Benefiting from each side’s know-how and capacities: Clear rules and defined roles

Citizen engagement with SAIs can turn into a win-win situation. In working together, both CSOs and oversight institutions can leverage their capacities, help overcome each other’s constraints and complement each other (GPSA Note 9, 2015). But how can these challenges be faced? There are three core aspects that should be taken into account when promoting collaboration: 1) the scope of participation, 2) the responsibilities of each side, and 3) the channels and patterns for information flows.

When advancing citizen engagement mechanisms, SAIs must be clear regarding the scope of participation. A critical consideration at the planning stage to make sure that all actors involved in the design and implementation of the initiative are fully aware of the following facts:

  • When?

    Is the initiative going to take place at a single time or is it expected to last longer?

    Is the initiative a first step toward a more ambitious project?

  • What For?

    What are the envisioned goals?

    Is the initiative aimed at providing information to citizens, receiving input from them, and/or generating two-way communications?

  • How?

    In view of the agreed objectives, what are the best possible strategies and approaches to attain them?

Who is in charge?

Mainstreaming participation requires clear rules and someone who can explicitly state those rules accurately. In this sense, SAIs must ensure that someone will be in charge, both of setting the rules and of communicating them to the audience. Designating authorized personnel to speak on behalf of the SAI is a MUST to communicate the scope of participatory initiatives and also to manage those initiatives.

At the same time, CSOs must appoint representatives who can speak for the organization, take part in joint initiatives, and distribute responsibilities among a team. Building relationships requires a reliable counterpart.

Ensuring permanent communication between all agents involved implies designating a contact person both in SAIs and CSOs to lead the collaborative agenda.

Setting up collaboration agreements

Engagement initiatives are sometimes approached through collaboration agreements signed by the counterparts—that is, SAIs and CSOs—before embarking on joint activities. Those agreements will explicitly describe responsibilities, timeframes, and the scope of activities to be undertaken in a period of time by all actors involved in the participatory process.

Are those agreements worth signing when advancing engagement in public oversight? Once again, it is important to explore the context and opportunities—especially taking into account agents´ expectations—and weigh pros and cons.

As formal institutionalizations of commitments, collaboration agreements offer stronger back-up to enforce compliance by all parties. They are positively viewed by external actors, who often deem those agreements as valuable and promising signs of openness and commitment and may feel encouraged to engage in other activities with the counterparts, whose reputation will be strengthened.
Because they usually are set up at the very beginning, collaboration agreements may hinder flexibility in courses of action and decisions that could trigger further benefits, unless the agreement includes special clauses that allow deviations. Some actors often feel discouraged or even overwhelmed when asked to commit through formal procedures that they perceive as bureaucratic, time-consuming, and costly.

Information can lead to more accountable and effective governance, either through a confrontational approach—in which information empowers citizens and communities to prevent public officials from misbehaving—or a collaborative approach—in which information allows communities and officials to work together, solving problems to make government and its services work better (Fung and Kosack 2013)1. In any case and any context, disclosing information and enabling feedback are at the core of transparency and accountability initiatives and must therefore be taken into special consideration when approaching citizen engagement.

Rules and responsibilities must be clear from the onset. Likewise, accurate information about how to engage must be provided. Therefore, a critical step is to establish mechanisms and patterns to share information but, most importantly, to provide channels to mainstream citizens’ demands and insights

OBJECTIVE Offering information to CSOs Mainstreaming citizen demands
CHANNELS SAI website, mailing list, post, phone, public hearings, on-site meetings, workshops, and so forth SAI website, mailing list, post, hotline, public hearings, on-site meetings, workshops
PATTERNS user manuals, podcasts, videos, brochures online form, speech at on-site event or public hearing

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