Citizen feedback in practice

Opening up governance activities to citizen participation is slowly, but surely, becoming the norm, thanks to the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Aided with computer technology, government entities have established mechanisms for citizen feedback in the hope of using them as stepping stones towards more efficient and public-responsive services and improved trust in the government. But this hope can only be turned to reality if citizen feedback is put into action and in turn, appropriate and adequate responses are provided to the complaining citizen.

It is expected for government to take action. Thus, when civil society takes initiative not only in building the feedback mechanism, but also in taking action to improve public services and close the feedback loop, one cannot help feeling inspired.

At the 2018 OGP Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Derek Thorne, Head of Program Development at Integrity Action (IA), an active network of NGOs; and Ani Harutyunyan, a community mobilizing specialist of Armavir Development Center (ADC) NGO, presented the Open Feedback and Community Monitoring project in Armenia. Community monitors are organized and trained to identify problems in construction of secondary schools, which are reported to Joint Working Groups (JWG) composed of local government officials, contractors, implementing agency, local NGOs, and community monitors, and find solutions. Problems not solved at the JWG level are elevated to a High-Level Working Group. Problems and solutions are monitored and published in a dedicated website.

To demonstrate government-initiated citizen feedback mechanisms, Aida Maria A. Talavera, Director IV of the Commission on Audit (COA), the Supreme Audit Institution of the Philippines, presented the Citizens’ Desk with its back-end Public Information System (PIS). The COA receives complaints through the Citizen’s Desk portal of the COA Website, which are processed and managed by the PIS. Action is taken by the appropriate COA office and the results are reported back to the complaining citizen. In addition, the COA conducts regular Citizen Participatory Audit Dialogues where members of civil society, including development partners, dialogue with COA officials and auditors to identify possible audit topics, concerns or problems which the COA should address, how the proponent citizens can help the COA in either conducting the citizen participatory audit or in solving the problem, and the competencies and resources needed for such participation. Proponent citizens are deputized as citizen auditors and become part of the public audit process from planning, evidence gathering and analysis, reporting, and validating implementation of audit recommendations.

Similarly, Enkhbat Amarjargal, Advisor to the Auditor General of Mongolia, reported that the Mongolian National Audit Office (MNAO) uses citizen complaints, participatory planning meetings, and thematic workshops to obtain citizen feedback, which are then used in audit planning. Citizens also participate in the public audit process through their membership in the Chamber of Citizen Audit, an ad-hoc group composed of representatives of civil society and created by the MNAO. The Chamber gathers and analyzes data and submits its reports to the MNAO.

Each feedback mechanism is a work in progress and faces its own share of challenges. For Armenia, the challenges include the lack of willingness to cooperate on the part of citizens and the ability to sustain these mechanisms in the light of dwindling technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank. The COA faces the challenge of meeting all citizen expectations given its limited manpower resources. The MNAO faces the challenges of costs – including costs of time, money, and potentially political costs of a loss in credibility if the engagement is poorly handled, of complexity – discerning which information sharing or participatory practices are suited to the scale of a problem and the technicalities involved, and of representativeness – involving a “mini-public” that mirrors the broader society and adequately considers the interests of those with most at stake.

Public feedback to address these challenges would go a long way towards enhancing and sustaining these mechanisms.