I must say I appreciated the theme of this week’s readings being on accountability and governance in communication for development – as opposed to the long and sordid history of straight IC4D we studied last week.
I think an overall lesson I take from this area of activity in development is that when the local culture is better understood by the foreign actor – understanding that comes from many years of imbedded living, communicating, learning and action – and the local partners trust the foreigners, those are the circumstances under which effective change on the ground takes place. Most western models have foreign actors in development parachute in to an environment for a few months or a few years, and powerful connections and relationships are lost, or are not made.
I witnessed this in Mauritania. One of the more successful NGOs in Nouakchott had been established in the early 1990’s and of the two full-time managing Americans who worked there, one had been in place for more than 20 years, the other for more than 10. They did regularly have volunteers for less than a year who came in to do various kinds of work, but the deep relationships from the time the leadership had invested built a foundation of trust, respect, and accountability that made their initiatives and programs far more successful. Because they, too, had become very real stakeholders in the community, the community trusted them more.
In Taking Direct Accountability Seriously, some points that stood out, the authors argued that crystalized public opinion is necessary for accountability and good governance. Accountability was found to require the activation and mobilization of public demands. This ties in with our readings of people and networks. The melding of horizontal and vertical media systems is making it harder for governments to be immune to public demands or for public opinion to remain latent. Though as the authors pointed out, effective communication is necessary to achieve an informed and mobilized public.
But will the activation and mobilization of public demands lead to development and good governance in the anticipated direction?
In Governance Reform under Real World Conditions, the authors argue that public opinion is a critical part of governance and an essential part of the good governance architecture. The strength of governance reform and poverty reduction was found to lie with the citizens and their ability to voice out their needs. Dialogue is central to these ideas. Reaching the citizens however, may depend on the existing government. This reading ties in with the class discussions on the role of communication for development and poverty reduction. The challenge is to determine the communication model and network that will engage citizens and crystallize their needs for effective poverty reduction.
I enjoyed how he discussed how there are practical ways to create citizen mobilization by inspiring and through motivation. I liked how there is a difference between the “forum movement” that tries to create a face-to-face discussion in citizen democracy. I think it is important to highlight that the growth in powerful countries has made the growth of globalization promote widely used and more advanced forms of communication. This new world of communication has created a “smaller world” which links new practical ways of face-to-face diplomacy together.
I think it is extremely important to note that we should place attention on the context surrounding civic participation. The context forms how citizens create their personal opinion from the information that they are given. Their opinions do not simply arise out of no background, rather context plays a key role in developing sentiments. The types of rule that citizens are living under dramatically effect how the public forms their opinion on a matter–certainly when the concepts are political.
A very intriguing piece to me is that the author discusses how journalists can live in a state of fear in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With threats of death, killings, torture, and capture, the nation has established a poor national brand for journalists that I argue negatively affects on public and traditional diplomacy. This limited role that media can play creates silence and gives arguably dangerous power to the government.