Citizen agency as the frontier of capacity development

Development Policy03 Jun 2011Rinus van Klinken, Kees de Graaf

One of the key messages from the book Capacity Development in Practice is that capacity development (CD) has become more complex. Moving beyond Organisational Development (OD) aiming to improve the functioning of a particular organisation, it aims to address the functioning of entire systems, and (dare we say) even societies.

For development practitioners, this poses a challenge. Can we really deal with an entire society, including its institutional arrangements (governance)? Engagement with the state has been part of our practice for a long time, such as NGOs using lobby and advocacy to advance their cause, or supporting governments in applying participatory approaches in project implementation.blog_post_medium

However, a more direct concern with how societies actually function and evolve as a determinant for development outcomes is still fairly new and is a frontier in the capacity development debate.

Mediating conflicting interests

Yet it is a logical extension of current practices. Development outcomes are rarely depending on single actors. Multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs) have become firmly embedded in capacity development as an approach to bring stakeholders together to create value chain or sector outcomes. One of the limitations of MSPs is that power dynamics are not easily accommodated. Practitioners may be good in facilitating the different interests to come together, but they may not necessarily be conversant with mediating conflicting interests (nor have that mandate).One way through which power and politics can be addressed is from the accountability angle, as the current partnership on domestic accountability is demonstrating. Started by then Dutch Minister Koenders, it brings together the Department of Development Cooperation (DGIS) with SNV (and including others, such as the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, VNG) to work together in seven pilot countries. Koenders observed that the dependence on donors (financially and ideologically) undermined citizen efforts to hold their own governments accountable.

Disappointing results

Two early lessons from working on accountability in East and Southern Africa point in two directions. On the one hand, there is a long-standing disillusionment with the state with a disconnected citizenry. Accountability interventions in this instance are focusing on (re-) building and redefining state and citizen relationships. Two examples from our diverse practice are drawn from respectively rural water in Mozambique and cattle dips in Tanzania. In both instances, governments (often with support from donors) have made considerable investments with disappointing results: in Mozambique 33 % of rural water points were not working, while in Tanzania a whopping 94 % of cattle dips were not operating at one time. In the majority of cases, non functionality could be explained by government failing to engage and dumping responsibilities for services on communities, who subsequently looked for alternatives, rather than taking those up. In both instances, based on solid analysis, SNV and Embassies worked together on fairly simple, but far-reaching interventions.

In Mozambique, the government supported the introduction of a water point logbook, in which communities log relevant information (water rate collection, repairs, community decisions). The logbook embodies the accountability relationship between the committee and the community, which had been invisible up to then, and also facilitates the relationship with the government. In Tanzania, decision-makers were lobbied by dairy sector representatives, who in turn put pressure on government staff to make regular monitoring rounds, to assist communities with small day-to-day issues affecting dip operations.

In both instances, the breakthrough consists of a simple, yet powerful concept: co-production. It is the realisation by both government and communities that they need to work together to better define and agree on roles and responsibilities for creating development outcomes, which can create results. In Mozambique in the pilot district water point functionality improved with 10 %, while in Tanzania cattle dip functionality in the pilot district reached 100 % within two months.

New perspective

A second lesson from our accountability interventions is that there is a yearning for new and diversified engagements between citizens and the state. In Rwanda, Joint Action Development Fora have been enacted by the government as suitable platforms for development discussions at local level. In the standing platforms the government discusses and plans with a wide range of actors, from citizen groups to formal NGOs, and from churches to corporations, on how to address developmental challenges. The platforms form a space to hold each other accountable for agreed upon actions.

In Zambia, traditional leaders were mobilised and involved in improving education. While traditional practices were leading to early girl drop outs, the active engagement with chiefs created a clear message to the communities to support education. These and other interventions in the various countries create bridges between informal and formal domains, between youths and leaders, and between politicians and citizens. Such bridges enable actor to put ‘realities on the table’ and seeing issues from ‘a new perspective’.

While in themselves the accountability interventions vary from fairly small-scale and limited to nationwide coverage, they form part of a growing repertoire of a broad capacity development approach. In that approach, capacities are not so much built by working with individual organisations and entities, but by working on the relationships between them. It is not the building of particular skills, but the creation of different perspectives which makes the difference in how problems are tackled and opportunities used. Taken together, these various activities in Africa may contribute in a small way to the building of the state from below, one modest intervention at a time.

Rinus van Klinken is working with SNV Tanzania and Kees de Graaf works with SNV Uganda. They are preparing a Working Paper for ECDPM on the accountability programme. Details on the case studies, mentioned in this piece, can be obtained from them.

Interesting links:

  1. The African Power & Politics Programme (APPP) of ODI has an interesting web-site, reporting on similar issues as discussed in this piece.
  2. In the December 2010 issue of (no. 41) there is an interesting article on power issues in MSPs.