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October - November 2020

New Publications

From Peoples' Struggles to Public Policy: The Institutionalization of the Bhilwara Framework of Social Accountability in India

This October 2020 Accountability Note by Rakshita Swamy (@RakshitaSwamy88) with a preface by Aruna Roy describes and explains a set of principles for social accountability that emerged out of the struggles of some of the most marginalized people in India. Although firmly rooted in the experience of local resistance, the Bhilwara Framework of Social Accountability speaks directly to national and global struggles for accountability. The essential elements of the Bhilwara Framework were first framed by Dalit activists fighting discrimination and structural injustice, who reflected on and theorized about the causes of their marginalization. These elements were then accepted, developed further, and disseminated by activists and social movements. This Note discusses the social origins of the Bhilwara Framework and explains how each of the six principles was derived and applied. The principles include:
  1. Access to meaningful and usable information
  2. The formal registration of citizen grievances
  3. The need for time-bound inquiry processes
  4. Platforms for citizen participation
  5. Protection of complainants against reprisal; and
  6. Public and collective spaces in which citizens can dialogue with their state.
The moral and political economy of the pandemic in Bangladesh: Weak states and strong societies during Covid-19
ARC research professor Dr. Naomi Hossain co-authored a World Development article with Tariq Omar Ali (Georgetown University) and Mirza Hassan (BRAC institute of Governance and Development in Bangladesh) highlighting work on Covid-19 in Bangladesh. As the Covid-19 pandemic spread in 2020, the government of Bangladesh ordered a lockdown and promised a program of relief. Citizens complied at first, but soon returned to economic and social life; relief proved slow and uncertain, and citizens could not rely on government assistance. The government tacitly and then officially permitted the lockdown to end, despite a rising Covid-19 caseload. This article draws on theories about state capacity to make and enforce policy to understand why Bangladesh proved unable to sustain a lockdown deemed necessary to contain the pandemic in this densely populated, low income country. Drawing on original qualitative mobile phone-based research in six selected communities, this article examines how the state exercised its capacities for coercion, control over lower factions within political society, and sought to preserve and enhance its legitimacy. It concludes that despite a) the growth in the capacity of the Bangladeshi state in the past decade and b) strong political incentives to manage the pandemic without harm to economic wellbeing, the pressures to sustain legitimacy with the masses forced the state and its frontline actors to tolerate lockdown rule-breaking, conceding that the immediate livelihood needs of the poor masses overrode national public health concerns. Chronically unable to enforce its authority over local political elites, the state failed to ensure a fair and timely distribution of relief. The weakness of the Bangladeshi state contrasts with the strength of widely shared ‘moral economy’ views within society, which provided powerful ethical and political justification for citizens’ failures to comply with the lockdown, and for officials’ forbearance in its enforcement. The Covid-19 pandemic highlights both the importance of state capacity in managing novel shocks from within the global system, and the challenges in settings where weak states are embedded in strong societies. For more, see World Development Volume 137, January 2021.
Health Worker Protest Project Blog
Voices from the pandemic frontlines: Health worker protests and proposals from 84 countries

The COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on health care systems around the world and ARC’s Health Worker Protest Project has now received over 600 reports from 88 countries. This evolving situation has given rise to a new wave of hundreds of innovative protests and proposals from health workers on the frontlines. Reports of health worker protests and proposals are as diverse as the regions they come from, but common themes emerge: Health workers in nearly every country have reported a dangerous lack of personal protective equipment… There is still much to learn about the diversity and dynamics of health worker protests and proposals in the time of COVID-19, but one thing is clear: as health workers continue to raise their voices, we need to listen and act. There is no one more informed about the challenges faced in the coronavirus pandemic, and no one more crucial in fighting it worldwide. For more, read Jennifer Johnson’s October 20 blog Voices from the pandemic frontlines: Health worker protests and proposals from 84 countries. This analysis has grown from the ARC @HealthWorkerPro pilot project.
Engagements and Events
Social Audits in India Today and An Agenda for Action: National Seminar and Workshop

ARC Director Jonathan Fox and Researcher Suchi Pande spoke at various sessions of the Social Audits in India Today and An Agenda for Action: National Seminar and Workshop (Nov 5 – 7, 2020). This aim of this workshop was to provide a platform to hear and learn about social audits from different perspectives such as those of civil society organizations, peoples’ campaigns, judiciary, government, audit institutions, social audit units, and researchers.

ARC Director, Prof Jonathan Fox was one of the speakers at the opening plenary session. Dr. Fox shared social audit experiences from Latin America and the Philippines. He spoke about independent society-led audits in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico as well as efforts in Mexico and Philippines to make audits more participatory. He concluded with a “wish list” of seven questions on possible synergy between social audits and citizen engagement with conventional audits; maximizing synergy between local project focused social audits with more systemic oversight of programs and policies; bolstering synergy between reactive and preventative approaches to accountability; ensuring accountability failures identified by social audits get addressed; disentangling accountability from problem solving; addressing challenges of “watering down” as social audits are mainstreamed; identifying the most promising strategies for social audits to address the many links in the chain of public sector decision-making. 

ARC researcher Suchi Pande spoke in a session focused on social audit research titled, Social audit and research – what does the evidence say? She presented 2 parts of the ARC action-research – survey research with frontline social auditors published in 2017 and ongoing data analysis with ARC partner FACTLY. Informed by their survey research with frontline social auditors she emphasized the need to separate the audit agencies from the implementing agencies in charge of follow up. Her talk also focused on disentangling the two approaches to accountability: the preventative approach, which involves addressing causes of accountability failure; and, the reactive approach, which involves improving consequences in response to failure. She concluded her talk with implications for future action-research on social audits and grievance redress; exploring the institutional disconnect between monitoring agencies and agencies with enforcement powers; and enabling citizen action by exploring collaborative strategies between state social audit units and civil society organizations to improve state responsiveness to social audit findings and ensure the better performance of large-scale welfare programs.
Read related ARC publications:

Colombia’s National Accountability Day (Día Nacional de la Rendición de Cuentas)

On November 19, 2020 ARC director Jonathan Fox participated in the virtual celebration of Colombia’s National Accountability Day organized by the Colombia’s Vice Presidency and the Administrative Department of Civil Service (DAFP) and whose main target audience were civil servants and public officials. At this event, the most significant accountability initiatives of national and local government agencies were selected. During the panel discussion with a renowned Colombia Journalist, Mabel Lara, Jonathan Fox talked about innovative ways in which government agencies could improve the perception of their credibility and build public trust, enhance their accountability processes and increase citizens involvement in public issues. He emphasized on the importance of focusing on a user-centered approach to information, communicating not only achievements but also the challenges, improving dialogue with citizens to tackle not only the symptoms but causes when addressing policy issues and reducing the risks of reappraisals of citizens to participate. Approximately 760 participants viewed the event on DAFP’s live YouTube Chanel and Facebook page. You may access the event on YouTube and Facebook.

Towards a new Colombia-US relationship, with a focus on the environment, social leaders and peace
ARC co-sponsored a November 18, 2020 webinar on “Towards a new Colombia-US relationship, with a focus on the environment, social leaders and peace” (Hacia una nueva relación EEUU y Colombia con énfasis en el medio ambiente, los líderes sociales y la paz). Speakers included:

  • Luis Gilberto Murillo, Former Minister of Environment, Colombia
  • Elvira María Restrepo, Associate Professor, Honors Program and Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Juan Mayr Maldonado, Former Minister of Environment, Peace Negotiator with ELN, and Ambassador of Colombia to Germany
  • Andreiev Pinzón, Project Coordinator, ENDA Latin America
  • Mauricio Cabrera, Government Advisor, World Wildlife Fund, Colombia
  • Josefina Kingler, Founder and Director, NGO ‘Mano Cambiada’
  • Aida Quilcue, Human Rights Councillor, Colombia’s National Indigenous Organization

Co-sponsored with: Colombia Human Rights Committee (DC) and George Washington University’s Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute & the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Security Policy Studies Program, Master of International Affairs Program, & the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program. Video recording to be posted soon.

Please share with colleagues who may be interested to sign up for future monthly updates on publications and highlights of our partner organizations’ work for social change and greater accountability. You can also follow ARC on @AcctResearchCtr, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Follow the health worker protest pilot on @HealthWorkerPro.
With Regards,
Jonathan Fox
Director, Accountability Research Center
Professor, American University School of International Service
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