An increasingly compelling body of evidence suggests that governance reform is inherently political and complex (see, for example, Halloran 2014; Menocal 2013; Levy 2011; and the 2017 World Development Report).
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to governance challenges, no blueprints for reform that can be imposed by external actors, or transplanted wholesale from one context to another.
Attempts at encouraging reform are most likely to be successful when two conditions are met: first, local stakeholders are at the forefront of efforts to define governance challenges, develop and implement solutions, and pursue sustainable change; and second, those stakeholders have the flexibility to learn and adapt as they go, especially when working in complex political contexts (Guerzovich and Schommer 2016; Valters, Cummings and Nixon 2016; Ramalingam 2013; Booth 2011; Unsworth 2010; Andrews 2009; and Grindle 2005 are among many recent arguments to this effect).
However, and despite an emerging consensus on the importance of local ownership and learning, many questions remain about the practical implications of these insights, including with regard to the Open Government Partnership (OGP). What does it mean, in practice, for domestic reformers to take a politically engaged, learning-focused and adaptive approach to governance reform? How would external actors support such an approach? And how might adaptive programming fit into and complement existing OGP processes, such as the National Action Plan cycle and the Subnational Pioneers Program?
The Learning to Make All Voices Count Initiative (L-MAVC), a programme funded by Making All Voices Count and implemented in collaboration with Global Integrity, attempted to explore and address these questions. Global Integrity partnered with Making All Voices Count staff and six Making All Voices Count grantees in Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa and Tanzania. We worked together to design and operationalise a participatory, learning-centred and adaptive programme management methodology, with the intent of helping grantees strengthen citizen engagement in governance processes in their contexts, including with respect to the OGP.
Two overarching sets of lessons emerge from the experiences of L-MAVC grantees. First, supporting citizen engagement and government accountability in subnational contexts, and localising the OGP in ways that matter to citizens, is not straightforward. Doing so successfully entails engaging with, navigating and shaping political and power dynamics in those contexts, and iteratively adapting to emerging lessons and challenges. Second, the effectiveness of adaptive ways of working depends in part on the extent to which they offer opportunities for cross-context peer learning, support the regular collection and use of data, and are themselves adaptive.
These lessons have implications for the broader community of actors working to support governance reform, including the OGP and its partners, donors and multilateral institutions, and practitioners and policy-makers. The evidence from L-MAVC suggests that if these actors are to contribute more effectively to reforms that affect citizens’ lives, substantial changes – with respect to the nature of support provided to domestic stakeholders and to grant-making practices – may be warranted.
For more on L-MAVC, and the lessons from our work with our enterprising partners over the past year, please see the full report. Stay tuned for forthcoming policy briefs as well. For more on specific learning journeys, we’ll soon publish individual project case stories produced by grantees themselves. Finally this short video summarizes some of the work undertaken as part of L-MAVC over the past year.
About the authorMichael Moses is the Director of Advocacy & Programs at Global Integrity.
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