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Promoting citizens’ voice and accountability: understanding what may work in different settings and lessons from experience

Time (GMT +01) 12:30 14:00


Jeremy Kanthor - Deputy Chief of Party, Promoting Governance, Accountability, Transparency, and Integrity (PROGATI) Project, Bangladesh
Dr Fletcher Tembo - Research Fellow, ODI, and Mwananchi Governance and Transparency Programme Director

Patta Scott-Villiers - Fellow, Participation, Power and Social Change Team, Institute of Development Studies


Alina Rocha Menocal - Research Fellow, Politics and Governance Programme, ODI

Chair: Alina Rocha Menocal, ODI opened the event  by welcoming guest speakers and highlighting that this would be an opportunity to provide lessons learned on different interventions to improve voice and accountability.

1st Speaker: Jeremy Kanthor, Deputy Chief of Party, Promoting Governance, Accountability, Transparency, and Integrity (PROGATI) Project, Bangladesh

The first speaker focused on the 4 year USAID funded PROGATI project, which is using multiple tools to improve citizens’ voice and government accountability in Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh has shown significant economic, social, and political improvement in recent decades, weak governance and corruption still jeopardize its development. Focusing on media, civil society, public institutions, and parliament, PROGATI is designed to work across sectors to address these issues.

The speaker highlighted the importance of finding leaders at all levels of society (civil society, government, etc.) who promote reform and creating partnerships and promoting collaboration among groups to improve accountability

PROGATI uses the following tools to accomplish its aims:

1.       Citizen scorecard: This is a tool for civil society to use to monitor national level services at the local level, across service delivery sectors. A 6 step process is involved, culminating in a public hearing where recommendations are presented to the public. Government officials are co-opted into the event and the formality of the process and the subsequent report directly offers a sense of accountability. This process is not confrontational but is intended to create a dialogue among different levels of society.

2.       Broad social audit: PROGATI has performed a broad audit of Bangladesh assistance programs to the ultra-poor, with roughly 300 citizens working as data collectors. The results fo the audit demonstrated that the assistance programmes were often not reaching their target populations. Civil society presented these results to national ministries to begin the process of reform.

3.       Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh: PROGATI has worked with the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh, who is actively involved in accountability. He has met with civil society groups and has developed a media centre to publicize his efforts to improve accountability and educate the country on the activities and role of his office.

The speaker offered several lessons learned from the PROGATI experience:

1.       Information is key

a.       When civil society have information they can play a more credible role when meeting with officials and requesting reforms.

2.       Co-opting local officials

a.       Involving officials in government and parliament is very helpful for achieving substantial reforms.

3.       Sustainability

a.       Accountability can only be improved if citizens continue to monitor services and government.

The chair thanked the speaker and also emphasized the importance of co-opting local officials for the success of this process.

2nd Speaker: Patta Scott-Villiers, Fellow, Participation, Power and Social Change Team, Institute of Development Studies

The second speaker focused on a recent review of Governance and Transparency Fund (GTF) projects organized by Christian Aid. Although the evaluation focused on 16 projects in 10 different countries, she provided 3 examples from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Kenya, to demonstrate the variety and patterns of projects under review.

In Brazil, the Institute for Socioeconomic Studies has created a platform of political reform by developing an alliance of alliances of various goups. The groups have worked together to define a very specific agenda and to lobby and create political change in Brazil. Its work has led to legislation barring criminals from taking political office in Brazil.

In the Dominican Republic, a Jesuit service organization has been helping Haitian migrants attain citizenship and rights. Although the organization has not changed the overall system of discrimination, they have succeeded in individual cases.

In Kenya, the speaker reviewed the progress of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness, an organisation that supports women to lobby local constituencies for reform, in particular to the local constituency funds. These funds are administered by elected officials but they are often misused and have largely become patronage funds. Progress for this group has been slow.

The speaker highlighted several lessons learned from the review of the various projects:

1.       The groups that take advantage of political opportunity most directly have the greatest chance of reform. Achieving accountability comes from political opportunities.

2.       Networked governance is a must for achieving accountability. Involving the right people and creating alliances among people working to stimulate interests in transparency and accountability is necessary to achieve reform.

The chair thanked the speaker and introduced the final speaker for the meeting.

3rd Speaker: Dr. Fletcher Tembo, Research Fellow, ODI, and Director, Mwananchi Governance and Transparency Programme

The final speaker presented a midterm review of the work of the Mwananchi programme, a DFID funded programme focusing on improving citizen voice and accountability. Meaning “ordinary citizen”, Mwananchi has been operating in 7 African countries, and has recently undertaken field visits to three of those countries. The variety of political contexts in these countries offers a number of different perspectives on what works depending on context.

In each country, the Mwananchi programme initiated a governance assessment, which reviewed governance from multiple perspectives. This review looked beyond policy itself and also examined the actions of government. In addition, it examined the relationships between parliamentarians and citizens. The programme is supporting up to 10 projects working on a number of broad issues of governance and accountability throughout Africa. Each project is supported by intensive capacity development, the previous review of the policy situation, and outcome mapping.

In each project, important stakeholders, such as media and MP’s, are identified and the desired behaviour for each actor is then mapped. Furthermore, each project is exploring decision pathways and potentially larger issues in the political context.

The speaker offered the following lessons learned:

1.       A clear theory of change is needed to make impact.

2.       The process of energizing communities is key as communities have unique knowledge that others lack.

The chair thanked the final speaker and summarized emerging themes from the presentations. Multiple donor accountability and examining the interface between the supply and demand side were important topics. Understanding larger context is critical and recognizing that change is gradual is important. Finally, change is not bottom up or top down only, but usually a mixture of the two.


1.       Improving accountability involves encouraging citizens to confront powerful and sometimes dangerous people. What are the responsibilities of funders when they encourage locals to fight for accountability?

2.       How do you measure risks?

3.       Is there experience of governments clamping down dialogue on CSO’s in developing countries?

4.       How sustainable are projects? Will individuals take risks after donors leave?

5.       How do you reform the efforts of businesses and those who lobby the government for less accountability and transparency?

Jeremy Kanthor

·         Risks can be mitigated by involving and co-opting powerful officials. In Bangladesh, citizens faced lawsuits, but powerful politicians intervened and had the case dismissed.

Fletcher Tembo

·         Reform must involve a dialogue and be less confrontational to lessen risk.

Patta Scott-Villiers

·         There are risks for people in certain circumstances, especially those at the center of reform movements.

·         Business has repeatedly been an impediment to improving accountability. Government needs to make transparency and accountability more central issues than they currently are. Co-opting officials in government for reform movements can help accomplish this.


The quality of governance is a central factor affecting development prospects in poor countries. Citizens’ voice and government accountability are important dimensions of governance. Citizens’ capacity to express and exercise their views effectively has the potential to influence government priorities and processes, including a stronger demand for responsiveness, transparency and accountability. Governments that can be held accountable for their actions, for their part, are more likely to respond to the needs and demands articulated by their population. This event, organised by the Politics and Governance Programme at the Overseas Development Institute in partnership with DAI, will look at different interventions intended to improve voice and accountability, including the Promoting Governance, Accountability, Transparency, and Integrity (PROGATI) Project in Bangladesh and the Mwananchi Governance and Transparency Programme in seven African countries. The panel and discussion will reflect on the challenges involved in this kind of work and lessons learned.