Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.
To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong: the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
Too often citizen engagement is seen with suspicion, skepticism or fear by policymakers. Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:
1. Citizens are central to governance. Although this may seem straightforward, oftentimes governments, international organizations, and academia can be very inward looking, with a focus more on processes, systems and organizational structures rather thanthe people those institutions and systems are meant to serve. To make a difference for development, institutions need to be visible and valuable to citizens.
2. Engaging citizens does not need to be complicated. Naysayers think that involving citizens can slow down reform processes, but in my experience, the reverse is true. The effectiveness of many public policies depend on the response of citizens and businesses. If citizens are engaged effectively and on a timely basis, such responses may be more predictable, preventing costly mistakes and saving governments a lot of time and money in the long term.
3. Citizen engagement does not pit citizens versus civil servants. Citizen engagement is about collaboration, not opposition. When citizens are included in public policy processes, ordinary citizens and civil servants can work together as partners to solve major development challenges and neutralize the influence of powerful interests.
4. Citizen engagement pays off by building trust in institutions. Citizens’ trust in institutions is a huge asset for countries, as this trust enables smooth implementation of public policies and service delivery. When this trust is missing, governments face higher costs and complications as informality becomes generalized and citizens seek services outside of formal public systems.
5. Citizen engagement complements, not substitutes representative democracy. The interaction between citizens and public institutions happen at different levels and in different capacities. Strategic priorities are and should continue being set by the political process. Citizen engagement, in turn, is fundamental to translate such priorities into concrete actions and delivery.
6. Citizen engagement is happening now and everywhere. In countries all over the world, citizen engagement is taking hold as a critical part of participatory policy-making. With the MOOC, we hope to create a space for the exchange of global knowledge and lessons and look forward to hearing from participants about their local experiences as the online course moves from theoretical frameworks to real-world examples of citizen engagement.
The international community is recognizing the vital importance of engaging citizens with the strong growth of the Open Government Partnership and the active discussion of citizen engagement within the Sustainable Development Goals process.
Please help us connect the dots between all the dimensions of citizen engagement and enroll now in this free, four-week journey into the heart of development.
This article was first published by the World Bank’s Governance for Development blog. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Mario Marcel is the Senior Director of the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice.
Image: A girl smiles as she walks after visiting the Sakhi shrine in Kabul March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra.