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Sowing the seeds of change? Twaweza introspection on the public agency pilot

Twaweza East Africa piloted an approach to catalyze public agency at the sub-national level in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, with the education sector as an entry point. The pilot took place from late 2016 and to improve learning – but the pathways to this long-term outcome can be many. This particular model seeks to increase the spaces of engagement, broaden and deepen conversations between citizens and government with the aim of increasing citizen participation, improving transparency and accountability, and enabling responsiveness from local authorities.

Through intense local multi-actor consultations in all three countries, we arrived at a common issue – that of teacher absenteeism. In Kenya, pupil absenteeism was added as well. The issues intersect both the education and governance domains, and they are visible and pressing at the community, district/county and national levels. They have the potential to galvanize various actors around it, and are correlated with improved learning outcomes for children. We want to bring about a change in teacher absenteeism by enhancing spaces and processes in which citizens and authorities jointly shape decisions for the future of their schools and communities.

The “Public Agency” pilot was developed using a common framework and approach across the three countries. A description of that process, and related organizational learning, can be found here. But while it has a common framework, a defining feature of the Public Agency approach is the contextualization of the common principles; each country (and sub-national contexts within) present unique challenges and opportunities.

First, the main idea in the pilot, and the design in each country are outlined. The following sections of this document are a critical reflection on a series of questions related to this pilot:

  1. Idea vs Reality: What we set out to implement and what was actually implemented?  
  2. What results do we observe? What do we learn about effect pathways?
  3. Internal capacities: what do we learn about our own effectiveness?
  4. What can Twaweza do with this idea, these findings, in the future?

The Idea

In early 2016 we started with an idea, a conversation, which morphed into a number of intense deliberations about how does Twaweza conceptualize and address citizen agency. It is in the center of our Theory of Change, yet how are we actively pursuing it? We work in two domains – education and open government – but does public agency cut across, or does it belong in any single one of them? And how about scale – we have always wanted to avoid boutique-projects, but starting something new and different for us, what scale is appropriate, and how do we think even at this early stage beyond the pilot, so that we test an approach that has real-life applicability?

The exploration and design of the pilot took about 6 months, and it involved exploratory visits as well as “deep dives” in ten districts each in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. We involved the whole organization in this exercise by utilizing our annual Immersion exercise tailored to the exploration of this public agency pilot. In mid-2016 we deliberated together and settled on teacher (and pupil) absenteeism as the issue of focus.

The core objective in Kenya was to generate data at the classroom and school level on teacher and pupil presence, building on the new structures of student representatives in each classroom, as well as the “Board of management” (BOM) involving parents in each school. The micro-data was to be used immediately by the teachers and head teachers, and also to generate discussion within the BOM and at the community level; it was hypothesized that these discussions would yield localized solutions to address absenteeism. 

The core objective in Uganda was to independently monitor the presence of teachers through examining pupils’ mathematics exercise books at home, as well as conducting a simple learning assessment of the children. These two datasets were to be correlated, and the ensuing results and insights used for communication purposes (among teachers, head teachers, parents), as well as for publicly recognizing the teachers whose pupils appear to have performed best. 

The core objective in Tanzania was to demonstrate that teachers and head teachers, parents, community leaders and ward-level education authorities can be galvanized around the specific issue of teacher presence (or lack thereof). This was to be achieved through independent monitoring of teacher presence, and demonstrated in the vested and active participation of the key actors in the cooperation to generate the data, and use of the data to recognize high-performing teachers. We theorized that the potential for recognition from community, peers, but also district-level education officials would motivate teachers to perform better. 

The design 

The design was to run the pilots for one school term, then use internal reflections to assess and tweak, and repeat for another school term in the same year. The logic was that just one school term might not be enough to pick up early signs of engagement.

What results do we observe in Kenya?

  1. Teacher attendance in schools appears to be quite high (around 90%); although classroom attendance is lower; the observed attendance is in line with other, comparable studies.
  2. Perception of teacher absenteeism as a problem is very low to begin with; still, perceived improvements are reported over time. 
  3. Pupil attendance appears to be high already, and there is little variation in the reported attendance.
  4. Estimated causes of pupil absence are common across the two districts, and they fall into two categories: lack of core school inputs, and blaming of the parents.
  5. Teacher presence appears to be correlated with pupil presence.

What results do we observe in Uganda? 

  1. According to various measures, teacher attendance is quite high, although the perception among stakeholders is that absenteeism is a problem in their community. There was no improvement between the two fieldwork rounds. 
  2. According to school-based measures, pupil attendance is around 80%, although the perception among stakeholders is that it is a significant problem in their community. There was no change between the two fieldwork rounds.
  3. Parents overwhelmingly report that lack of parental engagement in schools is a problem in their community.

What results do we observe in Tanzania?

Implementation did not properly start until end November 2017, so it is too early to assess fidelity to the design. The likely reasons for the delay are discussed in the “Internal capacities” section.

Core lessons 

  1. There is potential and energy around generating and using local data; this was noted in the Kenya PA schools which engaged with and used the data collected; and in the energy in the Uganda community meetings when “community report cards” were created and presented for discussion.
  2. However, Twaweza’s approach is not well suited to be the primary organizing / galvanizing force at community level. The model, build for standardized and tightly controlled Uwezo data collection, is not appropriate for local action. 
  3. Nevertheless, there is a great opportunity to incorporate the lessons from PA into our Uwezo data-generation machinery. For example, we can experiment with numerous available technological models of connecting young people – Uwezo volunteers – who are passionate and energized around a particular issue.
  4. Twaweza could also explore a different, meaningful partnership model with selected few organizations that have the local presence, but could benefit from and use persuasive data, evidence, communications, and learning. These would be learning-oriented and supportive partnerships, such as are promoted through the Learning Collaborative (TAI).
  5. Should Twaweza focus on the problems we believe are important to be addressed (solved), or on the kind of processes (participatory action) to solve a range of issues? This point goes to the core of Twaweza communications and engagement, and merits careful consideration for the next strategic period. 

Do you want to learn more? Read the full report here. 

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