Once upon a time, I decided that what my younger brother really needed from me was to read him Harry Potter. He wasn’t a fan. I decided that the millions of other fans and my own personal experience proved that if he only gave it a chance, he too would love it. I devotedly made it through the first five books. I read to him out loud, with in-character voices on an almost nighty basis. He still does not like Harry Potter.
So how did we even make it through 2,689 pages when I had to battle for him to listen every night? Because one thing he did want and need was time with his sister. How would he have preferred to spend our time together? I never asked. Now we've grown up and live 2,000 miles apart.
The point of this story is that sometimes we forget to have the most crucial conversations, and development is not immune to this. We spend a lot of time investing in something that often we want to see achieved, and tons of evidence proves it’s importance and effectiveness, however what the citizens see their needs as may be completely different. What they may really want is their potholes filled, like citizens throughout the world who have been driven to find creative ways to communicate this desire. While humorous, clearly this is not the best way forward.
Duncan Green’s recent post on real time evaluations on transparency and accountability initiatives emphasizes how there is no cookie cutter answer to these issues, and the bake time always depends on the climate.
The idea is catching, and we’re starting to see more and more examples of increasing citizen engagement. Some are sector specific such as strengthening accountability for water services in India through citizen engagement. Others are focusing on specific locations, such as GroundTruth Initiative’s efforts in two informal settlements in Tanzania to get feedback from citizens to government officials and eventually leading to improved services. Check out the six things they’ve learned about effective feedback loops in their efforts so far.
Even the Open Government Partnership’s recent call for exhibit proposals was extended to citizens with a story to tell.
While efforts are being made to say, “We’re listening!” The situation will be different in each area, trust will need to be built, systems put in place, and habits changed. Maybe together we can write the story we all want to read.