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April 2, 2015

Is citizen engagement a game changer for development?

By Hassan Horri

Citizen Engagement; Game Changer; Development; Social Networks and Technology.


Today, for the first time, and through Citizen Engagement initiatives, Nigeria's incumbent president was defeated in fair and free elections. That is a game changer and a hugely significant moment in Nigeria's turbulent history.

Few years back, it was beyond our imaginations to envisage what we are witnessing in Yemen, Ukraine, and Hong Kong. Also, we observed unique waves for change in the developed world such as Occupy Wall Street and Ferguson Democracy Now. Anyhow, citizen engagement for development has grown with impetus. These changes have come too fast and too soon in our eyes.

Familiarity of the Arab Spring has painted the need to rethink governance toward a new approach that is based on an open, direct, and inclusive engagement. The tendencies shifted from a short-term tactical initiative burst in challenging the government in Tunisia in early 2011 to strategic initiatives throughout the Middle East in overthrowing regimes and seeking long-term changes in governance.

Transparency, accountability, and responsiveness to people's needs are crucial to achieve better and sustainable development results on the ground. While improved citizen engagement has an intrinsic value in itself, the ultimate goal is not only to empower the poor but also to improve the reach and quality of public services offered to deprived communities.

In innovating new ideas, managing contexts, and sharing and deploying information, we are fully betrothed in another decade of fast revolutions. Huge amount of information or educational resources has taken place in the last decade. Some say that about 90% of all the data in the world today has been created in the past few years. It can be ascribed to the rise of digital technologies, its convenience, and diminishing realization costs. Changes have been so rapid, that it is beyond our thoughts to know how the world would look in the next decade.

While governments are strong on the role its citizens play in policymaking and public-service delivery, we can ask how inclusive and effective is the citizen in shaping public affairs and bringing a "change", starting from innovating theories, contexts and concepts that inspire citizen engagement.

Activists investigate latest innovations and the impact it has on the society in researching both successes and failures of these new approaches. And citizen engagement remains the dynamics of the wave that pushes us towards building trust with citizens, and to forge consensus around important reforms. We are experiencing direct lines of communication between citizens and authorities. Closing the "feedback loop" between citizens and governments is the central theme of this process. We can only overpass the existing "accountability gap" between government reforms and the citizen voices by improving the responsiveness of governments to people's requirements.

Also compromising between demand and supply of governance is vital to embark upon the accountability puzzle. Such an approach is instrumental for a new collaborative model of governance that addresses the development process in an open, effective, and inclusive methodology. Crowd-sourcing, as well, is applied to crisis and tactical mappings, reporting on, and coordinating efforts in the context of emergencies.

From mobile e-learning to platforms of voter education, digital technologies are no longer an exclusivity of the developed world. Technology implants more people with information into the citizenry engagement as a game changer, bringing a powerful new choice of tools and bringing in more qualitative outputs.

This may seem an exaggeration, but that is a real Game Changer when you look that 14 out of the top 20 countries with the highest mobile phone penetration are so-called developing nations. Furthermore, getting connected to the network is not an expensive venture it used to be.

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Submitters Bio:

Hassan O. Horri: Director, Horn Institute for Democracy, Hargeisa, Somaliland. I am a journalist in profession and commentator on Horn of Africa and Middle East issues. Previously I was Editor-in-chief for several local papers, founder and a managing director for Horn Cable TV.