How citizens engage in governance processes

May 5, 2020

Guestblog by Busara 

In the past few years, Kenya has consistently fallen below the Sub-Saharan average index score on Transparency International’s annual ranking on corruption perceptions. This index captures citizens’ and experts’ perceptions of corruption within a country, and often reflects citizens’ level of involvement in issues of governance. Kenya (28 points) is well below the world’s average (42 points) and the Sub-Saharan Africa region’s average (32 points), which is lower than all other regions.

Across the globe, public corruption has been perceived to be more pervasive in countries where big money flows freely into electoral campaigns and where the government’s decision making is neither transparent nor accountable. Kenya’s global corruption perception rank is, however, mostly informed by  the latter, where it has battled corruption and poor public service delivery across different levels of government as a result of low levels of transparency and accountability in decision making.

Existing challenges in accessing information

Nonetheless, the Kenyan government has made decent efforts towards ensuring citizens’ right to information and records management by joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011. Additionally, the government signed the Public Finance Management Act and the County Government Act in 2012 as part of its commitment to fostering public participation and transparency in governance. For these gains to materialize into deliberate actions, citizens have to navigate existing challenges, which could be in the form of either structural or behavioral barriers. Some of the structural barriers include lack of political good will, exclusion from public participation fora and poor planning of the same, while the behavioral barriers include low levels of trust in the government’s ability or willingness to address citizens’ needs (which leads to apathy), general lack of sufficient information, low self-efficacy (particularly for PLWDs) amongst others. This has called for a citizen participation model that simultaneously provides a sustainable solution to address structural and behavioral barriers. That is, a model that not only ensures information is easily accessible to citizens, but provides practical tools and pathways towards action-oriented behavior change.

Hivos East Africa and Busara partnership

With this goal in mind, Hivos East Africa developed and piloted various interventions geared towards driving accountability and transparency in public service delivery at different levels of governance in Kenya. At the center of these interventions are info-mediaries also known as ‘actors’ who synthesize, translate, simplify and direct information on behalf of others, which in this case refers to civil society groups and grassroots organizations with close ties with communities. Several projects within Hivos East Africa have partnered with info-mediaries to simplify data using different strategies. Under the Every Citizen Counts project, info-mediaries use government  data to drive budget and fiscal accountability at the county and national government level; through the Community Media Fundinfo-mediaries provide access to information, train and build the capacity of citizens to effectively engage with publicly relevant information and participate in governance. The Open Up Contracting program supports CSOs, journalists, entrepreneurs, start-ups and other frontline organisations to foster more efficient, transparent and accountable contracting processes.

In assessing these initiatives, the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics (Busara) found that citizens’ demand for transparency and accountability is largely motivated by external, social and internal factors. While all three are important, internal factors such as self-enhancement – by virtue of access to relevant information – and self-efficacy are the first level motivators for citizens to demand transparency and accountability. By providing access to relevant information and training, info-mediaries were found to promote citizens’ self enhancement and self-efficacy.

How do CSOs engage with citizens?

Further exploration into Hivos East Africa’s Civil Society organization (CSO) partners’ capacity building models showed that trainings were mostly delivered through community-wide fora or more targeted capacity-building programs. These varied a lot depending on the CSO and included training on the tendering process and how to interpret/monitor government expenses through tendering, sensitization of community members on their role in providing citizen oversight at the county level, or how to use social media to access useful community information.

Most of the citizens Busara engaged with reported to have found these training sessions useful and beneficial for the community around them. For example, some reported having used the knowledge gained on their human rights to enlighten others about their rights, while for others, particularly some women respondents, reported to have talked to their fellow women about the county budgeting process after receiving training on county government budgeting. Beyond basic information sharing, training and capacity building appears to have worked well in enhancing citizens’ belief in their ability to influence change. Our quantitative survey further revealed that citizen who participated in fora, meetings or training sessions by info-mediaries had higher scores on statements such as “I can work with others to make a difference in the community. Participants who felt empowered and equipped with the necessary knowledge and resources ended up engaging more in issues pertaining to the community, as this boosted the level of confidence in their ability to effect change.

Similarly, Busara ran a lab experiment on the impact of a citizen oversight intervention by the Local Empowerment for Good Governance (LENGGO), a Mombasa based non-governmental organisation, on citizens’ level of comprehension and willingness to act on information received. Here, citizens who were exposed to the brief training content on their role in providing citizen oversight of government were more likely to seek more information and take action.

Despite the high potential of training and capacity building interventions in effectively driving and enhancing citizen engagement and participation, Busara’s research identified that the majority of citizens that participated in such training still hold the perception that local governance processes are quite complex. As such CSO/infomediary interventions related to information sharing, training and capacity building should include interventions targeted at first changing perceptions related to complexities of governance processes and be as inclusive as possible.

The complete report can be downloaded from this link 

About Busara (guest blogger)

Busara is a research and advisory firm dedicated to advancing and applying behavioural science in the global south. Through the Every Citizen Counts project in partnership with Hivos East Africa, tools and models of engaging citizens in governance were tested to assess their effectiveness.