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When does the state listen?

Date added:January 31, 2016

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Much of  the literature on accountability focuses on citizen voices, but this article argues that there is a need to bring more of the state back into the equation. Here the authors chose to look at the state and see when and how it listens, to which actors; and why, at times, it chooses not to listen.

The article looks at four cases of key historical policies in Ghana (national health insurance), Kenya (digitalisation of governance), South Africa (social protection) and Tanzania (primary education), to examine how states engage with citizen voices. The policies all took place in contexts of political change and major junctures of democratisation.

The authors identify three kinds of moments when the state listens:

  • Hearing moments, when it engages with citizen voices but does not change the way it acts
  • Consultation moments, when it engages with citizen voices through two-way dialogue, resulting in one-sided action, and:
  • Concertation moments, when coalitions between reform-minded officials and politicians and organised citizen voices engage in two-way dialogue and action for accountable governance.

Concertation moments occurred when there was a shared sense of urgency and a common goal across state and non-state actors, and despite different understandings of accountable governance. But concertation moments are also laborious and temporary, part of larger, ever-changing policy processes, and often states revert to consultation or hearing.

IDS Bulletin 47.1 Opening Governance



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