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Empowering grassroots communities in Asia through effective public service delivery

Deepesh Thakur |

This blog is part of a series on public service delivery for open government.

As a development and human rights practitioner, I have realised that the translation of global goals and human rights treaties are only possible when there is meaningful engagement of vulnerable communities. This is when communities are in dialogue around service failures on their rights entitlement and government commitments. This should include service user feedback with an aim of bringing solutions to challenges in making public service delivery more inclusive.

As we enter into the dialogue on promoting inclusive and accountable service, is it vital to understand some of the problems and factors preventing it. While we recognize that it is the core responsibility of the government to deliver public services, quite often, governments put in place good policies, and sign up to multiple global treaties and conventions, but then implementation falls short and they fail to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. To address these implementation  gaps it is key to include the most vulnerable  in service design and evaluation. Social accountability approaches have grown over the past decade and have gained increasing importance and relevance in light of the Agenda 2030 and its pre-conditions of shared responsibility, mutual accountability, and engagement by all. Meaningful involvement of ordinary citizens, particularly the often marginalised including women, children and young people, in process of priority setting, implementation, monitoring and accountability for the Agenda 2030, is central to the success of the framework, its goals and targets. Indicator 16.6.2 (proportion of the population satisfied with their last experience of public services) speaks to the heart of the matter. After all, who can better tell us if the services are reaching and meeting critical needs than those who need them most – the vulnerable and those who are often left behind?

World Vision International has been working with a social accountability approach called “Citizen Voice and Action” – CVA – a simple, well-defined approach that equips citizens to engage in constructive dialogue with government.  The beauty of CVA is that it empowers communities in a non-confrontational manner and promotes collective action. First, communities learn about basic human rights, and how these rights are articulated under local law (Information).  Next, communities work collaboratively with government and service providers to compare the reality against the commitments made by the government.  Communities also have the opportunity to rate the performance of the government against subjective criteria that is generated by them.  Then, findings are brought together in a town hall style set-up, the interface meeting, where all key stakeholders engage in constructive dialogue based on the information gathered, and then culminating into an action plan to improve the services monitored (Dialogue). Finally, communities work with other stakeholders to influence decision-makers to improve services (Accountability). More information on this approach can be found in the CVA Field Guide. Successful implementation of this approach has resulted in transforming public service delivery in many communities in Asia and Pacific, and beyond. There are 630 such programmes being implemented in 48 countries around the world. Some successful examples from Asian countries include:

India: Numerous Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and communities have testified about tasks that were unachievable for years that were achieved within the three years of CVA. For example, the CVA process has facilitated the establishment of displaced persons’ organizations (DPOs) in 15 areas of India, which are helping persons with disabilities to realise and fight for their rights and entitlements. The DPOs are successfully facilitating acquisition of disability certificates for their members and access to stipends for housing, transportation, education, and other services. This has seen increased participation of people with disabilities in the development process of their communities.

Nepal:  Through the implementation of CVA in Doti and Kailali in Nepal, malnutrition has reduced from 8 per cent to 5.8 per cent among children under 3 years of age. Skilled birth attendants are supporting more and more pregnant mothers, with an increase from 35.2 per cent to 66 per cent of births. Mothers attending four Ante Natal Check-up (ANC) visits have consistently increased from 45 per cent to 55 per cent, and Post Natal Check-up (PNC) visits also trended upward from 59 per cent to 63 per cent.   

Indonesia: Through CVA, access to improved quality services  has increased, as well as community participation and empowerment. Statistically significant increases in community knowledge of service availability and decreases in the proportion of respondents having difficulty accessing maternal and child health services, due to money, have been reported. This project was implemented in 3 districts of Nusa Tenggara Timur province by Wahana Visi Indonesia with the funds from the World Bank Global Partnership on Social Accountability.

More information on these  and other examples can be found here.

To ensure the success of social accountability approaches such as Citizen Voice Action it is important to::

  1. Mainstream the social accountability initiatives in government national development plans and in technical assistance programmes by development partners: Government National  Development Plans should put greater emphasis on social accountability and civic engagement. This should be a strong component of national government plans and should be embedded to decentralised governance for public service delivery. I believe we can make great contributions towards the effective implementation of policies, ending hunger, improving education and promoting good governance, if partners, including the Asian Development Bank, World Bank etc. intentionally integrate social accountability in development and technical assistance programmes.

  2. Strengthen the social accountability initiatives building  effective partnerships and utilizing common platforms: World Vision’s experiences with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Armenia suggests that national platforms can facilitate a more conducive environment for citizen engagement with their governments for improved service delivery. World Vision Armenia engaged in the OGP action planning process with proposals on transparency in school planning and budgeting processes, making them more participatory. The OGP country action plans are concrete ways for governments, civil society and partners to agree upon clear and actionable commitments around inclusive and accountable public services.

  3. Include the most vulnerable groups in the design and implementation of the initiatives: Sustainable development goals will be truly realized when children and vulnerable groups will be included in planning processes and their needs addressed in rural as well as in urban communities. Often these groups are marginalized and  voiceless, but in our experience their voice is critical to achieve real development, and social accountability provides a means to enabling their voice being heard.