22 July 2011

Highlights from the ONE.ANSA 2011 Global Event

Setting the Stage for Constructive Engagement

The opening remarks by Florencio ‘Butch’ Abad, the Philippines’ secretary of the Department of Budget and Management, was an inspiring talk about how the present leadership in the Philippines traces itself back to the people power movement in 1986 led by Corazon Aquino, whose son, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, is now the president.  Sec. Abad spoke of how the death of former president Corazon Aquino relived the EDSA revolution in minds of  Filipinos  and rekindled hope in the hearts of  a people who were growing hopeless and helpless amidst a graft-ridden government.

Secretary Abad emphasized the current administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability and announced a most welcome development for social accountability advocates—the present government’s invitation to the civil society groups to participate in budget preparation and monitor the implementation of government projects.

Regional Reach and Roadblocks

On the first day of the event, the different ANSA organizations presented on how far they had gone with their social accountability efforts  in their respective regions. The presentors were Carmen Alpin of ANSA Africa, Angelita Gregorio-Medel of ANSA-EAP, Gopakumar Thampi of ANSA SAR, and Mariana Felicio of ANSA Arab World.

The presentations revealed that while the regional ANSAs are at different stages in terms of experience, accomplishments, and reach, they all continue to face challenges—some more difficult than others. As they make inroads in one area, they face roadblocks in another; and as they discover their strengths and weaknesses, they refocus, reset their priorities in order to maximize their gains and cut their losses, so to speak. They constantly examine themselves to make sure that they do not lose sight of the larger goal, which is social accountability.

Angelita Gregorio-Medel of the Philippines talked about ANSA-EAP vis-à-vis their partners. ANSA-EAP has made some gains in its networking efforts for social accountability: “We do not position ourselves to solve the problems of our partners,” she said.  “We position ourselves as learners. We travel the road with our partners—we converse with them, we teach them but we also learn from them. We are companions... they [the partners] know they will be heard.”

In ANSA-EAP, development of concepts and strategies is continuous. In order to help them strategize, the ANSA-EAP thought it would be helpful to identify the enabling factors for social accountability to succeed, namely 1) organized groups, 2) responsive government,  3) access to information, and 4) cultural context.

Carmen Alpin of ANSA Africa said that they are using a more focused approach after five years of existence, having realized that they took on too many issues in the past. There is now a need for greater focus to make a greater impact, she said, without abandoning their other advocacies. They will focus more on the management of natural resources and the extractive industries.

They will also continue to work on building the network as well as the capacities of the members in the area of social accountability.

Gopakumar Thampi of ANSA SAR, on the other hand, said that the following areas are their priorities—climate change and environmental management, public procurement (because it is a fountainhead of corruption), right to information, and basic rights and entitlements as citizens.

Thampi spoke about the challenges of pursuing social accountability in South Asia, and in other regions, for that matter. He observes that the field of practitioners has not deepened or widened over the years. The same organizations are given grants over and over because most small grassroots organizations simply do not have the capability for proposal-writing. To break this cycle, the ANSA SA decided to have an ideas competition instead of proposals competition, and chose the organizations based on their ideas and track record. Then the winning organizations were trained in proposal writing.

Thampi said that constructive engagement is something new in South Asia as people have been used to a more confrontational approach when bringing up issues with government. He talked about the work ahead—producing more knowledge products that will enhance practice on the ground, building the network itself,  and building the people’s capacity in monitoring and evaluation, advocacy, and negotiation.

ANSA Arab is the newest of the ANSAs, having been organized only in June 2011. The World Bank held its first regional workshop on social accountability in October of 2010, but with the Arab Spring, it couldn’t have happened at a most opportune time. Mariana Felicio, ANSA Arab World’s representative, affirmed that they had much to learn from the experiences of the other regions.

Regional Experiences, Global Lessons

Jeff Thindwa of the World Bank Institute spoke of the lessons learned from the few years that the ANSA groups have been operating. The first lesson is the importance of focus—identifying the themes to prioritize as well as the countries in the region. As  demonstrated by some ANSA groups, capacity development is selective—what capacity you develop is anchored on the preferences of members and will vary from region to region. It is also effective to start small but think big. 

