2 5 Does Citizen Engagement Really Make a Difference 11m 48s

2   5   Does Citizen Engagement Really Make a Difference    11m 48s

Engaging Citizens A Game changer For Development? Does citizen engagement
really make a difference? with John Gaventa Does citizen engagement
really make a difference? A couple of years
ago I and some colleagues did a study where we brought together
a hundred cases of citizen engagement in a range of ways; we looked at Citizens engaging in invited spaces with governments
and with authorities, we looked at Citizens
engaging in their own created spaces in their own communities, in their own community associations, we looked at Citizens
engaging through campaigns and social movements,
and we asked the question what difference
across those could we see? First is in a way obvious
but it’s very important. Citizen engagement is important
because it helps to create citizens. What do we mean..what do I mean by that? Citizens don’t just wake up
in the morning and say “okay today I’m a citizen, I have rights, I know how to make a difference”. People have to learn about those rights, people have to learn their skills
to make a difference. And how do you learn that? You learn by starting with engagement. So engagement is a process
that, when it’s working well, strengthens citizen’s voices and power
to increase their voice and power. Secondly citizen engagement
makes a difference because it helps strengthen the capacity
of groups to work together. Change doesn’t happen just
by individuals expressing voice; change happens when they build
their own forms of collective action. And again, collective organizations,
strong networks, aren’t created out of nowhere. They’re created through practice,
are created through engagement. And those two conditions – strong capacity of citizens and strong ability
of citizens organizations and networks – are the basic building blocks
for other forms of citizen engagement to, for citizen engagement to make
a difference in the larger world. What we found was when you had
those two conditions in place then citizen engagement
could be incredibly important for making a difference
on development issues such as service delivery, water, education, healthcare, all those sectoral things. Citizen engagement is very important for strengthening governance processes
and for deepening democracy, and citizen engagement can be very, very important
for helping those institutions to be accountable to the people
they’re meant to serve. But all those larger level impacts
of citizen engagement, to change macro, to change the larger issues
of development, to change governments,
to change accountability, don’t really happen unless you have
those core preconditions on the ground; that is aware citizens who know how to exercise their voice
and who are organized together to, to make a difference collectively. So how does citizen engagement
help reduce poverty and improve the well-being
of marginalized communities? All the people, many people who have worked on poverty understand that poverty is
a multidimensional process, so engagement isn’t just
about dealing with economic poverty, or income poverty, or material poverty, which is very important, but it’s also about overcoming social exclusion, it’s about overcoming
what we know as voice poverty, it’s about overcoming inequities
in who has power and who, who doesn’t. And how can you deal
with those multiple aspects of poverty unless people themselves are involved, using their own voices,
using their own knowledge. When, it’s also about well-being, and again well-being
is a multi-dimensional approach, a multi-dimensional concept. I’m very influenced by the work of those who have talked
not about reducing poverty, but about strengthening
people’s own assets. We can look at communities
and look at what they don’t have, or we can look at communities
and ask “where are the assets which they can begin to mobilize
to improve their own well-being?” And that approach
gives us a different set of answers. Rather than asking
what we can do to help the poor, we can ask the question of: how do poor people
strengthen their own lives starting with their own assets, starting with what they have, in order to get what they don’t have, in order to get what they need. And that process, and that process citizen engagement
is critical, because citizen engagement
isn’t just the process of engaging with authorities,
engaging with institutions. It’s also the process
of mobilizing one’s own assets to build the power
from within one’s communities, with others, in order to have the power to act, to make a difference in the long term,
of people’s lives. So what are the barriers
that impede this process? Well there’s many barriers. Oftentimes we talk about the barriers
as being barriers within the citizenry – the citizenry, citizens don’t have the core capacities, they don’t have the knowledge
in order to engage. Those are important; citizens do need to learn their skills,
as I‘ve said. They do need to learn their rights. They do need to build their ability
to make a change. But in the study
that we did of a hundred case studies of citizen engagement, we actually found
that the largest barriers weren’t about how citizens engage, it was how institutions
responded to that engagement. In too many cases
we found that when citizens spoke out and used their voices, their actions
to express their concerns, the response ranged from either bureaucratic inertia
where people simply didn’t listen and nothing happened
in that created frustration, or that sometimes
stretched more strongly into repercussions and reprisals against those who dared to speak truth
to power. And increasingly in societies
around the world, the space
for civil societies to come together, the safety for citizens to come together
and speak out is being diminished. And so one of the key ways
that we can enhance citizen engagement and strengthen it isn’t
about directly supporting citizens, it’s about helping to create
those larger institutional environments which make speaking out, make engagement a safe process, a process where people’s rights and diversities
and differences are respected, and also a process which ultimately
brings some kind of response. There’s nothing more….So we understand citizen engagement
as a two-way process. It’s both about voice, but it’s also about listening, and it’s about response, and that means that there needs to be
cultural changes both among citizens to strengthen their power, and confidence to speak out, but equally amongst public officials,
government agencies, bureaucrats, to build a culture of responsiveness, a culture of accountability to the citizens who are engaging, because ultimately they
have to both work together to create the public goods that will improve the lives
of communities. In this day of projectized development, we oftentimes hope that citizens
will come into a process, strengthen their voice, learn how to organize, learn how to engage and bingo
we’ll have a difference all within a 2-3 year time horizon. We did a study
of where citizen engagement had been effective
in changing national policies, and we chose about 10 very good examples of where citizen engagement really
made a difference at the policy level to bring about pro-poor,
more socially just change. And what was key in all those cases
is the process took a long time. We talked about change processes
that last from 10 to 20 years, rather than 2-3 years. And that’s very important
for the donor-led development process today. We have to be in it for a long haul. We have to look at this
not by project cycle to project cycle and budget year
to budget year, but recognizing
that change does take time. So a lot of the examples that we know
about of effective citizen engagement happen in societies that have a long history
of democratic openness, that have strong civil societies. So what do we do in those places
that those conditions don’t exist? Again, in our studies
we found some very interesting things. First of all we found that,
in places with fragile states and perhaps with long histories
of conflict, in fact citizens have learned to work together
beneath the radar in quiet ways but ways that are very,
very important for building and rebuilding their societies. So I think in any society, no matter
how weak the state might be, no matter how small the public space
for organized voice might be, there are going to be some small cracks, some small places where citizens will come together
to share their voices, to discuss, to take actions,
sometimes very publicly, but sometimes very quietly
and beneath the radar. I don’t know,
in the history of citizen participation I don’t know of any society in which citizens have not found some spaces in which they can begin
to act and to engage. Someone once told me about some the work
that I have done is that there’s no society that citizens can’t at least imagine
that the world could be different. And once they start imagining that
the world can be different in some way, that it can be improved in some way, then they can find some small space
to help begin to take that action. I think the problem comes that
oftentimes we think that the same kind of actions that we see in open,
democratic societies, we expect the same kind of actions to
happen in different kinds of societies. And that’s the mistake. In a society that’s ridden
by conflict and ridden by fear, and coming out of a long history
of authoritarianism, you can’t expect
that you hold a public meeting and ask people to come and engage and that you will get
the same kind of engagement that you would in more open,
democratic societies in which citizens
are mobilized and able to speak out. So maybe that form of citizen engagement is not the most effective form
of citizen engagement there. But there will be some other form
of citizen engagement, which can be used
and which is relevant to that context. Ultimately citizens
themselves become the ones that can decide the kind
of participation they want in the space that they want.

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