This blog post was written by Ana Popa, coordinator of the “My School” project implemented by Expert-Grup in Moldova, and reflects the presentation made at the GPSA’s ECA Regional Forum on Social Accountability that took place on May 23-25, 2017 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Back in 2013, when the Global Partnership for Social Accountability announced its first call for proposals, Moldovan think tank Expert-Grup considered multiple areas where applying social accountability would make a difference in the country. The decision fell on the sector with the widest expected outcome – the education sector. In a country with a less than democratic past, which was followed by a long period of deceptions that resulted in high migration, the population, especially the young generation had become passive. By promoting social accountability (SAcc) at the school level, the project saw an important opportunity to not only reach many individuals (students, parents, teachers and other community members as well as decision-making actors) but also reach some of them at a young age. In this way, the project aimed for long-term impact - raising a new responsible and active generation - along with shorter goals, such as supporting the reform of the educational sector by promoting transparency in budgets and higher participation of the community in the educational process.
Hence, while the project actively supports 100 schools in implementing SAcc tools over the course of its five-year duration, from the very beginning the team’s ambitions were larger than that. It aimed at generating a long-term, nationwide process of social accountability in the education sector. Certainly, the project did not have the capacity to reach all schools in five years. Moreover, since the project didn’t lead to immediate financial benefits it was clear that it would fail to reach its goals if it chose to apply just a single SAcc exercise at school, local or district level. For this purpose, the collaboration with all national stakeholders was seen as a precondition for translating the project goals and efforts into a national process.
The Ministry of Education – very open and pro-reform - immediately became the official partner of the project and a mutual collaboration was established. The Ministry actively participated in national events organized by the project in order to promote and highlight the importance of social accountability in educational sector at a high level.
The next step towards collaborative social accountability process was to establish a formal setting at the local and district level, where the various stakeholders are driven by different (political) interests. Although the school is still perceived as the main institution of the local community, in the process of transition of schools from community budget to financial autonomy after 2012, the dialogue between the school management and local and district authorities became deficient in some cases. Therefore, setting up a formal framework between these stakeholders was important in order to bring together the community stakeholders and ensure that each of them is ready to make the necessary contribution to the process. The parties (schools, local and district authorities and the implementing team) now sign Memoranda of Collaboration at the beginning of each year, in which they agree on sharing the necessary data and participation in the activities of the project that would ensure its proper implementation.
Later, in 2015 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Education and Expert-Grup, spurred by political instability in Moldova and changes in the leadership and technical staff of the Ministry of Education. Even though new leadership and contact persons may be well-intended, it was acknowledged that it takes time to take over all responsibilities. The project team therefore considered it appropriate to formalize the cooperation, in order to avoid delays in the project. The Memorandum of Understanding described the activities of the project the Ministry of Education would support, the data to be shared, among other things.
While formal cooperation is very important, the team also opted for less formal means of cooperation within the project by establishing an Advisory Board. Currently, among the board members are the Deputy Minister of Education, the Head of National School Inspectorate, the Ombudsman for Child Rights, the Head of Finance of Educational sector of the Ministry of Finance and other experts in education. The board meetings are good occasions to have broad discussions regarding the social accountability process in the educational sector in a less formal setting, which allows for brainstorming and continuous improvement in the activities of the project. Also, the Board members can influence the discussions on social accountability that the project promotes at higher levels, which is very important.
Since “MySchool” is a wide project that concentrates both on national level (i.e. aiming to influence national policies) and at local level (by working directly with schools and local authorities) it is also necessary to have strong partners to promote the goals at different levels. Expert-Grup already had the support of five CSOs as regional partners of the project specialized in different areas such as education, youth policies, local development, and participatory democracy. This cooperation allows for simultaneous work at different policy levels. It also determined the establishment of different types of contacts at local and national levels and increased the efficiency of the project. All activities of the project are consulted with the regional partners, and adapted as necessary to the particularities of a school or community.
This collaborative approach at the national and sub-national level inspired the local coalitions at beneficiary schools to be more active, as they would think of their role not only in participating in a project and improving things in their own school, but also as being pioneers in a process of social accountability that was initiating in Moldova. This has increased their motivation to contribute to the scope of the project by sharing the experience with other schools in the district or town (not limited to the project’s 100 beneficiary schools). Also, the formal cooperation made the local school coalitions more confident in approaching local and district authorities when needed, further reinforced by having parents directly on their side.
In our effort to engage all stakeholders in the process we tried to identify and respond to the needs of each of them. Thus, while seeking the support of the Ministry of Education, the project team offered support in implementing actions already specified in the recently adopted Educational Code, which had not been implemented immediately due to financial, technical and human limitation. As a result, the project served as a pilot exercise for testing a variety of tools and became a valuable experience that currently may be used by national and local authorities in developing further policies and implementing even better tools. The experience accumulated by the project is very valuable and the collaboration continues with further involvement of the team in the reform of the education sector, in particular:
While the project team managed to establish a collaboration with many educational stakeholders, it is still a continuous process as Moldova’s context continues to change and political, economic and social motivations also change. This is a difficult task sometimes, especially when the stakeholders are very different. At the same time, the project found that strategic engagement of key stakeholders at different levels fosters overall collaboration at different moments. Thus, for instance, initial engagement with the Ministry of Education fostered the collaboration at district level, while later, when the leadership of the Ministry changed it worked vice-versa in a period of political changes.