Hivos International

Open and Responsive Government

Whose voice has value and why?  This think piece draws from a desk review of experience on voice, and an exchange of ideas in an e-dialogue between practitioners and scholars in January 2014. It reflects on experiences, debates, assumptions and questions about what ‘voice’ is and how it can be supported.

It includes five one-page summaries of key research in this field.

When citizens exercise voice, what is it that makes their voices count, or not count? If citizens’ voices count, governments are being responsive.

When we walked in, the doctor was sat at his desk. We started asking about drug supply, maternal health, child mortality, which we knew were very problematic issues in the village. Then an old man walked in and sat by the doctor. From then on, we only heard great positive things about health in the village: no stock-outs, very low mortality, 24/7 ambulance... Turns out the old man was the village chairman.

In this study, ICTs are defined as consisting of the hardware, software, networks, and media for the collection, storage, processing, transmission and presentation of information (voice, data, text, images).

Much of the literature on citizen accountability focuses on citizen voices. This research briefing is one of four which turn the spotlight on the how the state behaves in instances of accountable governance. Each examines a landmark social justice policy process in Africa, asking when and how the state listened, and to which actors; and why, at times, it chose not to listen.

Holding power to account requires understanding where power lies and how it is exercised. It entails understanding how decisions are made and who makes them, and the nature of entrenched, institutional obstacles to change.

With technology for development - and in particular the idea of open data - holding so much potential for better governance, how can we make sure that these new ideas are building on what we already know about how to really hold power to account?

Accountability – the obligation of those in power to take responsibility for their actions – involves different types of relationship between different actors in state and society.

Many factors influence accountability. These are often more complex than one might at first think, especially for new actors in the governance field hoping to leverage the potential of ICT for development.

In February 2016, 55 researchers and practitioners met in Manila to discuss the role of technology in transforming governance.

It was a fast-moving conversation, with discussions on what 'transformative' means for people actually implementing projects. It included visits to a series of organisations in the Philippines to help challenge what it is we all think we know, and find out how others might be doing it better.

T4T&A (tech for transparency and accountability) initiatives intend to make the public functioning of government visible, and states accountable to citizens for their actions. This summary presents findings and reflections from two studies of how marginalised communities use technologies commonly applied in T4T&A work, and the limits of this use. The research is intended to inform communities of practice around T4T&A initiatives: technologists, managers, donors, community-based activists and researchers.

A new generation of strategies for government accountability is needed, one that fully considers entrenched, institutional obstacles to change. Vertical integration of coordinated civil society policy monitoring and advocacy is one such strategy. Engaging each stage and level of public sector actions in an integrated way can locate the causes of accountability failures, show their interconnected nature, and leverage the local, national and transnational power shifts necessary to produce sustainable institutional change.