“By introducing an automated customer management system we took a noose and put it around our own necks. We are now accountable!”
This reflection from a manager in the Nairobi Public Water and Sewerage utility succinctly captures the impact of MajiVoice, a digital system that logs customer complaints, enables managers to assign the issue to a specific worker, track its resolution, and report back to the customer via an SMS. As a result, complaint resolution rates have doubled, and the time taken to resolve complaints has dropped by 90 percent.
MajiVoice shows that digital technologies can dramatically improve public sector capacity and accountability in otherwise weak governance environments. But is this example replicable? Can the increasingly cheap and ubiquitous digital technologies—there are now 4.7 billion mobile phone users in the world—move the needle on governance and make bureaucrats more accountable?
Performance budgeting (PB) has a deep and enduring appeal. What government would not want to allocate resources in a way that fosters efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability? However, such aspirations have proven poor predictors of how performance data are actually used.
The potential benefits of identifying and tracking the goals of public spending are undeniable, but have often justified a default adoption of overly complex systems of questionable use. Faith in PB is sustained by a willingness to forget past negative experiences and assume that this time it will be different. Without a significant re-evaluation, PB’s history of disappointment seems likely also to be its future.
In my blog “The Governance Gap – can we bridge it?”, I stressed that strengthened institutions and improved governance are especially critical for the world’s most vulnerable countries in IDA, the World Bank’s Fund for the 77 poorest countries.
IDA is the single largest source of funds for basic social services for these governments and every three years, members representing IDA’s 173 donor and borrowing member countries meet to replenish its resources and refine its priorities.
The introduction of “citizen engagement” into law is an idea that is gaining popularity around the world.
New provisions in Kenya’s recent Constitution enshrine openness, accountability and public participation as guiding principles for public financial management. Yet, as citizen engagement practitioners know, . Experience has shown that in the absence of commitment from leaders and citizens and without appropriate capacities and methodologies, public participation provisions may lead to simple “tick the box” exercises.
Thanks to the support from the Kenya Participatory Budgeting Initiative (KPBI)* and the commitment from West Pokot and Makueni** County leaders, participatory budgeting (PB) is being tested as a way to achieve more inclusive and effective citizen engagement processes while complying with national legal provisions. The initial results are quite encouraging.
Perhaps, as recent events have shown, no greater challenge confronts statesmen and women than this one: when should leaders yield to public opinion and when should they resist it or lead it?
In many democratic societies there is a presumption in favor of yielding to public opinion on the great public issues of the day. Proponents of direct democracy, for instance, argue essentially that leaders should always yield to public opinion. The assumption here, of course, is that you can always trust “the people”. In any case, it is argued, not to trust the people is to favor rule by unaccountable elites, the same people who almost always look after their own interests…and nothing else.
There are at least two problems with always trusting “the people”. The first is the problem of expertise or civic competence. Many public issues are complex and many sided, and you need to be able to wade through boatloads of often contradictory expert opinion. Your average citizen in a democracy, even while reasonably educated, is not likely to be terribly well-informed generally let alone be able to decide complex issues. Deliberative Polls try to solve the problem of expertise by (a) selecting a representative sample of the people (b) exposing them to a full range of expert opinions on the key public issue they will vote on (c) allow them to discuss the issue at length before (d) asking them to vote on the issue. These polls often produce fascinating opinion shifts.
One journalist used it as a data source for a story on solar energy in Makueni County. Another accessed the data for inclusion in a piece on sanitary napkin distribution in East Pokot. Development partners reported relying on the data to coordinate specific activities in the Central Highlands of Kenya. And this is to say nothing of the government users of the data managed by the Electronic Project Monitoring Information System for the Government of Kenya (e-ProMIS), Kenya’s automated information management system on development projects funded by both domestic and foreign resources.
Procurement is an essential aspect of World Bank operations and international development projects worldwide. The World Bank’s policy on procurement encourages the use of country systems in procurement implementation process while ensuring the consistency with the Bank’s regulations .
Making procurement information publicly available promotes openness and transparency and creates a level playing field for bidders. This, in turn, fosters competition and potentially decreases corruption risks.
With this in mind, World Bank teams in East Asia and the Pacific successfully collaborated with government procurement agencies to increase and improve the publication of procurement information and to pilot e-procurement portals for Bank-funded operations.
The following story shares our experiences and successes in both China and Vietnam.
I recently visited one of Bioversity International’s project sites in Begnas, where I met farming couple, Surya and Saraswati Adhikari. They proudly showed me around their biodiverse farm, pointing out some of the 150 plant species they grow and explaining that each one has a specific use. They showed me the vegetables, rice, gourds and legumes they grow to eat and sell; the trees that provide fruits, fodder and fuel, and the many herbs for medicinal and cultural purposes.
While countries around the world reap the benefits of an expanding digital environment, development challenges persist, adversely impacting low-income countries from achieving that same rate of growth.
The 2016 World Development Report (PDF) recently highlighted these findings in addition to three factors that contribute to a government’s responsiveness towards these digital changes.
According to the report, public services tend to be more amenable to improvements through digital technologies if the proposed system allows for fluid feedback, a replicable development process, and an outcome that can be easily measured and identified.
Inclusion is the new buzzword in international development. From promoting citizen empowerment to fostering pathways out of fragility, it is all about political processes that are more inclusive and representative.
The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals are perhaps the most ambitious articulation of this consensus, with Goal 16 in particular calling for building more “effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.
And there are good reasons for this call-out. Two findings from research that I undertook for a paper I wrote recently on Political Settlements and the Politics of Inclusion are particularly striking in highlighting the centrality of inclusion: