Active citizenship and how change happens

DLP is supporting Oxfam’s wide-ranging ‘How change happens’ research project. A set of ten Active Citizenship Case Studies from this project have just been published, with a companion summary of the insights and lessons they provide. 

The papers are authored by Oxfam's Senior Strategic Adviser Duncan Green. (Anna Macdonald, Head of Arms Control at Oxfam, is co-author of the Arms Trade Treaty case study.)

Promoting Active Citizenship cover The case studies, written over the course of 2013/14, use a ‘theory of change approach’ to explore how change happens in different contexts. The studies were selected to cover a wide range of programmes, both geographically and by sector – humanitarian assistance, long-term development, advocacy and campaigns.

All the studies focus on an approach that tries to help communities in developing countries formulate and negotiate their own solutions to problems such as women’s empowerment, land and labour rights, the arms trade, community protection and conflict resolution. 

They offer some thought-provoking findings about improving programme design, more effective ways of working, and staff cultures.

For example, the Community Protection Committee (CPC) programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) shows what can be achieved even in the most inauspicious circumstances. Promoting non-confrontational dialogue, and strengthening women’s voices within it, has had tangible results in reducing abuses, improving gender equality and developing more positive relationships between citizens and those in power.

CPCs are made up of six men and six women elected by their communities. A ‘women’s forum’ also focuses on protection issues that particularly affect women. ‘Change agents’ are elected from further remote villages or locations to expand the geographical impact of the CPC’s work. Oxfam and partner staff support these groups to help them identify the main threats they face, and what they can do to mitigate them. 

The programme demonstrates that in chaotic and complex environments, working on relationships may be more feasible than trying to target specific outcomes. However, the case study shows that only a programme designed to encourage constructive criticism and promote continuous self-reflection among programme and partner staff can do this. 

The findings of this set of case studies also identify some of the recurrent dilemmas in promoting active citizenship through aid. For instance, they demonstrate that there will always be setbacks for programmes and changes in direction. The end result may bear little resemblance to the initial plans. 

After the early viral phase of the inspirational ‘We Can’ campaign in South Asia (We can end all violence against women), its allies became concerned that the initial emphasis on recruiting enormous numbers of supporters risked diluting its messages and impact. As a result, Phase II emphasised quality rather than quantity. 

Many of the timelines for the Active Citizenship case studies show work stretching back over a decade or more – far longer than the typical NGO funding arrangement. This poses real challenges both to funders and ‘implementers’. 

But the studies also suggest solutions; for instance, it may be more realistic to agree a 10-20 year ‘envelope’ for a programme, and then try to fund two-to-three-year modules within it. 

See Duncan Green's blog post and summary paper (pdf) for more on lessons learned.

The ten case studies (pdfs) are:

DLP’s support of the ‘How change happens’ research project is made possible by funding from the Australian Government.

 

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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