Not easy to induce civic engagement in development: WB

Friday, November 16, 2012
[PHOTO: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] 
New York/Washington: Involving local communities in decisions that affect their lives is central to making development more effective, and it has the potential to transform the role that poor people play in development by giving them voice and agency. But inducing civic engagement in development is not easy, says a new World Bank report, which covers community development and decentralization projects supported by the Bank and other donors.

Localizing Development: Does Participation Work?, a new Policy Research Report analyzing participatory development efforts, shows that such projects often fail to be sensitive to complex contexts – including social, political, historical and geographical realities – and fall short in terms of monitoring and evaluation systems, which hampers learning. Citing numerous examples, the authors demonstrate that participatory projects are not a substitute for weak states, but instead require strong central support to be effective.

The report shares evidence-based lessons on the challenges donor agencies face in inducing participation, including the need for a responsive state and a strong awareness of local context, and it recommends several steps to ensure that financiers support projects effectively, such as flexible, long-term engagement and participatory monitoring.

“Genuine efforts at inducing civic engagement require a sustained long-term commitment and a clear understanding of the social and political forces at all levels of society,” said Ghazala Mansuri, a lead economist in the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Equity Group who co-authored the book with colleague, Vijayendra Rao, lead economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group.

“Rarely is much thought given to the possibility that it is no easy task to effectively organize groups of people to act in a way that solves market and government failures,” said Rao, “In fact, such efforts face multiple challenges, such as lack of coordination, inequality, lack of transparency, corruption, free-riding, and low capacity. Participation works best as a sandwich with bottom-up participation supported by top-down supervision. ”

Given that the World Bank itself invested $85 billion over the past 10 years on local participatory projects, with other donors adding billions more, Mansuri and Rao had rich material to examine when participatory projects work and when they do not. They conclude that while community participation has had some success in improving outcomes in health and education, it has been less effective in reducing poverty, or in building the capacity for collective action. 

According to the World Bank researchers, there are some common features among community-based programs that have done well in reaching the poor and improving services. One is strong engagement by the state, as in Brazil’s Programa Saude da Famılia, which provides free health services and is managed by municipal governments under the supervision of the Brazilian Ministry of Health. Assessments of this program reveal substantial health effects, especially for newborn babies and young children. In addition, the program is cost effective, at some $30 per capita. 

Another key to success is significant effort in building capacity at the local level, as was the case with Ghana’s Community Health and Family Planning Project. As per the report, it is also "vital" to pay a great deal of attention to context and to commit strongly to transparent monitoring systems, as in Indonesia’s Kecamatan Development Program.
Next Post »