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#5 from 2017: The role of social media in development

Rosie Parkyn's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on May 1, 2017.
 
Why should development organisations care about social media? Rosie Parkyn looks at social media’s potential to enhance development outcomes in the Global South and how this stacks up against the evidence.  
 
At BBC Media Action, we take our content to people wherever they are, be that a refugee reception centre in Lebanona homestead in rural Ethiopia or their Facebook feed. Our work as a media organisation makes the biggest difference when we succeed in getting people talking, whether face-to-face or across virtual networks. Social media enables such discussion, broadening it beyond geographically defined communities and existing editorial agendas, and at a scale hitherto unimaginable.
 
As a development organisation that predominantly produces mass media outputs, social platforms allow us to see how people respond to our content and debate the issues we raise in our programmes. We can observe and interact with audiences in a way that isn’t possible with legacy media like newspapers and TV.
 
It’s true that many of our most important audiences in the Global South are yet to gain access to social media. Nonetheless, its role and influence within the information ecosystems we work in will only grow and its ability to support positive development outcomes demands exploration.
 

Citizen Engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations: Really?

Najat Yamouri's picture

Citizen Engagement (CE) mechanisms are most effective when the operating environment is conducive. A well-informed citizenry, an enabling regulatory framework, such as freedom of association, access to information, and petition rights, as well as institutional structures including well-organized media and a dynamic CSO-landscape rooted in communities all play an important role in making CE mechanisms function more effectively.

How about where such conditions are not available—like in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Are there any benefits in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in such situations? Can CE mechanisms still help citizens engage with the state constructively when the state clearly lacks the capacity to respond?

Task teams at the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been grappling with these questions since launching a pilot initiative three years ago to strengthen citizen engagement throughout its operations, responding to an increased demand for voice and participation in the region. The new MENA strategy also put citizen engagement at the center of one of its main pillars, to renew the social contract. Citizen engagement was no longer an option—it had to be integrated across projects even in contexts where institutional capacities were extremely weak and state’s authority was often contested.

Despite the initial trepidation, the actual integration of citizen engagement in fragile situations defied all expectations. True, the absence of conducive environments did pose additional challenges in making public institutions more responsive and accountable. However, these deficiencies were easily compensated for. CE mechanisms filled crucial gaps of state institutions, whether they were non-existent, weak, or compromised, by delegating tasks such as monitoring and prioritization of needs to communities.

Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank

Citizen engagement also helped in some contexts to reinforce positive interactions between the state and citizens. There is emerging consensus among scholars that state legitimacy is enhanced not by service delivery per se but by the opportunities the process provides for citizens to interact with the state positively. And citizen engagement provides exactly that by getting citizens involved in identifying priority needs, registering complaints, voicing disagreements, and providing feedback etc.

In other words, MENA’s experience in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in fragile and conflict-affected situations has highlighted the transformative potential of citizen engagement, not only in improving development results, but also in addressing issues at the heart of fragility and conflict. CE mechanisms tend to empower citizens by giving them the space and channels to hold the state accountable. It facilitates a gradual change in stakeholders’ mindset with citizens realizing that they can influence the quality of services and resource allocations—issues that are typically at the heart of societal tensions.

When citizens engage with government officials, the state becomes visible and citizens gain more knowledge about government processes as well as constraints that affect government performance. They also gain skills that help them better negotiate and communicate with the government in presenting their demands more coherently. Such interactions often tend to strengthen the vertical link between the state and society.

Furthermore, citizen engagement can also strengthen horizontal links in society by increasing face-to-face interaction among community members. This enhances social cohesion by promoting trust across community members and improving social cooperation.  By promoting collective action, citizen engagement activities also engender a sense of community, generating consensus and a common understanding of problems as well as potential solutions. Such collaboration strengthens associational links and helps build social cohesion.

For instance under the Municipal Development Program in West Bank and Gaza, citizens in each targeted municipality participate in planning committees on Strategic Development and Investment Planning. This process allows citizens to voice their priorities, have insights into the budget making process and participate in decision making regarding how resources are allocated and used. While improving the quality of services this process has also increased inter-community collaboration.  

In sum, while implementing citizen engagement activities in fragile situations is inherently challenging and complex, it can foster a constructive state-society relationship by reassuring citizens that procedures are fair, providing more information on constraints, and enhancing their skills in communicating with the government. Citizen engagement can also help strengthen social cohesion by developing a capacity for constructive engagement through cooperation and reciprocity. Our experience has shown that far from considering CE mechanisms in fragile situations as challenging and risky, they should be embraced for their potential to address dynamics that are at the heart of fragility and conflict.

Strengthening citizen engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Yes, really! It is happening in MENA. 
 
Watch a video, "Citizen Engagement in the Palestinian Cash Transfer Program": English | Arabic

***
Citizen engagement activities in MENA countries affected by fragility and conflict were supported by the Korean Trust Fund for Economic and Peace Building Transitions.

