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How to identify — and work with — government champions

Mohammad Awal   |   September 28, 2018   |   Comments

Insights from a Social Accountability Campaign in Ghana

By Mohammad Awal, research officer, Ghana Center for Democratic Development

One of the most important components of successful social accountability campaigns is identifying duty bearers who are powerful enough to make changes while also being responsive to the voices of their constituents. For many reasons, this can also be the most challenging part.

As part of the Transparency for Development project, which explores whether citizen engagement can improve maternal and newborn health outcomes, we tried to address this challenge by finding good government champions (GCs). That is, those who expressed a desire to listen to the voices of citizens and to engage with communities on the local barriers they saw to achieving better maternal, newborn and child health.

The government champion’s role in the intervention is to foster governmental uptake of community voices exercised through citizens’ social actions to improve maternal and neonatal health care at the sub-national level. In this post, I share the strategies my team at the Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and I used to enlist and build relationship with selected government actors as GCs in the implementation of the project in Adaklu District in the Volta Region of Ghana. 

Who Makes a Good Government Champion?

Identifying key partners in government — government champions  (GCs) — particularly in the decentralized state bureaucracy to work with remains one of the challenges facing civil society organizations who are engaged in social accountability initiatives focused on uptake of citizens’ voices in social service provision. GCs serve as key bridges between the state and citizens and do provide important channels to connect citizens and civil society actors to the whole of government to foster accountability and responsiveness.

But what makes a good government champion, and how do you identify them? Here are four key characteristics that informed our choices:

1. Open to, and values, the idea and principles of social accountability

My team’s first consideration in identifying who makes a good GC was to look for government/state actors who were generally open to the broad principles of governmental transparency and accountability and the objective role of civil society and citizens in the governance and development processes. A good GC in our view is someone who supports government-citizens interface and believes in citizens’ rights to exercise voice in public affairs, as well as demand accountability and public official’s responsibility to answer. Therefore, a good GC should also have a fair knowledge of social accountability mechanisms, and have in their capacity engaged/supported citizens-led collective action initiatives.

2. Believe in the mandate of the public service in social service provision

To identify potentially good GC, we also considered government/state actors who showed a strong public service motivation, particularly actors who believe in the mandate of the public administration to provide and improve social services. We were also interested in public officials who were committed to social development, showing strong professional ethics, and possessing a reformist attitude. Our team considered these characteristics important because the underlying objective of the T4D intervention —like many social accountability campaigns — is not only empowering citizens to demand accountability in social service provision but also to test responsiveness and the use of actionable information to reform service delivery systems and outcomes.

 3. Capacity for statesmanship

One of the key objectives of T4D is to increase citizens’ access to government and foster the governmen responsiveness. To achieve this objective, however, requires working with partners in government who understand not only the complexities of government bureaucracy, but most importantly have capacity for statecraft: the skills and ability to mobilize responsiveness within the whole of government (both political and bureaucratic). Thus, my team considered that a potentially good GC must be someone who has political and social capital within governmental and political structures of the state — and in the bureaucracy at the sub-national and sub-district levels. This person must also be in a position to exert authority and influence over other key state actors at the community levels.

4. Must have social capital in the community

In addition to having a political and social capital within government, another criterion my team considered for identifying potential good GCs was to look for government actors who were respected members of the community, involved and invested in the social life of the community. In our experiences, we found citizens tend to trust and approach public officials who live in the community, and are involved in the social life of the community, such as attending communal religious services and social activities. 

Building relationship and working with GCs in Adaklu District

How did CDD-Ghana work with and built relationship with the selected GCs in Adaklu District? The following are some of the key insights on the strategies/ways CDD-Ghana employed towards enhancing the working relationship with GCs during the intervention.

1. Involving GCs in the intervention’s pre-implementation preparatory activities

To deepen knowledge and awareness around the intervention and to foster ownership of the process, the project team involved the GCs in some of the key pre-implementation preparatory activities for the project intervention. First, the project team involved the GCs in the pilot test of the intervention in some selected communities in the district. The participation of the GCs in the pilot test, allowed them to see firsthand how the intervention design would be rolled out, what the key issues of the interventions were and how communities would be mobilized.

Second, the team also invited the GCs to interact and connect with CDD-Ghana recruited project facilitators at their training. The facilitators were to work with and guide community representative groups to design their social action plans that they will undertake to overcome identifiable barriers to improving health outcomes. Connecting the GCs and the facilitators allowed the facilitators the opportunity to get to know the GCs, as they will represent the key link to citizens’ access to government and potential influencers of governmental responsiveness.

2. Building communication links between GCs and Community Representatives

To foster good working relationship between the GCs and the selected community representatives, CDD-Ghana project team and facilitators organized an interaction session to introduce the GCs to the selected community representatives from each of the five villages where the intervention would be undertaken. The meeting afforded the community representatives the opportunity to interact, ask questions and get to know formally the GCs. The GCs also got to know for the first time each of the community representative group from the villages. The GCs took the opportunity of the meeting to explain the workings of the district (government)/assembly and the various governing structures for public service provision in the district. The discussion helped to enrich community representative member’s knowledge about the workings of government and social service provision. At the end of the meeting, the GCs exchanged their contact information with the community representatives and encouraged them to reach other to them all the time should they require their assistance in their social actions.

3. Providing regular updates on intervention activities to GCs

One great way the project team used to sustain the interest of the GCs in the intervention, is to encourage the community representatives and facilitators to provide regular updates on the progress of community meetings, social action plans, and on upcoming activities particularly proposed in the community interface meetings with government agencies that will require their assistance to facilitate. The regular updates kept the GCs in the loop about the intervention and the community representatives also received feedback on the feasibility of their community social actions plans. This process of information sharing and feedback engendered trust and responsiveness of GCs to the intervention.

Identifying and working with government actors in  social accountability campaign is key to influencing outcomes in citizen-government relations particularly in the areas of improving governmental responsiveness and accountability to social service delivery. Preliminary assessment on the the involvement and  role played by government actors in the T4D/CDD-Ghna led intervention in Adaklu District shows positive outcomes. The intervention identified and built a strong relationship with key government actors — government champions — whose involvement and actions help foster improved citizens awareness about the governance system, social action and governmental responsiveness.

Working with government actors  presents great potential to improve citizens and civil society demand for social accountability. The key lessons for civil society organizations intending to undertake such campaigns aimed at fostering governmental accountability and responsiveness through citizens action is to: understand what the entry points are to engendering governmental responsiveness; identify and gain support of key public actors in government; and build a successful working relationship through integrating government actors or champions into your intervention activities particularly from the pre-implementation phase and throughout the intervention.

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