The second lesson is the importance of partnerships. In this respect, it is a must to know one’s partners well by profiling members, analyzing stakeholders—in short, building a membership database.  He suggested that the ANSA groups consider subregional hubs, network fellows, or local convener groups and leverage the expertise of the host institution or the region to sustain ANSA as a hub.

Gregorio-Medel said  that as a source of funding, they have to make sure that they know where the funds are being used by their partners. She added that the agreement to provide fund is an agreement to be strategic partners with a particular CSO. That means they have a shared agenda, that their priorities are the same.  “There is reciprocal accountability,” she said. Thus, there is also continuing engagement between the ANSA and the CSOs. 

Thampi observed that CSOs do not lack for genuineness of intent, but are weak in the area of operations—they do not think things through so that the expected result is not realized. There are many SAc tool on the internet, he said, but  one has to study the political economy of each tool to use it effectively—determine the approach, the potential roadblocks, and the protocol-setting. He said that one should learn from what happened to “social audits,” which have become ineffectual, and eventually got lost along the way because of the lack of standardization.

Challenges and Ways to Move Forward

Without a doubt, all ANSA members recognize the importance of social accountability in governance and are committed to it, but as Andrew Parker of AusAID said, this can sometimes lead to a sense that “we’re doing it and we’re winning the war.” He said that ANSA needed to think about results and what it really hopes to achieve through ANSA Global and the individual ANSA organizations.

He posed some challenging questions to the participants: Do we have a clear sense of results? Do those results have development traction? Are we connecting in ways so that we make a difference to people? Do we really unpack the assumptions when we think of processes of change?

These are hard questions that need to be answered but which will help ANSA members develop more effective strategies and tools. Parker suggested that rigorous and evidence-based studies be done to evaluate the results of the SAc initiatives.

Parker recognized that ANSA has generated a wealth of knowledge but said that this has to be organized and disseminated in forms that citizens can use. There is also a need to for scaling up, replication, and institutionalization of ANSA capabilities which involves a structured process that will bring the programs from one small village to hundreds of villages. But they should not just go for scaling up of programs but partnerships as well. He said that ANSAs engagement with local partners is impressive in that it has reached organizations that are under the radar, those that are usually missed by donor agencies, which speaks of ANSA’s capability to identify genuine, grassroots organizations.

Jeff Thindwa  emphasized the need to harmonize everyone’s understanding of social accountability, as well as the efficacy of joint advocacy work as opposed to a single organization’s advocacy efforts. There is much ore advantage to the wholesale approach, such as what the networks are doing, because more can be done.

Thindwa said the challenges are many—in the area of  governance models, membership models, scope and coverage, sustainability, and translating knowledge into social accountability practice. There is also the challenge of demonstrating results to show in an unqualified manner that the programs work; engagement with government, some of who are still resistant; and  linking capacity building to social accountability in action.

The biggest issue of all, according to Thindwa, is sustainability—how can the network be kept alive and how does the ANSA go forward. There may be a need to rethink financing and towards this end, explore revenue-generating strategies, expand donors and foundations’ support, link with other projects, and develop a global website and marketing tools.

The Future for the ANSAs

The future looks both promising and challenging for ANSA. As Thindwa said, there is and will be a strong demand for ANSAs. One sees across regions that there is a growing number of citizens, even in some repressive areas, who are seeking change and who want institutions to be responsive and accountable.  Thindwa sees a quick growth in networks as people realize the potential for collective action to catalyze change. There will be more innovative research products that will come from the ANSAs and websites will be an important tool in knowledge-sharing as countries will find the need to learn from the experiences of others. It is important, therefore, to make the ANSA sustainable, to keep the networks alive in order to make social accountability fully mainstreamed in the regions where the ANSAs operate.

Related Links:

Photos from ONE.ANSA Event
Launching of ANSA-Global
Mandate of ANSA-Global

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