Bridging the Gap: The Role of Local Churches in Fostering Local-Level Social Accountability and Governance
Local churches are not about the buildings, but about the people who are members of their congregations. These people are integral to, and embedded into, the communities they serve. At their best, churches are places of radical community, where everyone is welcome and relationships are formed across social barriers. They can be safe spaces where people talk to different groups in an environment that promotes trust and understanding.
Tearfund is a Christian international NGO, working to combat poverty in over 50 countries, through seeing communities developed, disasters responded to and governments held accountable. It works with and through local churches to bring whole-life transformation to some of the poorest communities in the world.
Church and Community Mobilisation (CCM) Advocacy
Tearfund has been working through local churches using a process called Church and Community Mobilisation (CCM) for over 15 years in more than 25 countries. Through CCM, local churches work with their own communities to identify and solve local problems using local resources. This work has been hugely successful and has had a positive impact on communities around the world.
However, for many communities, there still remains a lack of access to vital services that they cannot, and should not, have to provide for themselves, such as schools and medical centres. These are basic services that all people are entitled to, and it is the duty of governments to provide them for their citizens.
At Tearfund, we decided to support local churches to work with their communities, as part of CCM, to jointly speak with their local government officials to get the service delivery they need. We ran a pilot with our partner Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) in Uganda, integrating advocacy into the CCM process. The aim was to bridge the gap by helping communities engage with powerful local government decision-makers, with the aim of bringing about good governance, using social accountability tools. This enables people living in poverty to add to their own resources, which are often limited, by identifying and accessing local government resources for basic services, such as boreholes and medical centres. 
Signs of success
Tearfund’s research into this local level advocacy in Uganda saw the church playing just that role of bridging the gap between communities and governments. In our report Bridging the Gap: The Role of Local Churches in Fostering Local‑Level Social Accountability and Governance, we found that the church in Uganda was uniquely placed to foster good relationships between local communities and local government. Communities and government both trusted local churches as a safe space where they could start a dialogue, and where trust and mutual respect replaced antagonism and suspicion between the two groups. In the CCM advocacy training, churches learnt about and encouraged Christians to speak up for justice, based on teachings and values from the Bible. With this inspiration and encouragement rooted in their faith, communities who had received this training felt more confident and could see their own potential, and felt empowered with a sense of purpose. This enabled them to mobilise their own resources and devise their own strategic plans. This in turn helped them to gain their government officials’ respect, access government budget and, increasingly, get the essential services they needed.
Our research indicates that CCM advocacy is seeing high levels of impact, including increased partnerships and improved relationships between citizens and local government authorities, greater citizen access to information and enhanced service delivery outcomes. It measured the success of the pilot in five key areas: transparency, citizen empowerment, inclusion, government responsiveness and power dynamics. Across all five areas, we found that the church empowered communities to do effective advocacy, making their efforts more successful and helping them to get the vital services they needed.
The church encourages citizens to hold decision-makers accountable for being transparent.
Once communities understand the importance of transparency, through advocacy training, they are more likely to ask government for information on policies and budgets, and government is more likely to be transparent in providing this.
The church promotes a vision that change is possible if citizens are empowered and know and demand their rights.
Once the community is inspired and unites around this vision, theirs is a powerful collective voice. Their advocacy is stronger and has greater legitimacy.
The church promotes inclusion and speaking up for the most vulnerable groups in society, including the elderly, those with disabilities and people living with HIV.
Communities involved in advocacy are now taking practical steps to involve and empower marginalised members.
The church helps improve relationships between communities and decision-makers.
It also equips communities to advocate more strategically. This encourages quicker, more positive responses from decision-makers and greater mutual respect between the two groups.
As relationships with decision-makers improve, there is a clear shift in power dynamics.
Before, communities felt they were on the receiving end of whatever programmes the government chose to roll out, and however the government chose to spend its development budget. Now, by working together as a united group, they are in a more equal partnership with government and have a greater say on the issues that matter to them.
Tearfund has recently launched this research in Uganda, and in the UK Parliament, and now plans to work with PAG and other church partners around the world to scale up the CCM advocacy approach, continuing to bridge the gap between communities and their governments. We will encourage different communities to pool their advocacy efforts for greater clout and recognition from their governments, to see vital services provided and communities transformed on a bigger scale.
 For this project, Tearfund secured funding from the grant body Making All Voices Count, and worked with the world-renowned Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, to research the impact and effectiveness of a pilot project in Uganda which integrated advocacy into our Church and Community Mobilisation (CCM) work. This was done with an initial phase of field research using focus group discussions and key informant interviews, followed by a reflective workshop. This workshop was held in Uganda for Tearfund staff and partners from east and southern Africa to feed into the research, and help refine the methodology and questions before the second phase of field research. Once this phase was completed, using focus group discussions and key informant interviews again, a webinar was held to allow another opportunity for ideas and feedback to be given, to inform the final research report.
The Bridging the Gap report forms part of a suite of resources demonstrating the impact of CCM advocacy, and aimed at facilitating the scale up of this work. Our CCM Advocacy Guide is a practical manual for the implementation of CCM advocacy, and is available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. You can also watch a short film, showing the impact of CCM advocacy on two communities in Uganda and Bolivia.