Civil Society Roles in Engaging Citizens for Better Results in the World Bank Funded Projects

On October 11, the Partnership for Transparency sponsored a panel on civil society roles in engaging citizens World Bank projects at the World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum.

The event brought together speakers from the World Bank Citizen Engagement Secretariat, the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, and international and local civil society organizations for a  discussion centered around the World Bank’s increased citizen engagement requirements and the experiences of different actors since the changes were implemented in 2015.

 The World Bank aims for its citizen engagement to be results-driven and country-specific. It should occur throughout the project cycle, complement country strategies, and establish strong relationships  with local organizations, which may happen gradually. The main mechanisms for this engagement are two components incorporated into all projects: i) a citizen-centric design, and ii) a beneficiary feedback indicator that closes the feedback loop throughout project implementation. The World Bank has added these requirements to their project documents in the past two years. However, the discrepancy between the content of documents and practice emerged as a common theme throughout the session.

Dr. Vinay Bhargava of Partnership for Transparency noted that, while the projects have “citizen consultations” built into the design, these consultations often consist of the World Bank requesting reactions from limited number of local CSOs on an already finalized project. Civil society organizations are rarely included in designing and implementing projects. Bhargava also emphasized that the World Bank is missing the opportunity to improve its projects by underutilizing CSOs in citizen engagement. In this respect, the World Bank lags behind other international financial institutions which have explicit civil society engagement strategies.

The CSO representatives from Myanmar and Nigeria shared their experience interacting with World Bank staff in the field, noting both improvements in, such as increased consultation with CSOs, and areas for improvement, such as including CSOs more often and more comprehensively in the implementation of projects as well as allowing and enabling CSOs to monitor government use of World Bank funds.

Currently citizen engagement indicators are limited, making it difficult to tell if meaningful engagement occurred. The World Bank Citizen Engagement strategy defines “citizen” to include community based organizations, civil society organizations, and those without legal citizenship, such refugees. However, panelists noted that though the definition is inclusive, in practice many of these entities and people groups are left out of the citizen engagement process.

The IEG is currently undertaking a an evaluation of the Word Bank’s citizen engagement and shared themes emerging from its survey of CSOs, key among them being a call for more inclusive engagement with a greater diversity of CSOs.

Several recommendations for the World Bank emerged from the panel including: 1) using CSOs to raise awareness of grievance redress systems, conduct parallel-financed third-party independent monitoring, and collect honest feedback, especially in contexts where citizen-government relationships are fraught and civic space is closing, 2) raising awareness among World Bank in-country staff on the broader definition of ‘citizen’ as it relates to citizen engagement.

The session speakers included:

  • Vinay Bhargava, Chief Technical Adviser, Partnership for Transparency
  • Elena Bardasi, Senior Economist and Task-Team Leader for the World Bank’s ongoing evaluation of WBG Citizen Engagement, Independent Evaluation Group
  • Virginia Ifeadiro, Founder, Initiative for Food Environment and Health Society
  • Pansy Tun Thein, Executive Director, Local Resource Centre
  • Nicolas Perrin, Senior Social Development Specialist in the Africa region and coordinator of the Citizen Engagement Secretariat, World Bank
  • Amy Ekdawi, MENA Regional Programs Director, Bank Information Center

Barbara Kafka, Senior Adviser, Partnership for Transparency

Download panelists presentations