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Open government needs to put more eggs on the table

Nathaniel Heller |

When leaders from the Open Government Partnership gathered for a high-level retreat in April of this year to discuss key priorities for the partnership, one theme came through clearly in the many rich discussions amongst government and civil society leaders: we need to connect open government reforms to outcomes that matter for people’s day-to-day lives. As one of our ministerial colleagues put it succinctly: “People want to see more eggs on the table.” That metaphor became our tagline for the week, and fueled renewed interest in investing further in transparency, accountability and participation (TAP) reforms that help to accelerate intermediate and downstream development outcomes that are palpable to communities, especially in key service delivery sectors, such as health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, and nutrition.

OGP, of course, isn’t the first network of reformers seeking to see to draw the links between TAP reforms and development outcomes. The social accountability community boasts a wealth of experience of knowledge around these challenges and offers us collectively a treasure trove of wisdom and inspiration. For example, our Transparency for Development Project, a joint project of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and Results for Development, seeks to generate rigorous evidence of whether community-led transparency and accountability can improve health — and in what contexts. The project uses mixed-methods, and while we’re still analyzing the results of our multi-year, multi-country randomized controlled trial, we have surfaced hundreds of stories of citizens working together to hold duty-bearers to account and improve the health of their community.

Below, we will share just two such stories:  

  • In one community in Tanzania, T4D’s initial community survey identified general complaints about the management of their health facility. To address these problems, the community representatives decided to build a suggestion box where people could anonymously voice their complaints. They worked with the community to build and install the box, and after installation brought the results to a meeting with the village authority, health governing committee, and health facility in charge. Beyond the more expected complaints about negative attitudes from health providers, some women had made the even more shocking complaint that the night watchman sleeps near the delivery room and listens to what is being discussed. In response, the watchman was suspended so that women would feel comfortable giving birth in the facility.  
  • Residents in one outlying Indonesian sub-village pointed out that they had to travel very far to reach the nearest family health service post (posyandu), and complained that they did not know how much important maternal health services cost.  The community representatives took those complaints to a meeting with the midwives and head of the central health facility to ask for more information to be displayed and for a posyandu to be built in the distant sub-village. While the facility head was not able to provide everything the representatives asked for, he did work to address their concerns. He provided basic cost and working hours information, but explained that their budget prohibited building a completely new health facility. Instead, he suggested another option that he would be able to help pay for — a resting ward near the existing facility, so that mothers who had to travel would have a place to wait for services. Even though some of the community representatives were disappointed, they agreed to collaborate and began looking for a building to convert into the resting ward.  

Rocket science? No. But open government reforms that deliver for people’s lives? Absolutely.  

We hope you also find these stories of civic participation for on-the-ground health improvements inspiring. With colleagues from Twaweza, ODAC, and the Government of Nigeria, we will be discussing these stories, as well as some of the data and evidence, as part of the Civic Engagement for Service Delivery Improvements panel at the OGP Global Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia. For example, what actually motivates citizens to take action? And what drives duty-bearers to respond? We hope to see you there!  

If you’re interested in learning more about T4D, check out the previous blogs we’ve posted about T4D:

  • Do citizens tend to confront health providers to demand accountability? Or do they pursue more collaborative approaches?  Find out here.
  • Do citizens become more confrontational when the problem is rude nurses and doctors?  The answer surprised us
  • Did you know village bylaws to try to force better health decisions may be counter-productive?  Read about what we saw in Tanzania, including more open and participatory ways to make bylaws better!
  • Using a community scorecard to improve service delivery? Read this checklist first!