At the GPSA Global Partners Forum 2016, Jeff Thindwa was announced as the GPSA’s new Program Manager. During his 16 years at the World Bank, Jeff has held numerous positions in the fields of social accountability and governance, most recently as Practice Manager for Open and Collaborative Governance. His experience includes government, private sector and civil society.

Reflecting on his work in social accountability, Jeff noted that “accountability is the big idea of the 21st century in development,” echoing a keynote speech at the Forum, whose theme was ‘Social Accountability for Development Impact.’ Jeff highlighted the crucial role of citizen engagement, and citizen-driven information and data in achieving development goals. He advises that “we have to resist the notion that social accountability is a game of experts, managed by civil society organizations (CSOs), even if they have an important mediating role.” According to Jeff, the use of citizen feedback as a vehicle of development helps t to improve learning and strengthen project performance.. “A while back this would wait until the mid or end-of-term evaluation. Now with real-time and routine feedback, often aided by technology, there is a much shorter learning cycle with the possibility that emerging problems can be addressed as they surface,” he explained.

The Forum theme was unpacked through numerous workshops emphasizing emerging trends in the field. Speaking of Forum outcomes, Jeff noted the substantive learnings on the theme of adaptive management and leadership. He said, “We have learnt that social accountability needs to apply such adaptive methods, and not straight-jacket what worked in context A to context B. Such straight-jacket project cycles are clinical, well ordered and predictable. This can be ineffectual, as contexts are unique, and project implementation is dynamic. Listening and learning from citizens is key to adaptation.”

This year, for the first time, the Forum provided leaders on the government side of the equation with a dedicated space to share their own perspective on the challenges and opportunities they face on a daily basis. Jeff deemed this a watershed moment in social accountability learning, “as it helped to emphasize that social accountability can never be complete without meaningful government engagement and response.” At the Forum, John Gaventa used the bridge as a metaphor to depict social accountability as a connector of government and citizens. Thindwa highlighted this speech saying, “I believe it summed up the Bank’s overall strategy for social accountability, which is informed by our development experience and unique relationship with governments. Fortunately, we are well positioned to support the strengthening of relationships between state and non-states actors through social accountability mechanisms as this bridge, and we have many examples of success to point to.”

During the Forum, a group of 51 CSOs from around the globe gathered at the World Bank Headquarters to showcase their work on social accountability at the Networking Fair and Reception event. Jeff noted, “Observing the range of grantees who have become part of this family, and the scope of learning exhibited at the Networking Fair, made me realize how important it will be to sustain the grantees’ legacies. This will depend on the ability to leverage new learning from them, about what has worked at the country level under what conditions, what hasn’t and why.”

Within the GPSA portfolio of 49 opted-in countries, almost 20% of them are listed as fragile states and much more are situated at some point of the continuum. From the GPSA 2015 Call for Proposals, a grant was awarded to a project in Sierra Leone, which aims to monitor post-Ebola Recovery funds with a focus on service delivery implemented by IBIS. Contemplating on the key takeaways on fragility from the Forum, Thindwa noted, “We have learnt that it is complex and that we have to interrogate our assumptions about social accountability in situations of fragility… I believe the bridge-building merits of social accountability, and proven capacity to improve development outcomes by engaging citizens notably in service delivery, makes it highly relevant to these contexts. However, we cannot go in blindly without an empirical investigation of the challenges and risks, and a deep appetite for learning.”

Thomas Carothers noted in his keynote remarks at the Forum that unquestioned goods within the development sector often get abandoned as time goes by. Recognizing this challenge, Jeff spoke of the need to utilize evidence to ensure social accountability remains at the forefront of the development agenda for the future. “Development themes fade away when down the road people realize that what appeared substantive was fluff. We can pre-empt this by ensuring that we have effective monitoring, robust evaluation, systematic capturing of results, learning and reflection, as well as effective communication and story-telling. I think the GPSA is doing a good job here already, its knowledge work and products are evidence of this, but this for me represents an important priority of our future directions,” he said.

Charting the forward-looking measures for optimizing the GPSA’s goals, Jeff firstly noted the all-important priority to grow the Multi-Donor Trust Fund working with existing donor-partners, and expanding the donor base. Secondly, he identified the need to “engender” social accountability. “Gender-inclusion in social accountability, especially meaningful participation of women as frontline development agents, is vital,” he mentioned.  “This means paying attention to the design of interventions, incorporating gender analysis and ensuring gender-disaggregation of data, so we can better understand who is driving the analysis and preferences. Consistently doing this would greatly enhance the effectiveness of social accountability measures.”  

Thirdly, Jeff argued that the GPSA and social accountability can play a key role in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “Social accountability can help strengthen implementation of the SDGs, ensuring participation of citizens and CSOs including provision of alternative data, and fostering accountability of policy-makers and service providers.”

Fourthly, Jeff asserted, “The GPSA should help to contribute to greater understanding on the role of social accountability in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence – FCV. Half of the world’s poor will be living in these countries by 2030, and social accountability can engage citizens, CSOs and public institutions in collaboratively analyzing and solving FCV challenges.” 

Reflecting on the Forum, Jeff said, “There are few global institutions that could have convened such a diversity of actors as the Forum did, to look so critically at the theme of social accountability.” Adding to this, he noted,“The GPSA has the capacity to leverage its knowledge component, including the Knowledge Platform, to facilitate access by the development community to key knowledge assets, including the Bank’s, to find innovative solutions to development challenges.”