The voice for the invisible and voiceless

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Lecture hall, Malaysia“One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox
 
As a college sociology professor, I am expected to inspire and stimulate my students through lectures, class discussions and individual and group assignments, as well as my professional behavior. Also, I am obliged to evaluate my students by giving them papers, tests and quizzes, sometimes projects. In my classes, we explore fundamental sociological concepts, methods, and theories used to interpret the patterns of human society. We emphasize on the connection between theory and practice in examining social interaction, cultural diversity, social structure, and current global issues. Overall, my goal is to train my students to become better citizens of our global village. In sociology we focus on “WE,” instead of “I.”
 
At the end of each semester, when the final bell has been rung, I like to see what impressions, if any, were made on our students. In the academic process, the students have the opportunity to evaluate the class, and I, as a teacher, have the opportunity to grade their work.
 
However, from time to time there are also some unexpected rewards for a college sociology professor that occur when students apply the teachings to inspire the teacher and their classmates. This happened to me at the end of the fall semester of 2014.  At that time, one of my female students, Faith Muthiani, volunteered to make a short video clip as her final class assignment. I was puzzled and a bit worried as it would be her first video production. The result was mind boggling. When she set up the equipment for the presentation, we could all tell from her body language that she put her heart, mind and soul into this project. She entitled her work: “Your Voice Matters,” and it turned out to be something extraordinary, something deeply moving.

Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Deliberation and Development book coverIf you’re interested in advancing sustainable development for the world’s poor, pause a moment to reflect on these two quotes:

“the very understanding of development has dramatically shifted, from a narrow focus on economic transformation (summarized by either growth rates or industrialization) to a more holistic view.” (pg. 4)

“Effective state structures have always depended on deliberative spaces that include both key actors within the state apparatus and powerful private interlocutors. In the 21st century, deliberation has become even more crucial, because the state faces a set of tasks that require bringing in deliberation in a way that goes well beyond established traditions.” (pg.51)

These ideas come from a new book, Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies, available in the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository. The book marries two fields that rarely intersect: deliberative democracy and development studies. The study of deliberation emerged as a critical area of study over the past two decades while the field of development has seen growing interest in community-led development and participation premised on the ability of groups to arrive at decisions and manage resources via a process of discussion and debate. Despite the growing interest in both fields, however, they have rarely engaged with one another– until now.

Patrick Heller and Vijayendra Rao edited the book, with essays from leading professors and economists working in the fields of international studies, sociology, and political science. 

MOOC? Engaging citizens: A game changer for development?

Utpal Misra's picture

MOOC posterOften it is the simple things that make major impacts, and engaging citizens for better development results is a very simple concept. However, at a time when participatory approaches such as crowdsourcing, feedback, transparency and citizen engagement are increasingly popular and seemingly effective, we are bound to ask if engaging citizens does in fact improve development results.  As simple as the concept of citizen engagement is, designing and implementing successful citizen engagement approaches and interventions in practice is especially complex.

Is citizen engagement a game changer for development? The World Bank, in partnership with London School of Economics (LSE), Oversees Development Institute (ODI), Participedia and CIVICUS, explores this question in a free 5-week course on Citizen Engagement, hosted by the World Bank Group Open Learning Campus, envisioned as a single destination for development learning.  

The course provides a holistic overview of citizen engagement through interactive videos, resources, and activities. It explores underlying theories and concepts of citizen engagement, examines the role it can play in improving policymaking and public service delivery, and investigates the impact of new technologies, particularly in developing countries.

Humanitarian broadcasting in emergencies

Theo Hannides's picture

A recording of BBC Media Action’s ‘Milijuli Nepali’ (Together Nepal)It is several days after the earthquake in Nepal. A small group of Nepali women sit on the side of the road in a village in Dhading district, 26 kilometres from Kathmandu. In this village, many people lost their homes and several died in the earthquake.

The women are listening attentively to a radio programme, Milijuli Nepali meaning ‘Together Nepal’. After it finishes, one of the women starts asking the others questions: What did they think to the programme? Did they learn anything? What else would they like to hear to help them cope in the aftermath of the earthquake? The women start discussing some of the issues raised around shelter and hygiene, they like the creative ideas suggestions, particularly as they comes from a source they like and trust - the BBC.  They give the researcher their ideas for future programmes and she writes them down.

BBC Media Action’s ‘Milijuli Nepali’ (Together Nepal)

#9 from 2014: Exit, Voice, and Service Delivery for the Poor

Robert Wrobel's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on January 08, 2014


Inspired by Jeremy Adelman’s wonderful biography of Albert Hirschman (Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013), I’ve read and reread Hirschman’s masterpiece, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, (Harvard University Press, 1970) and his follow up essay “Exit, Voice, and State” (reprinted in The Essential Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013). Although Hirschman produced these works over 40 years ago, his simple model of flight (“exit”) or resistance (“voice”) in the face of unsatisfactory economic, political or social conditions remains highly relevant for policymakers and development practitioners concerned with eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and improving basic services accessible to the poor.

