Over the past decade there has been great interest in the power of citizens to transform society. Engaged citizens are seen as essential in fighting corruption, promoting transparency and accountability, strengthening governance and improving development outcomes. Yet, the evidence base linking citizen action to improved results is often questioned. Yesterday saw an interesting panel discussion on citizen’s role in tackling corruption held at the ODI, London.
Integrity Action’s Fredrik Galtung launched his working paper on the “Fix-Rate” [click on the link to see a copy of the working paper] a key metric for measuring the impact of our Community Integrity Building approach (CIB). Our work involves supporting citizens and local government to work together to build their skills, monitor, formulate and implement practical solutions to improve development projects so that citizens in developing countries get better public services and infrastructure.
Fredrik shared the panel with Pierre Landell Mills, Director of the Partnership for Transparency Fund and author of "Citizens Against Corruption", who shared examples and learning’s from PTF work in 53 countries where citizens have made a difference.
Both PTF and Integrity Action agree that citizens can make a difference and shared examples of cases where citizen engagement has worked, and agreed that certain factors are necessary in order for this to happen:
- Constructive engagement & collective action is necessary, rather than citizens and government working in isolation. Just as there's good work on citizen engagement, findings are positive on public financial management and supreme audit institutions.
- Cost-effectiveness: citizen engagement has modest costs compared to the significant benefits.
- Importance of building local capacities – it is important to build on local knowledge and work with champions within the system.
A key take out from yesterday’s session was on the evidence base. While PTF have collected evidence through narrative case studies (200 from 53 countries), Integrity Action’s Fredrik challenged PTF’s view that case studies provide enough evidence. Integrity Action believes that yes, citizens can make a difference, and we have case studies to show this. What we need to do now is to make them more impactful by ensuring we have reliable, quality, independently verifiable evidence that supports our case studies. Without this it is difficult to demonstrate the why and how citizens make a difference.
Fredrik argued that up until now, there has been no common unit of measurement for this and so proposed the concept of the fix, the resolution of a problem to the satisfaction of the main stakeholders, and the fix rate, the percentage of identified problems that are resolved. By applying this measurement we can see how problems are resolved. Integrity Action has been applying this approach in our CIB and will next week launch our online platform, DevelopmentCheck, where this evidence base is shared.
Other interesting points to consider included:
- Change agents: We need to understand more about how change agents can make a difference, in what circumstances. Why do citizen movements gain strength and organisational effectiveness in some contexts and not others? What can we learn about spoilers and about failures?
- Compliance vs integrity: how can we make proactive integrity sustainable? How can we shift from reactive compliance media and investigating individual wrongdoing to integrity journalism and understanding structures and systemic issues and solutions?
Ultimately, in order to understand how and why citizens make a difference, we need to understand progress factors and how to resolve collective action problems. We can do that through granular analysis, locally-driven solutions, and investment in tools such as DevelopmentCheck that capture the problem, 'fix' and process of change.