Local Government Strengthening – Civic Engagement – Social Accountability
Why some people enjoy the fruits of good governance and others suffer from poor public services, corruption and predatory public entities is a policy question that has implications for the daily lives of millions around the world. Good governance is increasingly recognized as essential to sustained, equitable economic growth and stability. The Urban Institute conducts research and works with counterparts to understand how governance affects development outcomes and to implement reforms and practices that deliver better services to citizens.
Local Government Strengthening. Local government, in particular, can create a platform for democratic and institutional development by bringing government closer to the people. Efficient, responsive and accountable local governments, coupled with participatory systems that create a demand for better government services, improve prospects for cities and towns to become attractive places to live, raise children, and invest. As more and more countries around the world pursue decentralization reforms, it has become apparent that building the institutional capacity of local governments is essential to the effectiveness of decentralization to live up to its promise of improving local public services and responsiveness to citizen needs.
In order for local governments to effectively engage with the citizens that they serve, local government administrations have to be transformed from more traditional, reactive local government entities into high-performing local government organizations that are able to pro-actively identify the needs of their residents, advocate for their constituents, and tackle complex policy issues such as poverty reduction, local environmental protection, and so on. While experiences from middle- and higher-income countries clearly indicate that local governments are feasible contributors in these policy areas, achieving such high-performing local governments requires the center to strengthen the role of local governments in the political, administrative and fiscal spheres, while balancing local government discretion with local accountability.
Civic Engagement: Citizens worldwide suffer the consequences of ineffective governance, from poor management of resources and services, to corruption that siphons off resources and demoralizes the civic culture. While public accountability mechanisms are needed to make sure that governments serve the public interest, social accountability mechanisms are equally indispensable in empowering people over the public sector. From one country to another, political, social and cultural factors shape the challenge to build a civic culture in which, on one hand, government institutions are transparent and participatory, and on the other hand, the citizenry highly engaged and empowered.
For decades, UI has worked to bridge the gap between citizens and government, creating a rich platform for participation, mutual trust and accountability that has greatly improved the lives of ordinary citizens. While there are no one-size-fits-all solutions in achieving effective citizen participation and civil society engagement, we strive for practical and sustainable solutions that reflect the needs of the different stakeholders at the local level and that leverage the social and economic capital of citizens and government to bring about progress toward shared goals.
Social Accountability: There are many explanations for the persistence of corruption—but most include agreement that corruption has beneficiaries able to defend the status quo, while those harmed, often only indirectly, have little specific knowledge and few tools for asserting their interests. In addition to top-down public accountability mechanisms, social accountability is increasingly looked upon as a mechanism to reduce public sector corruption.
Since decentralization brings the public sector closer to the communities that they serve, decentralizing the responsibility for public expenditures provides an important opportunity for improving the accountability of public officials, not only through public accountability mechanisms (such as internal financial accountability systems), but also through increased social accountability mechanisms. UI has supported social accountability throughout its portfolio of local governance projects, including by measuring local corruption, citizen satisfaction and service delivery performance; increasing transparency of local government processes and operations; and enhancing citizen involvement in local government planning and execution.