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Ideas & Evidence @ Twaweza East Africa

What is it?

Twaweza East Africa is convening an Ideas & Evidence event on 6-7 March 2018 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

What is the purpose? 

We believe that research agendas ought to bend their ear close to the ground, exploring the questions of imminent relevance to practitioners. In our position as one of the prominent independent, civil-society voices in Tanzania and the region, this event is a continuation of our open conversation on knowledge, information, evidence, citizen agency, governance, transparency and accountability. It will also inform our new strategy (to start in 2019) through the discussion of evidence of what works and doesn't work (in governance and education). Given the current socio-political context in East Africa, what questions will be most important in the near future, what evidence will be most relevant?

What are the themes?

The 2018 event will be organized around broad themes in which Twaweza has been implementing and conducting research, weaving together our work in governance as well as education. In each theme, we will aim to showcase research generated by us or in collaboration with us, but also invite others to present, comment and discuss. Themes include:

  • Focus on citizen participation: possibility & promise
  • Innovations in citizen-state interactions: local and national spaces
  • Working with the grain locally: sub-national good governance implementation & research
  • Getting into the system: integrating evidence-based initiatives into government
  • The politics of evidence: research/evidence and civic space

1. The possibility and promise of citizen participation 

Citizen participation has been at the heart of Twaweza from its inception. We subscribe to Amartya Sen’s notion of participation as one of the ultimate goals of development; being practical, we also see the possibility of participation in driving improvements in service delivery and governance. It could be a virtuous cycle – except in East Africa, it mostly isn’t. The presentations and inputs in this theme consider some lessons learned in attempting to galvanize – or at least understand – what drives citizen participation (and which citizens do so, and what is meant by participation).

2. Innovations in citizen-state dialogue and interaction

In the very original concept of Twaweza, government was deliberately ignored: after all, half a decade of development and billions of dollars invested in East Africa had not fundamentally changed the reality for most of its citizens. We wanted to believe that by equipping citizens with ideas and information they would figure out the best way to find solutions to pressing problems – with or without the state. But it soon became clear that the state, although in so many ways dysfunctional, permeates people’s lives deep and wide and remains largely responsible for all public services. Ignoring it became replaced by engaging with it. Still, rather than pouring our energies into developing the state, we are interested in the nexus points of interaction between citizens and state – particularly in the innovations in this sphere which seem to hold promise for accountability. We are not the only ones: this theme spans two sessions, because so many of the insights we wanted to discuss speak to these interactions.

3. Working with the grain locally: influencing sub-national governance and service delivery

Dovetailing from the previous theme, citizen-state interactions are most salient in local spaces. Of course “local” has many levels as well: from the district government, which is still quite removed from many people’s lives, all the way to specific communities, schools, and so on. Often, these are the critical junctures where there is nuance, agreement, shared values and possibly shared visions. The inputs in this theme focus on exploring such entry points of convergence.

 

 

 

4. Getting into the system: integrating evidence-based initiatives into government (lost in translation)

We all know it: for change to be sustained, lasting, it’s the systems and the institutions that have to undergo meaningful change. Not only in what is on the books, but in how policies are translated into the nitty-gritty of job descriptions and responsibilities, budget lines and expenditures, accountability mechanisms, culture and more. The lessons that seemed so clear and obvious from a study or a pilot program risk getting lost in translation when being absorbed into the state machinery. The presentations and inputs in this theme speak to grappling with such wicked problems.

 

5. The politics of evidence: role of research & evidence in a context of changing civic space

The last two years have witnessed a sea change in global and domestic politics away from openness to authoritarian government. The chief executive of the Open Government Partnership recently noted that we find ourselves in a ‘time when democracy is under threat in many parts of the world, civic freedoms are under attack in over 100 countries, authoritarianism is on the rise, and trust in government is at an all-time low.’  Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have not been immune to these developments. Citizens’ natural human impulse to make a difference is being thwarted, often through cynical legislation, but sometimes with deadly force, by incumbent leaders, governments and their official and unofficial agents. And so citizens retreat. Under these circumstances, is our vision of an open society with engaged citizens and accountable authorities both relevant and realistic? Is it an ideal to aspire for, a driver of our imagination and action? Or perhaps we need to take our head out of the clouds and present a more grounded charting of our work for the next few years?

 

Read the full agenda here. 

Who is attending?

A mix of international and regional researchers and practitioners in the transparency, accountability and citizen participation field; a total of about 30 participants. We aim for a strong East African presence of researchers and think-tanks, combined with international researchers from, among others, UC Berkeley, University of Gothenburg, and Georgetown University. The event is by invitation only. 

Read more: Accountability and Participation transparency Twaweza East Africa

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