GPSA Takes Part in USAID Round Table on Strengthening Local Governance and Accountability

On March 9th 2016, USAID brought together staff, implementing partners and thought leaders working on local governance, service delivery and accountability at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington DC. The purpose was to critically reflect on lessons from USAID-supported local governance programming over the last two decades, examine local governance and accountability as entry-points for integrated programming and discuss how USAID and other development actors can most effectively support locally-driven, locally-owned approaches to strengthening local governance, service delivery and domestic accountability.

The meeting – which was organized by the cross-sectoral working group to review progress on integrating democracy, human rights and governance (DRG) perspectives in USAID programming – looked at some overarching trends and assumptions in the sector of local governance and accountability, illustrated by practical examples from programming as well as recent research.

Rather than thinking of local governance as a panacea to accountable service delivery, both researchers and practitioners stressed the need to focus both on the ‘first mile’ i.e. where political beliefs and societal norms are formed at different levels, as well as the ‘last mile’ of holding local service deliverers to account. The shift away from just ‘fixing services’ towards a more holistic and adaptive approach to social accountability was seen as one of the most important lessons over the last couple of decades, reflected also in some of the country cases presented. This was also illustrated in GPSA’s panel presentation of practical examples, drawing on in-country experiences of grantees and the overall GPSA approach to knowledge and learning.

A holistic approach, it was argued, needs to be both context-sensitive and take into account the political as well as the fiscal incentives for local governance reform in order to set up effective engagement mechanisms with local structures. Reminding the meeting that donor aid is political too, the need to analyze and understand the political implications of proposed external interventions was discussed. For social accountability, it was also noted that while existing forces for collective local action may coincide with organized civil society, it may also require broader attitude or behavioral shifts among unorganized citizens at large, or involving informal leadership and networks.

Examples of direct involvement of citizens in the co-creation of solutions with public officials were highlighted from some of the GPSA projects. Others mentioned the role and added value of action-oriented research and long-term impact evaluations as ways to get iterative inputs for adaptive management. In this context, a serious commitment to opening up local government was mentioned. Routinely collected secondary data at municipal or district levels could be used more effectively in ongoing research and monitoring efforts, validated by citizen feedback for local planning and public outreach.

The roundtable was organized as part of a series of reflection meetings conducted by USAID in its internal review of the Action Plan for Cross-Sectoral Integration.

Since 2015, USAID is a contributing donor to the GPSA trust fund, focusing on social accountability activities in the Dominican Republic.