April 12, 2013
When the United Kingdom took over the presidency of the G8, it announced it would focus on open economies, open governments, and open societies. It is leading by example with its efforts to make its own aid flows traceable from source to destination.
In a February 7 speech, newly appointed Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening said making aid flows traceable “will have a truly transformative effect, as citizens will be able to start holding those in power to account. That spotlight can help truly fight corruption, and the sharing of information will allow far better collaboration, analysis, and evaluation.”
Promoting these ideals abroad, the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) weaves what Prime Minister David Cameron has called “the golden thread” of development to link stable governments, lack of corruption, human rights, the law and justice, and transparent information. This approach underlies an ambitious commitment to scale up work on empowerment and accountability. By 2015, DFID aims to help 40 million people “have choice and control over their own development and to hold decision-makers to account. Each DFID country office that provides aid directly to local governments will also spend up to 5 percent of the total on support to what is called domestic accountability.”
This critical interface between local government service and local people is to improve accountability where some of the most innovative and imaginative—and brave—citizen-led efforts are taking place. In countries as different as Kenya, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Pakistan, citizens are using what are called community scorecards to weave the golden thread of development into sustained change.
In Kenya, where national elections just took place, citizens have been holding local officials to account by reviewing funds allocated, assessing the public works done with those funds, and giving simple ratings such as “green lights for those services that are working, “ for those under way, and “no lights” if the money is missing. These scorecards have been used in local schools to monitor money that comes in for education and make recommendations back to the national level based on the evidence collected.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a user-friendly approach to scorecards is allowing citizens to open dialogue at the local level with security sector actors and hold police to account. Focus groups designed the scorecards, applied them, and then held meetings with police and local community members to compare results. Jointly, they then laid out the next steps of reform, and held quarterly reviews to measure progress. Media reports kept the wider public informed.
There are risks to these approaches, such as generating demand for better service delivery that governments don’t have the capacity or will to provide, leaving citizens frustrated. Often too, spotlighting areas for improvement can put citizens at odds with government bureaucracies and vested interests that may benefit from the status quo. In some cases, citizens may fear retribution for speaking out about change they want to see happen. For these reasons, careful project designs should ensure there are resources to follow up on identified problems. Also, a considerable amount of time should be spent on expectation management or even education, as in some past cases communities have scored services that are not the legal responsibility of the government or where officials are without the mandate or resources to respond to the problems spelled out by the scorecards.
But fundamentally, these efforts — when done well — allow for citizens and government to have dialogue about their own priorities for change. Such conversations often produce practical, low-cost recommendations to improve services: changes as simple as modifying health clinic hours to better suit women and girls who have domestic responsibilities. A good public hearing can’t be an end point but rather a starting point for discussion and most importantly action.
Given the United Kingdom’s focus on transparency and accountability, successes like citizen scorecards are important. They illustrate how development aid can help to promote accountability where it matters most: between the governed and the governing. That’s a golden thread worth strengthening.
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