Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress
We took a bit of a risk at the National Conference Ethiopia Social Accountability Program phase 2 (ESAP2) by starting with the Theatre for Social Accountability. Yet as soon as the coughing began that brings the audience into the imaginary health centre I knew the theatre would work well to introduce the audience to ESAP2’s approach and results. Within an hour, the audience had been exposed to the complete social accountability process as well as the societal mind-set change and service improvement results it brought about. “What a creative and informative way of introducing social accountability,” said Peter Knip, the director of VNG International, which leads the ESAP2 management agency.
One of the conference objectives was to share lessons and results with the sector ministries, so as to bring them on board the decentralised social accountability movement created by the program across all regions of this vast and diverse country with close to 100 million people. We produced findings and lessons papers for each of the 5 basic service sectors the program worked in: education, health, water & sanitation, agriculture (including productive safety nets) and rural roads. The sector result papers are summarized in ‘one-pagers’ and infographics, and include an overview of investments mobilised locally to achieve service improvements.
In a closing remark, the head of the Planning and Policy Department of the Ministry of Health expressed “respect and awe” for ESAP2’s ability to improve decentralised spending and mobilise additional resources for greater access and better quality services. In sum, targeted health facilities increased capacity and quality of services by adding more beds, more staff, more medicines, more electricity, better water & sanitation facilities, longer opening hours, friendlier service and sometimes even better access roads. As a result, the outpatient numbers increased by 68.6 percent, slightly better than the national average and facility births at least doubled, with many clinics experiencing five and six-fold rises. Vulnerable groups gained better access to services, sub-optimal drug purchasing systems were addressed to overcome medicine shortages, waste disposal standards were implemented, and incorrect practices, like paying for the ambulance, were stopped.
Social Accountability tools
Conference participants also learned about the effectiveness of two social accountability tools developed by ESAP2: Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB), and Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS). The GRB experience demonstrated that a simple mainstreaming tool can bring real service improvements for women & men, girls & boys – compared to other social accountability tools used in ESAP2 (i.e. community score card, citizen report card, and participatory planning and budgeting). The PETS tool highlighted, among others, the need to bring the often substantial community contributions on-budget, perhaps as a first tax base for local governments. An advisor of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation, which chairs the ESAP2 Steering Committee, observed that the government has limited resources to supervise and audit facility level expenditures and thus welcomes citizens’ engagement in this area.
A second conference objective was to situate social accountability in the local governance arena and the good governance agenda of the government. While ESAP2 started with capacity development of citizens and their groups to interact with service providers, the local councils began to use the insights gained about service performance and citizen priorities to strengthen their oversight and decision making functions. This was noted by some of the regional (state) councils, three of which have actively embraced social accountability and count on playing a convening / facilitating role in the future, much like the Ombudsman and Auditor General in other countries.
Local governance and good governance are important elements of the enabling environment in which the building blocks of ESAP2 could flourish. This has been written up by ESAP2 together with external researchers in the paper “Rapid Assessment of sustainability and institutionalisation of soc... (4 page summary). The Ministry of Public Service and Human Development spoke positively about the fit with the good governance agenda, for instance the Citizen’s Charter.
Role of Civil Society Organisations
According to an Irish Aid representative who delivered a closing remark on behalf of the Development Partners, “none of this would have happened without the CSOs”, and that summarised the third and final conference objective: what can we learn from the role of CSOs as interlocutors and CBOs as actors in the social accountability processes? Dr Fletcher Tembo from “Making all Voices Count” and “Mwananchi” situated social accountability in the context of Ethiopia’s development path and discussed the understanding of the role of civil society (presentation). He explained that ESAP2 has been overcoming collective action challenges by dealing with conflicting incentives and conflicting images or assumptions of reality between citizens and service providers. In a nutshell, the CSOs:
In her closing address, a representative of the Ethiopia Roads Authority enthusiastically summarised the role of CSOs from her own perspective: “we are so happy with this program which alleviates our challenges. ESAP2 goes deep: facilitates arbitration, negotiation, and conflict resolution, and has brought a healthier mind-set and mentality to all parties. It strengthens relationships between citizens and government: more love and understanding. Social accountability is the foundation for the democratic development agenda. Please step into our offices wherever you operate - we need to partner more.”
The National Conference was also attended by international participants that work on Social Accountability. Siapha Kamara, Chief Executive Officer for SEND - West Africa is one of these participants. The conference has been a great learning experience for him: “The tools implemented in Ethiopia are few, simple and user friendly. The fact that they are tailored to the service users and their simplicity is a plus as it is empowering. Secondly, the commitment of the Ethiopian government to see social accountability as a tool for good governance and development is really commendable. I have also seen that capacity building has been across the board: for government and civil society organizations. This makes it much easier for them to work together. The program also creates a platform for networking between government and all state actors. Through this initiative, they can build trust on a solid foundation because to have effective social accountability you need to have trust between all stakeholders. I have also seen that a lot of emphasis has been given to capacity building at the grass roots level. For this reason, the potential for the project to be sustainable is quite high.”
Sustainability indeed: as Grandvoinnet et al write in “Opening the Black box” (World Bank 2015, page 196) - “Through this engagement [in social accountability activities], citizens learn to develop a broader perspective, recognize and respect diverse and opposing opinions, and develop a capacity for cooperation and reciprocity—a process that scholars have called “social identification” (Paxton 2007; Putnam 1993; Warren 2001). These effects of participation in collective projects can be enduring: they are “an inheritance people take along with them in their life cycle” (Hooghe 2003) and that they can apply to other domains of public life.”
ESAP2 now moves into a bridging phase towards the next generation of social accountability activities in Ethiopia.
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