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Making All Voices Count: Getting Governments to Respond to Citizen Feedback

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, October 2 2013

Government transparency and civic engagement are all well and good, of course, but it's only when governments respond to citizen feedback that palpable change can take place in societies. That is the driving idea behind Making All Voices Count, an initiative backed by a consortium of civil society organizations which will provide funding for projects tackling “citizen action and government responsiveness" in order to "close the feedback loop." This initiative will pack a punch: they have $45 million bucks behind them. They are soliciting the first round of proposals now, due by November 8, so we contacted director Marjan Besuijen to learn more.

There are three categories through which individuals, groups or organizations (even private for-profits) can apply for a grant: innovation, scaling and research. Eventually ideas developed through an innovation grant will be moved up to the scaling category, but for now they are accepting previously existing projects.

“It's about innovation, not just new technologies,” Besuijen explained over the phone. “Although there are quite a lot of technology partners in this program so it tends to lean that way.”

The emphasis on technology has drawn some criticism, although not overly harsh by any means. Duncan Green wrote in an Oxfam blog post that "it’s a bit obsessed with whizzy new technology, and light on power analysis and politics, but it still looks very promising."

Basically, said Besuijen, they are trying to “equip government to be able to respond to citizens in a more effective way.”

When asked how they planned to incentivize governments to respond, she pointed out that they have chosen countries where “governments are already ready to listen.”

Proposals for the innovation category can come from any part of the world, so long as they are relevant to one of eight countries: Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The program will eventually also include Bangladesh, Mozambique, Pakistan and the Philippines. Countries were chosen based on criteria like accessibility of technology and the state of democracy.

Scaling and research proposals, on the other hand, must include a local partner in one of the above countries.

The idea was first broached by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) at the Open Government Partnership in Brazil in April 2012. Hivos, where Besuijen has worked since 2000, was one of the organizations that expressed interest in the idea, and is now leading the implementation. Besuijen explained that the advantage of outsourcing projects like this to smaller organizations is that it makes it much easier to disperse smaller grants.

In addition to USAID, Making All Voices Count is backed by the U.K. Department for International Development, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Open Society Foundations and Omidyar Network. The initiative is being implemented by Hivos, the Institute of Development Studies and Ushahidi.

The hope is that this fund will generate global momentum on the issue. And, Besuijen added at the last minute, tell them “we're really mandated to take risks”—meaning don't hold back in your proposals, people.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.