With over 50 years of experience working with communities around the world to solve pressing global challenges, Counterpart International has learned a few things about what works and what does not in development. One of the most important lessons is that we will not achieve lasting and impactful results if we do not adopt a deliberate focus on inclusion. This is particularly true for programs that strive to achieve greater government responsiveness using social accountability approaches: people need to feel like they own and drive the processes that transform their communities. We have an obligation to ensure that everyone is included in the process.
These principles guide Counterpart’s work in Afghanistan where civic activists feared being left out of peace negotiations that could potentially lead to a reversal of their hard-fought rights. Women-led and women-serving organizations have been particularly vocal in their concerns. To amplify their voices, Counterpart is working through our provincial CSO partners to organize high-profile and inclusive peace events to support a peace process that protects basic citizen and women’s rights. We are also engaging rural CSOs representing often-excluded rural populations to ensure they had a voice in the Peace Jirga and in ongoing negotiations.
Building on this important lesson, Counterpart is launching its Inclusive Social Accountability (ISA) framework, which integrates elements of social inclusion and community accountability into one comprehensive approach. The framework is rooted in community-driven insights we have collected over the years, including:
- Failing to implement effective strategies for social inclusion leads to an increased risk of reinforcing existing divisions, disparities, and uneven power relations – ultimately undermining the objective to improve public services for all.
- Social inclusion is not an end in itself. It must strive to achieve practical and well-defined goals that impact the broader community.
- Inclusion efforts need to be comprehensive and go beyond tokenism to affect an increase in individual agency and an authentic sharing of political power. They must draw on an understanding of complex systems and power dynamics to be successful.
The ISA framework is composed of five Buildings Blocks, each supported by tools and methodologies that Counterpart has field tested and scaled. However, ISA is about much more than applying tools; it is a frame of mind through which social accountability programs can be designed and implemented. We developed the framework by reviewing tools, methodologies, and lessons learned from our programs. We noted that the programs that had been the most successful at integrating social inclusion in their programming had systematically adopted an inclusion lens throughout their activities. They used what we came to call a missing voice analysis through each step of programming, from design to implementation, to monitoring and learning.
A missing voice analysis consists of asking the right questions at the right time and measuring the right things. These questions can easily be integrated within the design and implementation of most programs. We must ask:
- Who are the stakeholders that are affected by the problem the program is attempting to solve?
- To what extent have they been engaged in decision-making or consultative processes to resolve the problem?
- What strategies can we put in place to amplify their voices and their influence on decision-making?
During implementation, we assess the extent to which the voices of the traditionally excluded are heard and able to influence decisions. As we monitor the results of our interventions, we must go beyond just counting the number of participants and develop metrics that assess the depth of their engagement and the extent to which they are perceived differently. We also document how inclusion leads to actual policy changes, the development of new service delivery models, and the reallocation of public resources.
Applying this approach resulted in significant change in El Salvador through our efforts to improve security governance and reduce levels of violence. While crime and violence are high on the government’s agenda, not all groups had been included in policy dialogue. This is particularly true of the LGBTI community, which suffers from systemic discrimination and targeted violence, including at the hand of the security forces who should be protecting them. Counterpart worked with LGBTI activist groups to help them voice their grievances directly with the Ministry of Justice and to security forces. As a result of this dialogue, the ministry adopted an LGBTI policy that is now a cornerstone of the security sector reform process. Activists can now use this as a tool to demand better treatment from public security forces. Their grievances have been recognized and their voices amplified.
As we developed the ISA framework, we saw an opportunity to single out the missing voice analysis as a distinct and practical way to promote “Thinking and Working Politically” (TWP) in Counterpart’s programs. The linkage and synergies between the missing voice analysis and TWP methodologies are strong: TWP tools such Political Economy Analysis (PEA) provide a broad framework to better understand how social, political, and economic factors influence project implementation and identify windows of opportunity for successful interventions. Through their focus on the complexity of power relations, TWP approaches already look at how and for what reasons certain stakeholders are included in decision-making processes while others are excluded. Systematically integrating missing voice analysis with TWP methodologies and tools ensures that our interventions promote greater inclusion and equity. So, let’s TWPI! Think and Work Politically and Inclusively!