Stories from the field
Dialogue Between Civil Society and Authorities Leads to Better Education Services in Mauritania
Civil society organizations can have a convening capability, bringing together governmental authorities and local communities to jointly debate and improve education policy. It is vital that the work considers the specific country's context and adapts to it. In Mauritania, that entailed not just formal stakeholder meetings, but extending the discussions to informal deliberations.
What does it take to make meaningful and lasting civil society-government collaboration happen? It requires that the different actors understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives, motivations, and goals. All parties involved need to come together, exchange their views without inhibitions and learn from each other. These discussions create bonds and connections that inform future cooperation; collaborative social accountability is thus deeply relational. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it needs to be finely tuned to reflect local and regional circumstances, as well as institutional surroundings. Drawing on the specificities of each project, the GPSA aims to build capacities in coordination with partnered CSOs to achieve change-inducing social accountability.
This was the approach the GPSA partner NGO Eco-développement (Ecodev) set out to contribute to improving the quality of learning and performance of teachers in basic education in targeted provinces of Mauritania. The country currently remains far from reaching universal basic education, as 20% of children are not enrolled and significant numbers drop out of school before completing their cycle. The government lacks mechanisms for listening to citizens’ claims and engaging in dialogue with civil society, which would be necessary to improve governance and facilitate the targeted improvement of education services. Ecodev tackled this problem by monitoring budget implementation and evaluating the quality of the services provided at the local level. The Transparency of the Mauritanian Education (TOME) project developed a capacity-building and partnership framework in which civil society and representatives collaborated in joint stakeholder committees to seek improvements in basic public education quality.
Responding to the local context and cultural sensibilities
The TOME project activities were adjusted to the local socio-political context and cultural sensibilities to support their take-up by local populations and increase their sustainability. The final evaluation of TOME project highlighted that collaborative social accountability is in tune with local religious and traditional principles and builds on an ongoing cycle of reforms in the education sector. The recent educational and socio-economic crisis drastically reduced the resistance among key stakeholders to social accountability interventions expected at project inception and made it possible to build close working relationships and move the needle on accountability in education. The TOME project team learned that spaces for consultation must extend beyond formal institutions: the positioning of TOME and its staff as anchored in civil society but also very connected to both the administration and the population was key to anchoring social accountability in civil society and mobilizing a coalition to interface between State and citizens. This approach enabled the incorporation of citizens’ concerns into structuring policy-making through participatory committees.
The TOME project led to concrete changes: among others, the project’s stakeholder committees directly informed the passing of a law creating School Management Committees (COGES), which set up 1000 COGES across the nation. Furthermore, the government has now given school principals, in coordination with COGES, the authority to sanction absent teachers. And lastly, the government has recognized the importance of investing in education and increased the education budget for 2020 compared to 2019 by 10.6%.
Adapting social accountability for each project increases effectiveness
A key part of the GPSA’s modus operandi is adaptive capacity building for the involved stakeholders in each grant. The GPSA uses the experiences of the initiatives it funds to contribute to the application of a knowledge base about what works and what does not in social accountability and shares this knowledge to help citizens, civil society, and government to work better together.
Capitalizing on the ability of civil society organizations to collect information from users of public services about the state of public service delivery, and effectively channeling this information to decision-makers in government and parliament can contribute to evidence-based policymaking, and, ultimately, to improved public services.
Collaborative social accountability focuses on solving governance and service delivery challenges by convening, capacitating, and enabling purpose-led collaboration among those stakeholders that can evoke change in a particular policy area.
What does it take to make meaningful and lasting civil society-government collaboration happen?
Social accountability tools can be adopted in the most unlikely places, including those characterized as being hierarchical and where there are no existing accountability processes.