Panel Paper: Strengthening Civic Participation in Rwanda: An Implementer's Perspective

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 10:05 AM
Boardroom (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katharine Mark, University of Chicago
USAID’s Strengthening Civic Participation project was carried out in 2010-2011 as part of the MCC Threshold Plan for Rwanda. It was designed to foster meaningful engagement between government, civil society, and citizens through increasing understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities, and strengthening the ability and willingness of each of these actors to engage together in the governance process.  This was especially challenging in Rwanda with its history of genocide less than 20 years ago, as well as long-established traditions of highly hierarchical relationships.  This paper provides an implementer’s perspective on the project.

Project implementation consists of many steps that lead from an overall concept to carrying out on-the-ground activities effectively, ranging from the mechanics of finding and training the right staff and overseeing the financial and administrative requirements of a project, to ensuring the full participation of country counterparts, designing effective activities and introducing those activities in the right sequence. Each of these faced special challenges in this project.

Developing a more accountable, open, responsive local government requires major changes in both local government and citizens. A citizen might start with one or more of the following perspectives: “I don’t trust the government; I don’t expect anything from the government; it’s not even worth expressing dissatisfaction as I won’t be listened to; moreover I might have something to fear from making my dissatisfaction known.” At the same time, local government officials and staff are often focused on “Our job is to provide services. Citizens mostly complain, focus on their own priorities and demand things we cannot provide because we don’t have enough resources to do what we need to do, and the central government doesn’t give us sufficient authority anyway.” Moving towards productive engagement requires essential shifts toward greater trust in government, less of a sense of apathy, and confidence that citizen involvement in government is positive and useful. 

Projects that target such attitudinal changes present special challenges. The project must do more than teach or model new behaviors, but also get at the root of such attitudes. It would also be useful to have a clear understanding of how these attitudes evolve, a subject that is still not well understood. Monitoring and evaluation allow for invaluable learning in these areas, so that even without sufficient knowledge at the outset, information can be fed into the ongoing project as well as providing learning for the future. The SCP project was fortunate to have both a funder and an implementing agency deeply committed to such learning, including in the scope of work a requirement for monitoring performance, and contracting separately for an impact evaluation. 

This paper will describe implementation of the SCP project in this context, exploring the challenges, looking at the hypotheses that lay behind the project design and how they play out, and examining similar experiences in other countries. In addition, the paper will examine the different roles of funders, implementers, and evaluators and how they each contribute to successful project management and ongoing learning.