Citizen Engagement and Social Accountability: Delivering on the ‘New Normal’ in Bank Operations

Is it possible to turn ‘old wisdom’ into the ‘new normal’ ? Involving people who are affected by development decisions in having their say is not new. In the context of World Bank operations, it dates back to the early 1980s with beneficiary consultations as part of the design processes for projects affecting indigenous peoples. Today, those consultations have evolved into advanced forms of citizen engagement, including joint action for social accountability, that are being promoted across government, civil society and increasingly the private sector. The World Bank has played a leveraging and facilitating role in the move towards citizen-driven accountability and continues to do so. 

Internally, in 2013 this agenda got a boost with the World Bank strategy for mainstreaming citizen engagement and a Presidential commitment on beneficiary feedback in all operations with identifiable beneficiaries. The framework is being implemented under the joint oversight, facilitation and coordination of two World Bank Global Practices, the Governance Global Practice (GGP) and the Social, Urban and Rural Development (GPSURR) Global Practice. The structure has a secretariat for coordination and is supported by focal points across the Global Practices and Regions who are ultimately in charge of mainstreaming and delivering on this commitment. 

For many existing World Bank operations and initiatives, the mandate to not only consult, but actively engage citizens in joint decision-making and problem-solving with the public and private sector has opened up a range of new opportunities for collaboration. “Open data and open government are powerful vehicles for promoting social inclusion – especially when they’re combined with institutionalized mechanisms to solve specific public-sector problems across the civil society-government spectrum,” says Jan Walliser, Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions at the World Bank.

As an initiative that the Bank launched in 2012 to support citizens, governments and the private sector to collaborate to solve governance challenges, the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) is working with the World Bank’s Citizen Engagement (CE) secretariat to assist in operationalizing this way of working and inspire new avenues for citizens to engage in monitoring service delivery in various sectors. In GPSA grant projects, organized civil society helps build the necessary capacities and acts as an important intermediary between citizens, government and other stakeholders. In supporting World Bank operations and programs, the GPSA draws on its portfolio of over 30 grantees from civil society around the world, nearly 50 opted-in governments, around 260 Global Partners and a knowledge community of over 2000 participants across civil society, academia, private sector, donors, oversight institutions and governments.  

A first area for collaboration is knowledge-sharing. While GPSA grantees receive capacity support via GPSA’s capacity-building component, they are linked to a broader community of practice as well as internal World Bank learning events (Brown Bag Lunchtime discussions). They also share their experiences with others at the GPSA Knowledge Platform. An online course (MOOC) on citizen engagement for World Bank staff and partners is ongoing, as are trainings organized by the World Bank Citizen Engagement secretariat by and for its internal audience of citizen engagement focal points and country offices. 

In addition to having established links between the GPSA and the Citizen Engagement secretariat in terms of ongoing knowledge sharing, plans are underway to see how to collaborate more closely in relation to capacity building efforts. “Our mandates differ clearly in that GPSA is a trust-funded initiative whose mandate is to strengthen and fund social accountability initiatives undertaken by civil society in participating countries, whereas the Citizen Engagement commitment is oriented towards operations in any World Bank country,” explains Stig Trommer, Acting Program Manager of the GPSA. “Yet there are areas of natural alignment with ongoing WBG operations, for instance where a World Bank-financed project involving the government in a particular sector can benefit from a GPSA-grant to set up mechanisms for continuous civil society feedback and engagement with the project to increase its effectiveness.” 

The GPSA grant in the social protection sector in the Philippines with the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance provides for one such example. However, importantly, alignment with World Bank operations is not a pre-requisite for a GPSA project, which channels funding to civil society grants and more broadly contributes to the World Bank knowledge and learning agenda on the topic of social accountability. Alignment between GPSA and the CE mandate is therefore framed in terms of knowledge and learning as well as capacity-building which can add value to the Citizen Engagement mainstreaming agenda more broadly. At headquarters level there is regular information-sharing between GPSA, the CE Secretariat, and increasingly the CE focal points across practices and regions. Regional- and country-level learning will also be further explored, with the potential to more actively involve World Bank staff and clients in capacity-building sessions in the future.     

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Q&A: Differences and similarities between the GPSA and the WBG Citizen Engagement Secretariat

What is the GPSA? 
Since 2010, Bank Management pursued input on how to create a dedicated program to increase and scale up engagement with civil society organizations (CSOs). Many from a range of stakeholders – the Bank’s Executive Directors, CSOs and though leaders as well as potential partners, donors and government representatives participated in consultations on the objectives and structure of such a facility. In 2012, the World Bank Board approved the creation of the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) and set up a multi-donor trust fund to support it. The purpose of the GPSA was to support collaborations across government, civil society and private sector to solve critical governance challenges in developing countries. In order for these grants to civil society to have a wider reach, a global knowledge and learning component was also established. Today the partnership brings together a knowledge community of nearly 2000 people, with 260+ Global Partners from civil society, private sector, private philanthropy, donors, governments and academia in a global partnership. In order to fund social accountability projects by CSOs in a particular country, governments have to formally agree via an opt-in mechanism. To date, there are nearly 50 opted-in countries. For more information, see:

What is the World Bank Group (WBG) Citizen Engagement (CE) Secretariat? 
The WBG Citizen Engagement Secretariat – co-led by the Governance Global Practice and the Social, Urban, Rural Global Practice – is coordinating efforts to mainstream citizen engagement across all WBG-supported policies, reforms, programs, projects, knowledge and advisory services to improve their development outcomes and, in that context to strengthen systems for inclusive and participatory governance. This is in line with the WBG goal of 100 percent beneficiary feedback in operations with clearly identifiable beneficiaries by FY18, with the World Bank Group Corporate Scorecard and the President’s Unit tracking the progress of this commitment. While the CE secretariat is coordinating advisory and training opportunities and tracks implementation, the Global Practices, Regions and Cross-Cutting Solution Areas of WBG operations are responsible for implementing the framework within their operations and have appointed staff member(s) as focal points to support their respective task teams. For more information see: