At the end of a content packed workshop on Governance, Accountability & Citizen Empowerment in Dublin (June 2014), I knew what I wanted to do with partners in the Ethiopia Social Accountability Program (ESAP2).
Partners have become better at linking up with existing community organisations and make use of traditional media to spread the social accountability messages - but are they thinking strategically enough about the relationships they are forging for citizens to become and stay more influential through social accountability processes?
Some time ago, I was quite shocked to learn that many of the Social Accountability Committees at district level were dominated by local government officials. Surely that missed the whole point of Social Accountability? How can citizens hold government to account if they are not present at district level?
I guess it was one of those things that happen in large programs - new concepts like Social Accountability can easily loose their essence when you don't pay attention. Fortunately, we did pay attention and managed to shift things around fairly quickly with our "citizens in the driver's seat" slogan (read more about it in the blog about challenges).
Citizens are again in the driver's seat of Social Accountability, but how firmly are they seated? There are two main strategies we see partner take when it comes to rooting Social Accountability among citizens:
- linking up with existing organisation - popular links are with Iddir (traditional burial associations with large memberships and with influential leaders), and mass based organisations (like youth, women and farmers associations), but also Parent-Teacher Associations, and Water User Committees are among the favorites.The idea is that when these organisations bring Social Accountability on board - they can mobilize lots of citizens to build up the service assessment evidence base.
- making use of traditional media - societies in Ethiopia have developed interesting mechanisms through which all citizens can be reached and/or heard. In Afar region there is "dagu" the obligation to share news with others when you meet them on the way. In Sidama area there is "ware" daily meetings at one of the houses of the elders where important issues are discussed. The idea is that through such media, Social Accountability messages can spread, or the need to engage for service improvements can be initiated.
The question is - how influential are these existing organisations and traditional media when it comes to service improvements. Do the really have the needs of vulnerable groups in society at heart?
With this question in mind, we introduced "new notions of power" from the powercube (also see this blog about empowerment) and facilitated an exercise "empowerment matrix" - aimed at developing or rethinking empowerment strategies.
Partners identify persons and organisation they work with (on cards), and discuss: Is this person / organisation influential in the sector? How important is service improvement for this person/organisation? The then place the card in the matrix.
They use the following questions to reflect on the matrix:
- Which interests and needs does the sector meet?
- What is your empowerment strategy?
- What changes do you want to make in your project after this exercise?
The discussions were heated, but worthwhile, as partners gain a host of insights from working with the empowerment matrix, some of which are summarized here:
- There is a need for more awareness creation about roles, mandates, responsibilities and working policies among all stakeholders, so that the enabling environment for citizen participation can be improved.
- The high officials from the City Administration, council and other important and influential sectors and Community Based Organisations need to be brought on board. They need further awareness on SA concepts and results, so that they can more fully support and enable it.
- Engaging the CBOs, women and others who are high on importance but low on influence, so that they can be strong together to make their voice heard; and experience sharing for these groups between woredas.
- Empower vulnerable groups by linking them with those who have high interest and high influence, so that they can make the voice of vulnerable groups heard in decision making.
- We need to work more with Iddir (Southern Nations and Nationalities and Peoples Region)/ development army (Amhara region), because they have links with different social groups, and they have influential leaders.
- Build the capacity of CBOs to influence the service providers more, and of women’s affairs to play a more influential role in the council on gender issues.
- Motivate influential people who achieve good service improvement results by giving acknowledgement and by celebrating their efforts.
- Improve relationships between citizens/CBOs and front line service providers, so that they can be influential together.
- Work with Planning and Finance and other government sectors to more actively promote quality service delivery, because they are mandated to provide quality services.
- Report regularly to the Council, and strengthen their role, because they are supposed to keep Social Accountability on the agenda of government basic service offices.
- Make an exhaustive identification of influential stakeholders and inquire about their interest and motivation to support vulnerable groups in their quest for service improvements. Plan an empowerment strategy based on this assessment. Follow an independent strategy for each stakeholder.