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Twaweza Immersion 2016: Looking for Public Agency

Every year the whole of Twaweza closes up shop and the entire organization spends time immersed in communities in one of our three countries of operation. In 2016 we tried something different for our annual immersion.

What is immersion?

It’s an annual, organization-wide exercise, which requires everyone (from the receptionist to the program officer to the executive director) to leave behind our desks, computers and capital cities, and join, for a few days, the lived reality of citizens in the countries where we work.

We pack as lightly as possible: low on assumptions, few pre-formed ideas. Instead, lots of space for new experiences, observations, encounters.  After all, we believe there is no better way to learn and understand than to participate.

It’s our attempt to be “tuned in”— to listen and see how people communicate, express their aspirations, get things done. Immersion is (normally) not a research exercise; it is a “deep dive” into one particular location. The purpose is to give us an insight into a slice of a reality which we aim to affect through our work. It is ultimately to challenge and inform our own thinking.

What is Public Agency?

At Twaweza, we define public agency as the space where citizens and authorities intersect and interact on issues of importance to them. Often, but not always, these issues are centered around basic services, such as education or health. The interactions may shift between from collaborative to confrontational (and everything in between). The crux is that there is a shared space, because we believe that ultimately, the path to development is shaped by the social contract between citizens and state.  

Fostering public agency for Twaweza means galvanizing civil society and citizens to pro-actively reach out to and interface with officials, and, in turn, prodding and supporting officialdom to respond and engage.

In 2016 we were exploring how to catalyze public agency at the subnational level, with the education system as an entry point. This pilot also addresses open government, in that it seeks to increase citizen participation in governance processes (related to education), as well as local authorities’ transparency and accountability practices (in the education sector).

So what did we do?

So we found ourselves in early 2016 with a new idea to explore (public agency) and the perfect mechanism (immersion) to get us out across the countries where we work, to put the idea to the test in the real world. 

It made imminent sense to combine the two, even though it also meant changing some aspects of how we normally do immersion.

Read about our experiences and learnings.

Since the immersion, work on our Public Agency pilot initiative has been progressing in the three countries. Read more about it.

Read more: immersion learning public agency

Authors: Varja Lipovsek

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Organizations: Twaweza East Africa

Pages: 42

Type: Key document

Year: 2016

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