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Learning, Adaptation & Change

News | August 28, 2014

Learning, Adaptation & Change: the future of Making All Voices Count

Our programme is changing, based on what we have learned since the Making All Voices Count programme started in September 2013, and this blog sets out what that learning was and how we are adapting to respond to it.

Taken during the Learning and Inspiration Event, May 2014

Taken during the Learning and Inspiration Event, May 2014

The story so far

Making All Voices Count is a programme aimed at changing the relationship between citizens and their governments in ways that open up how decisions are made that affect people’s lives. It’s founded on the conviction that we can harness the power of innovation to genuinely start to transform that relationship. That innovation can come from reformers within or outside government, or change makers from civil society, the private sector or elsewhere. We believe the most powerful partnerships are likely to be those that involve all or some of those categories.

In our first year, we ran an open call for proposals, which attracted over 500 applications, and a Global Innovation Competition which attracted over 250 submissions, 196 of which were deemed eligible. We are really excited with the partners that emerged from these competitive processes, which involve a large breadth of new ways to transform citizen-state relations. They include civil society groups utilising data to shine light on how revenues are disbursed, through to reformers within local government in Pakistan using technology first to tackle teacher attendance, and in the future to create ongoing debate about the nature of education provision in the Punjab province. In both cases it was clear there is an enormous amount of new thinking, potential and creativity. By the end of the first year we supported 32 proposals through the Open Call and a further three through the Global Innovation Competition.

Competition vs collaboration

A central lesson was that competition is not always the best way to find and fund the sort of initiatives we are looking for. Those that involve the array of groups listed above, and which get to the heart of not just the symptom of a problem, such as service delivery, but the fundamental governance issues underlying that problem, are hard to find. Indeed, they may not exist at all in a form that is ready to start work tomorrow. Through the Open Call, we came across a high number of examples that, had there been time and space to broker new partnerships, assist with project design or simply do some more thinking, may well have been successful. However a competitive approach does not cater for that. Nor does it cater for those organisations or partnerships who don’t have the experience and expertise in filling out complex forms, understanding development jargon and often in a second or third language.

In consequence, this mechanism yielded strong partners of which we are proud, but in too few cases coming from parts of society our own theory of change tells us need to be a part of the picture. The private sector and local government, for example, were under represented in addition to civil society actors who were not part of larger transnational networks.

Nevertheless, and perhaps counter-intuitively, the Global Innovation Competition did result in greater levels of participation from the private sector and local government, exemplified in the winners of the competition. The apparent contradiction in the experience of both of these mechanisms is an interesting one, and one we will reflect on with others.

Adapting our approach

We will not run another global open call for proposals, but we will retain the Global Innovation Competition. In place of the open call we will be adopting a locally led, bottom up approach, led by a Country Programmes unit. This will involve investing in our understanding of the local context and, in partnership with local people and organisations, developing a strategic approach which guides our portfolio of investments, in order that they collectively contribute to transformative processes of change, some of which may already be underway. This will mean that, instead of being open to all projects, we may for example take the view that those innovations that are likely to enhance the delivery of a country’s National Action Plan of the Open Government Partnership will be prioritised.

Previously, such as in the Open Call for Proposals, we came across projects that addressed part, but not the whole picture relating to issues we want to work with. With our new approach, we will be able to work with these projects to broker new partnerships that could render them far more transformational in the longer term. We call this approach ‘brokering’ and we will be commencing this work immediately.

Where will we work?

There are 12 participating countries and this remains unchanged. For the next year, however, we are focussing our brokering approach on the following: Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, the Philippines. This is based on our analysis of where this approach is likely to work most effectively. We recognise that there could be good cases made for others to be included in this list and we will review it regularly throughout the year. For the rest of our countries (Liberia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mozambique, Uganda & Nigeria) the Global Innovation Competition remains open for potential grantees to apply. Furthermore these countries will be targeted for tech hub grants and if the opportunity arise our new offline competitions, or pitching sessions, on which we will expand at a later moment in time.


One of the reasons why this programme is so exciting is that we will be learning and applying that learning to what we do. We also want the insights we capture, either through formal research, action research, or capturing the experiences of ourselves and our grantees, to be of direct use to existing and future initiatives, donors and governments after Making All Voices Count has completed its work in 2017.

There has been a huge volume of recent work done, by scholars and practitioners, on what is likely to work in the field of governance reform, and to some extent our programme will put some of that to the test in the coming years. What has become clear so far is that a collaborative, brokering-led approach is likely to get us to the more transformative partnerships we think are needed to start to address the underlying issues preventing the relationship between citizens and their governments from being genuinely open and participatory. We got to grips with some of them in Tanzania at our Learning and Inspiration Event in May 2014, for example.

What is clear is that there is a significant amount of enthusiasm for this approach from innovators from within our 12 countries, as Director of Country Programmes, Chris Underwood, discovered when speaking to some of them in Johannesburg recently. Their view on the contribution this programme could make was genuinely exciting. We’re really looking forward to continuing that journey, and over the course of the coming months and years welcoming even more change makers to Making All Voices Count.