracy operates. All these practices are heavily political in nature – so my definition of politics here is not limited to political party contestations but all the different contestations and struggles for access to power and resources characterising society-state relationships in a given country context. As a suggested way to overcome these challenges, I recommend an incremental approach where localised SA practices become ‘policy experiments’ for scaling up to sub-national and national levels through a collective action approach that is based on addressing conflicting incentives. 

Good governance becoming a norm...

Hi @JOYACERON , it is great to read more about your work here. I really connect with the idea that good governance would become the norm. In ESAP we have two streams of though: social accountability as a way of life, and social accountability as part of government policies and structures. Probably both need work, but the nature of that work is very different. How do you shift norms in society, so that it can shift the current reality that nobody wants. Culture and norms sit so deep, have been formed over centuries. So I am learning that the responses we know, like "change the law", don’t seem to work. So many reforms have not yielded the results people were looking for. And yet, there are these islands that you write about, and which I also experience, were new norms are emerging. How do we connect with that, enable it to grow, enable it to discover how to change, step by step. I am learning more about this change facilitation work in a MOOC at MIT, with people like Otto Sharmer (theory U) and Peter Senge (the 5th discipline). The MOOC, known as U-lab, is an amazing change experiment with 45,000 plus participants, change facilitators, from all over the world. Governance is one of 8 ‘acupuncture points’ they feel need rethinking and rebuilding. This starts from connecting with with the heart, connecting about what matters. We are so often in our head about big questions, but we are also part of those very same systems that stay the way they are. Anyway – it is too deep to explain in a short comment, but I thought you might find this angle of interest.
Our ESAP team is currently working with Participatory Video, Theater for Social Accountability, and stories, which are such great instruments, as they mirror what is happening in society, whih can be a real eyeopener. We are adding awards to it, inspired by Galing Pook in your country – isn’t that also a place that creates and connects islands of interesting local government practice?

Joy's response: It’s great to hear that you are learning from the Pook experience. Maybe it depends on context, but in the Philippines, given that we have been into ‘best practices’ ‘islands of good governance’ mode for a while, the question of whether these practices and islands are actually getting sustained and making a long-lasting impact not only on their areas but in the country is becoming a pressing issue. For me, we need to go beyond patches and aim for turning good governance a country-wide and if possible a global wide practice, so we stop focusing too much on it and we can move on to more substantive questions of policy content and strategic direction.

Governance, after all, is only the means and the idea of ‘good governance’ provides a framework for such means which assumes to achieve better ends.

Nation building and the role of the international community

In Myanmar, networks of local community organisations emerged under the radar of the previous regime, and they have now begun to bring some real change about. I evaluated an initiative called Paung Ku (bridge) a few years back – and we found examples of local communities now fighting to get back their fishing rights and land rights from previous power holders. It was beginning to be successful, although not without pain. The support to this was a very light touch enabling local communities to connect, for instance mobile phones were provided, and spaces created where communities could meet up on their own agendas. They had bigger fish to fry than basic services – as their livelihoods had been severely affected by the previous regime.

CSOs in Myanmar have observed that the private sector seems to have much more influence on poor peoples lives than all donors and INGOs combined. In that sense, good that the private sector is being brought into development financing and related debates about sustainable growth with equity (have we invited the private sector to this forum?). Yet lack of environmental and labor laws in countries like Myanmar, make that some of the most polluting and exploitative industries in the world seem to be moving there now that the winds of democracy have started to blow. It is interesting to see local groups connecting to this, researching and engaging with the problematic – mostly with their own resources, I may add...


The ESAP2 projects in Ethiopia pay special attention in the Social Accountability (SA) process to the needs of vulnerable groups. In our August 2015 quarterly report, we highlighted evidence from the education sector that SA makes a positive contribution for vulnerable groups. As a typical example, in Harari region, Shenkor (APAP), citizens noted through engagement in the SA process that physically challenged children do not have access to wheelchairs; there is a shortage of materials such as braille books for visually impaired children and hence it is difficult for teachers to help them; and finally, there is no schooling for the children with intellectual disabilities. In cases like this, citizens and their local government find context specific solutions (next to solving more generic problems). The following selection of improvements for vulnerable groups was recorded during ESAP2 monitoring visits in the education sector in the second quarter of the year:

  • In Tiro Afeta woreda, citizens observed that here should be a means for visually impaired and hearing impaired children to attend education. Parents do not send their children with disability to school and hence children with disability are discriminated. One citizen, member of the SA committee, explained that he has child with hearing problems. He planned to send his child to school in Addis Ababa, but now that he has seen the change regarding social inclusion, he will send his child to school in the district. The community expressed that they have learned to be more inclusive and “not laugh at or make fun of students with disabilities”. (EMRDA, sub-partner of EIFFDA).
  • In Asella district, a program for visually impaired has started, and a special needs education teacher was assigned. (AFD, sub partner of SOS Sahel).
  • In Aisayita, Afar Region, inaccessibility of schools to children with disabilities was solved by the construction of ramps (DEC sub-partner of WCAT).
  • In Debre Markos, Amhara Region the school compound was transformed to create a disability friendly school. Special needs education started in Abema School, and in the same school a total of Birr 420,000 was endorsed by the local government to relocate local bars and houses inside the school, which was risky to girls and in general disruptive of the teaching-learning process. Inspired by the inclusive SA process, the Mayor office has targeted about 200 poor households that are affected by HIV, and constructed 210 low cost houses worth Birr 6 million for poor households. Community members shared more than half of this budget through their labor and material contribution.
  • In Oromia Region, Adada district, citizens explained that more girls and disabled students are attending school now. Parents have started to allow their children with disabilities to go to school, and this attitudinal change is the result of SA interventions. The school is more accessible for disabled students, as there are ramps installed. In in Leliso primary school, the government has employed special needs teachers for students who cannot see and hear. (GMEDA, sub-partner of LIA)
  • In Arada sub city of Adis Ababa a feeding programme was realized in collaboration with citizens and the government for students from poor families, and in the case of Addis Ketema, woreda 7, the first aid room in school is now opened to help girls with menstrual problems.

A young SA Committee member, representative for people with disability in Enarj Enawaga district, illustrates the difference SA has made for people like him:

“We were shunned and outcast before the introduction of SA in our area. More than the education, we just wanted to feel the touch of other persons. Feel included. Now we get an education, we feel part of the student body and are included in community discussions.”

There are many concerns and issues that exist in the education sector, like teacher absenteeism, ineffective use of school grants, lack of drink water taps and insufficient toilets for boys and girls. But with quality facilitation that keeps issues of excluded and vulnerable group on the table – among the many other issues, there is a lot of potential for local solutions that address the needs of all.

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