Good governance and socioeconomic development projects often target individuals or organizations. Counterpart believes that it is not only important to work with individuals and organizations but also the formal and informal networks to which they belong.
Increasing government accountability and transparency is important in any context, particularly in fragile and transitioning states where simmering grievances and inequality of opportunity can lead to social unrest and violence. In Counterpart’s experience, the inclusive and participatory process of supporting good governance is almost as significant as the outcome. By working to create conditions for the figurative “big-tent” approach to citizen engagement in the political process, development activities and investments are more responsive to local needs and more sustainable. Counterpart’s Inclusive Social Accountability© (ISA) framework guides our approach to citizen-centered and citizen-focused program design and implementation.
Many development programs focus exclusively on educating individuals; building the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs); or supporting sector networks. Counterpart has found that our most effective programs target all three. While there are numerous program examples of single organizations lobbying for new laws and individual leaders influencing government, significant and sustainable change is most likely when there is a collective and inclusive effort for greater social accountability. This holds true through each of the five elements of our ISA framework, which include: (1) operationalizing local knowledge, (2) building capacity for collective action, (3) fostering social partnerships, (4) supporting effective governance, and (5) amplifying action based on learning.
In most areas where we work, there is a combination of individuals, formal organizations, and informal relationships that occupy the governance space. Individuals with a compelling message, charisma, and capabilities can spark change from outside of government or reforms from within it. In Guatemala, for instance, one individual’s Facebook screed against corruption sparked a public movement that resulted in prosecutions of the highest authorities. This collective action was later joined by formal civil society organizations and continues to exist as a multi-stakeholder network to continue to hold the new Guatemalan government accountable. What role, if any, should international organizations play in these indigenous and often spontaneous public movements?
In Armenia, Counterpart worked with individuals, organizations, and networks to implement USAID-funded good governance activities from 2004-2016. When the organization began its work there, no election had been deemed free and fair by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), political power was highly concentrated and widely viewed as illegitimate, and the country was in the bottom half of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. This arduous engagement and capacity building at the individual, organizational, and network level culminated in a referendum that changed the political structure from a strong presidential republic to a parliamentary republic where power rested primarily with the governing parliamentary coalition and the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister tried to unconstitutionally extend his term in 2017, a broad-based coalition of individuals, formal CSOs, and informal networks organized protests that caused him to eventually call new elections. While it would be incorrect to attribute the success of this collective action to international assistance – international support to civil society at the individual, organizational, and network level provided a broad-based constituency with the courage and ability to demand reform.
Counterpart in Armenia:
- Provided 1,600 youth with leadership trainings; established 76 school debate clubs; and initiated 41 Youth and Community Action Centers to provided opportunities to 1,000s of young leaders.
- Employed a cascading methodology of CSO capacity services and certification to three intermediary service organizations (ISOs) which in turn provided capacity building services to 100s of CSOs throughout Armenia.
- Supported dozens of diverse networks to successfully advocate for more than two dozen legislative and policy changes.
In Timor-Leste, Counterpart applied Inclusive Social Accountability approaches in the Ba Distrito project, where we worked with sucos (the local villages) to inform community stakeholders – including tribal chiefs alongside representatives of women’s groups and marginalized communities — about key access points to officials within the public sector to improve service delivery. This program was created under the premise that if we improve citizens’ access to and trust in the public sector, they will mitigate political grievances and reduce the appeal of violence as a viable means to achieve socio-political or economic change. Counterpart worked at the individual-level by providing leadership training to more than 6,000 individuals; awarded 100 grants to local CSOs to support service delivery and oversight; and worked with a network of eight implementing CSO partners and other coalitions to advocate and provide commentary to draft decentralization policies. One of the key findings from the program was that because of citizen participation in the planning, delivery, and oversight of public services, residents in participating communities had an increased level of satisfaction with service delivery. Because of the notable improvements of local government responsiveness to citizen concerns and improved local service delivery, the government has now begun to move forward on a long-desired policy and legislative framework for decentralization. The referenced cases demonstrate the methods as well as the short-term outcomes and longer-term results of employing the elements of the ISA framework while working comprehensively with individuals, organizations, and networks. In Guatemala, Armenia, and Timor-Leste, the populations are diverse and there is a history of tension and conflict. In such contexts, the cost of exclusion is high and could exacerbate tensions and result in eventual violence. By ensuring that our programs were inclusive and involved diverse stakeholders, our partners are better able to develop a “marketplace” of ideas and sustainable solutions to local problems – thereby reducing the need for international donors. Counterpart’s ISA framework also emphasizes the importance of forging inclusive, accountable, and transparent social partnerships with business and government. We have seen that a constructive and collaborative approach among the civic, public, and private sectors is the most sustainable approach which results in slow and small changes that often manifest later in macro changes as demonstrated by the three cases described above.