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#OpenGovGram Winner: Public Meeting in Elgeyo Marakwet

Ganadora de #OpenGovGram: Reunión Pública en Elgeyo Marakwet

open gov gram challenge winner
Panthea Lee |

This photo was taken in Kapyego Ward, Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya, where the county government was holding a public participation meeting on how the ward’s annual development budget should be spent. It was beautiful, sunny, but cold (5°C or 40°F) day—the County is high in Kenya’s Rift Valley—so it was even more impressive that over 200 citizens came out and stayed for over six hours of discussion. They were deliberating over how to allocate Ksh 40 million (USD 390,000) to improve their communities over the next year, and the top priorities that emerged were investments in clean water, road construction, and primary education.

The event in Kapyego was but one of 20 meetings the Government of Elgeyo Marakwet held in late August 2016. The County held similar public consultations in all 20 of its wards, organized by its Office of Finance and Economic Planning and its Office of Public Participation. These were attended by County executives (including the Governor and Deputy Governor), technical staff, and Ward Development Committees.

Public consultation in development planning is mandated in Kenya’s constitution and strengthening transparency, participation, and accountability in governance is an everyday project in Elgeyo Marakwet. Founded in 2013, the “County Of Champions”—a nickname given for its history of producing world­-class, award-winning athletes—has approximately 400,000 (2012) residents, 57 percent of which live below the poverty line. The County recognized that including all citizens—particularly those most vulnerable and marginalized—in government decision-making is critical to equitable and successful development; as such, it has championed citizen participation in local governance since its founding. Today, more than 70 percent of the County’s development budget is allocated through decisions taken in public participation fora such as the meeting seen here. Beyond budget planning, a variety of decisions—from changes to classifications of land usage, to distribution of social benefits—require citizen input.

The proliferation of citizen engagement channels in the County has led to the need for more formal policies and processes to ensure high-value citizen input, and to enable closer and more timely integration of citizen inputs into policymaking and service delivery processes. Elgeyo Marakwet’s OGP commitments speak directly to these needs.

Commitment 1 seeks to improve the effectiveness of citizen engagement in local governance, by identifying and scaling successful approaches to public participation. In executing this commitment, the County is drawing on its extensive citizen participation experience to determine: When, and under what conditions, are what types of public participation most effective? Resulting guidelines and protocols will be used to strengthen its work in this area, and can provide useful models for other Kenyan counties.

Commitment 2 seeks to improve citizen awareness of and input into county spending decisions, by publishing and seeking citizen feedback on budget formulation. This commitment demonstrates the County’s belief in the value of citizen input, not just in budget allocation (which is already the norm) but in budget preparation as well.

Commitment 3 seeks to improve the the transparency and accountability of public projects in priority sectors, by publishing project contracting and implementation information. Beyond improving government effectiveness, the County hopes open contracting will enhance the quality of citizen participation in dialogues on public spending.

Commitment 4 seeks to improve the accountability of public services in priority sectors, by developing channels for real-time citizen engagement and rapid government response. In implementing this commitment, the County is creating new ways to collect, filter, and process real-time citizen feedback to improve the quality of public services, using tools such as WhatsApp. (For a glimpse into how the government is designing these channels, see this post.)

As the public meeting captured in this photo shows, and the County’s OGP action plan demonstrates, Elgeyo Marakwet is a pioneer in subnational participatory governance. The County has used its participation in OGP to reflect on and strengthen its commitment to citizen participation, and the open government community at large will have much to learn from its bold experiments and innovations.