Hirschman’s ideas provide much cause for reflection within the context of present-day Indonesia. Indonesia has enjoyed over a decade of macroeconomic stability and economic growth. From 2000 to 2011 GDP expanded by 5.3 percent per year, and the official poverty count halved from 24 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2012. This period also saw notable improvements in health and education. Access to education has become more widespread and equitable. Girls are now as likely as boys to graduate from secondary school. In health, Indonesia is on track to meet Millennium Development Goals for reducing both the prevalence of underweight children under five years old, and the under-five mortality rate.

Why Aren’t Young People Voting in the Tunisian Elections?

Christine Petré's picture

Едва ли найдется более подходящее место для того, чтобы сосредоточиться на проблемах Мирового океана, чем южноафриканский мегаполис Кейптаун. За спиной у нас возвышался горный хребет Двенадцати Апостолов, и лишь узкая улочка отделяла нас от побережья Атлантики – морской границы этого города. 20 марта я приняла участие в первом заседании Глобальной комиссии по проблемам Мирового океана – новой независимой рабочей группы видных деятелей мирового сообщества, стремящихся найти способы защиты открытого моря.
 
Когда министр правительства Южной Африки Тревор Мануэль предложил мне войти в состав этой комиссии, я, не колеблясь, приняла это предложение. Я – индонезийка, и поэтому прекрасно представляю себе, в каком сложном положении находится океан, и сколь велика его ценность. Всемирный банк участвует в формировании Глобального партнерства в интересах защиты Мирового океана (ГПО) – состоящей из более чем 125 групп коалиции, которая ставит своей целью наращивание инвестиций и расширение сотрудничества в целях оздоровления океана, который сможет внести больший вклад в сокращение бедности.
 
Об учреждении Глобальной комиссии по проблемам Мирового океана было объявлено 12 февраля 2013 года; она призвана формулировать стратегические идеи и создавать международные коалиции с целью обращения вспять процесса деградации открытого моря – части Мирового океана, не находящейся под юрисдикцией какого-либо государства. Поэтому работа комиссии послужит важным дополнением к деятельности ГПО, которая состоит в оказании странам содействия в их усилиях по рационализации использования их прибрежных вод.
 
Если бы вы спросили меня, в чем заключается наша самая сложная задача, я бы ответила так: убедить политиков, бьющихся над решением повседневных внутренних проблем, что океан – это действительно важно.
 
Во время моей поездки в Кейптаун я услышала немало весомых научных доводов и увидела немало убедительных экономических данных. Давайте откровенно: факты говорят сами за себя. Если мы будем сидеть сложа руки, океан – а значит, и нас с вами – ждёт незавидное будущее.
 
Вкратце, ситуация такова. Для миллиарда жителей развивающихся стран рыба является основным источником белка. От здорового состояния Мирового океана зависят 350 млн. рабочих мест. При этом 57% океанических рыбных ресурсов эксплуатируются в полном объеме. Еще 30% подвергаются сверхэксплуатации, истощены либо восстанавливаются. Всё больше важных морских местообитаний – коралловых рифов, мангровых зарослей, растительных слоев морского дна и т.д. – подвергаются уничтожению или деградации. Вы узнаете об этом больше и увидите, к чему приводят эти процессы, посмотрев этот видеофильм.

How to Write About Development Without Being Simplistic, Patronising, Obscure or Stereotyping

Duncan Green's picture

It’s all very well writing for wonks, but what about the poor comms people who have to make all those clever ideas about nuance, context, complexity etc etc accessible to people who don’t spend all day thinking about this stuff? Oxfam America’s Jennifer Lentfer has a good piece on this on her ‘How Matters’ blog, discussing her work with a class of international development communications students.

Her central question – ‘How can a new generation of communications professionals embrace nuance without turning the public off? (After all, nonprofits are competing against cat videos)’

Exit, Voice, and Service Delivery for the Poor

Robert Wrobel's picture

Inspired by Jeremy Adelman’s wonderful biography of Albert Hirschman (Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013), I’ve read and reread Hirschman’s masterpiece, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, (Harvard University Press, 1970) and his follow up essay “Exit, Voice, and State” (reprinted in The Essential Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013). Although Hirschman produced these works over 40 years ago, his simple model of flight (“exit”) or resistance (“voice”) in the face of unsatisfactory economic, political or social conditions remains highly relevant for policymakers and development practitioners concerned with eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and improving basic services accessible to the poor.
 
Hirschman’s ideas provide much cause for reflection within the context of present-day Indonesia. Indonesia has enjoyed over a decade of macroeconomic stability and economic growth. From 2000 to 2011 GDP expanded by 5.3 percent per year, and the official poverty count halved from 24 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2012.  This period also saw notable improvements in health and education. Access to education has become more widespread and equitable. Girls are now as likely as boys to graduate from secondary school. In health, Indonesia is on track to meet Millennium Development Goals for reducing both the prevalence of underweight children under five years old, and the under-five mortality rate.
 


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