On learning about transparency & accountability: greater imagination is needed (Part 2)

Florencia Guerzovich

The findings of the Transparency for Development project (T4D) reopened a debate about the offerings of transparency accountability and participation (see my first post).

In this post, I want to focus on actions we can take to move the debate forward, for those who are interested in the T4D proposition: transparency, accountability and participation as a means towards improved service delivery:

  1. Use Available research and evaluations  to Inform Operational Rules of Thumb
  2. Broaden the Focus of the Research Agenda
  3. Foster imagination by taking into consideration the ideas of a broader range of actors

1. Use Available research and evaluations to Inform Operational Rules of Thumb

T4D will be producing more lessons about the  “messiness” that makes up practitioners’ daily lives in the quest for complex health impacts h/t Courtney Tolmie.  These insights are invaluable for providing much needed guideposts for practical and effective integrationof transparency, participation, and accountability into sectors. Still,  Jim Anderson is on point in another Twitter reaction to the T4D findings:  One study – T4D or any other –  should not determine decisions. 

A group of colleagues, led by  Sue Cant at World Vision, are taking concrete steps to help practitioners and decision-makers make the most of the research, evaluations  (including more modest pieces)  and tacit learning. We will be collating operational rules of thumb that can help us design, implement, and evaluate interventions moving forward.  The focus is on practical decisions, so rather than point to ideal designs, we are hoping to discuss some of the pros and cons entailed in researchers’ and evaluators’ findings to help colleagues think about their own contexts and adapt the lessons.

2. Broaden the Focus of the Research Agenda

In the T4D twitter debate Brian Levy argued that  we need a  change in the focus of the research agenda.

What does a research agenda for the next 10 years look like?  We can take a cue from Lant Prittchett’s  recent blog post identifying a third wave of discussion on how governance affects development outcomes (post-’mono-cropping’ and post-World Development Report of  2004). The World Development Reports of 2017 and 2018 are integral to the third wave.

What are the research/learning questions?  As a field, we would do much better if we took service delivery chains more seriously , including their entry points, risks and bottlenecks, before we try to come up with a one-size-fits all value proposition or try tackling all bottlenecks at once with limited resources (an oldie think piece, and a blog  post by Alan Hudson). As Brian Levy put it, we need to: “get sector – as well as context specific. Education causal channels include teacher absenteeism, parental engagement in learning, school culture, selection of school leadership & teachers. For maternal and neonatal health, [what are they]?”.[1]

Why should we pivot now?  This focus on sectors is timely not only because we found the limits of old Transparency and Accountability theories. We need new narratives and ways to explain mixed results.

Also, sectoral baselines and goals are changing from service delivery access to quality, and so are approaches. Think Universal Health Care, Quality of Education or the Learning Agenda, Frontline Service Delivery and other whole of government / cross sector approaches. They were not at the center of the agenda in 2012. This is a game-changer (as Sol Gattoni, Maria Poli and I argue at greater length in other posts, here and here).  

As practice is evolving faster than research parameters, the gap between supply and demand of knowledge is widening. Closing the gap does not mean throwing the baby with the bathwater. It’s throwing the water and acknowledging the baby is learning to walk.

3. Foster imagination by engaging the ideas of a broader range of actors

Dennis Whittle from XX reacted to the T4D debate as follows: 

Greater imagination might be easier to achieve with inputs from a broader range/different group of practitioners, academics. We need to reach out outside the box without reinventing the wheel. For all our championing of our global networks and reach, there is too much experimentation and learning happening outside the radar screen of our conversations. There is research happening outside the go-to universities and think tanks. There are young researchers putting thought into useful questions. There are disciplines and publications we are unaware about.  I don’t see researchers and practitioners that made me think outside the box  invited to our events or their works cited in our speeches and papers. For instance, for all the rage of co-creation, including in T4D, we have not engaged research and researchers who have focused on co-production in the North and South, adding to the groundbreaking work of Elinor Ostrom.  We can be more proactive addressing our blind spots.

I’ve faced the dilemma in the early days of T4D. It is difficult and risky to bring an “unknown entity” into a group of usual suspects to enrich the debate and move our thinking forward. It is not easy to create conditions and incentives for colleagues who are working around the world and not hooked into the debate. Some of them may not believe they have a “safe space” to disagree with the spoken or unspoken parameters of the debate. We can do much better to acknowledge those who produce knowledge from the South (check the Bukavo Series).

We can look beyond the usual suspects, make educated guesses, bridge, and lead forward. There is a diverse silent coalition of global researchers and practitioners that can and should help shape the agenda for the next 10 years. 

If you are interested in helping out in any of these tasks, find me at the2019 GPSA Global Partners Forum where I hope  we can  challenge ourselves and think about what the foundation of our practice is today, what are the opportunities and constraints,  and how the frontiers of social accountability are evolving. In the next few months, we might also be able to grab a coffee and brainstorm at the University of the State of  Santa Catarina in Brazil, the Red por la Rendicion de Cuentas in Mexico, Wahana Visi in Indonesia, or when I am home in Argentina.  Or you can ping me on twitter @guerzovich. I’ll try to connect.

PS. I realized that to legitimate my points I printed tweets from  men who  are known and respected in the North. I am a Southern woman. I am acutely aware that we need to #breaktheroles in this conversation, too. 

This blog post reflects the views of the author drawing on prior research and experience. Thanks to Nathaniel Heller, Courtney Tolmie, Miriam McCarthy,  Emilie Fokkelman,  Alan Hudson, Jeff Thindwa  and Sol Gattoni for their time and input.

[1]  For more of Brian Levy’s argument see here. Also, see  what Maria Poli, Emilie Fokkelman have been saying about the potential value of social accountability for delivering learning. For open data centered-analysis reaching a related conclusion, check Michael Jelenic’s work. Gill Westhorp and Wahana Visi here and Manoj Mohanan and team here provide useful building blocks about the value of transparency, accountability and participation for health systems and delivery chains.  Paula Schommer has helped me think about when and how transparency and accountability can add value to contracting of  different types of urban service delivery (see  here).

About the Author

Florencia Guerzovich

Florencia Guerzovich – Independent Consultant and Researcher. Sr. Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Advisor, The Global Partnership for Social Accountability, The World Bank. [email protected]

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