Beyond transparency, participation and accountability: Feedback on Hewlett Foundation’s evolving TPA strategy

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Global Integrity has had a close and important relationship with the Hewlett Foundation’s Transparency, Participation and Accountability (TPA) team for many years. The TPA team has provided us with substantial resources to support our work on governance and the use of public resources, encouraged us to review and reflect on our effectiveness, and invited us to provide input to their strategy thinking (see for example our feedback from 2017 and 2018 on active citizens and accountable governments, and on their learning strategy).

Our core support from the Hewlett Foundation is coming to an end as they move to invest more of their resources in directly supporting civil society organizations in the global south. We are confident that we play a useful role in the governance and development space, but frontline partners are best-placed to decide whether and how we and other intermediary organizations can add value. As such, we applaud the Hewlett Foundation’s efforts to shift more of their resources and some of their power to the global south.

The Hewlett Foundation has always been very open to feedback, and keen to support reflection and learning. We have in recent years provided feedback on donors’ strategies, including those of DFIDLuminate and the Open Society Foundations. Below, we share our raw feedback in red on the Hewlett Foundation’s latest TPA strategy.

We hesitated to be so frank, but were confident that our program officer at the Hewlett Foundation, David Sasaki, would take our feedback in the constructive spirit intended. Our hope is that our feedback will inform the Foundation’s thinking, and also contribute to wider discussions about the evolution of the governance and development agenda.

We strongly encourage you to read the reflections on decolonising philanthropy, and the need for the goals that funders set to be “just broadly enough structured that they allow for local design”, from Al Kags at the Open Institute in Kenya. We also encourage you to review the recent posts by Tom Aston, Florencia Guerzovich and Alix Wadeson about notions of success and failure in what they refer to as the TPA sector, and the sorts of approaches to learning that are needed.

Last but not least, we encourage you to share your feedback too, particularly if you are from the global south. We are keen to see it. We know that the Hewlett Foundation is too. If time is an issue, or you are wary of providing frank feedback to funders, please contact us directly and we may be able to help you find a way forward.

Below you will find our comments in red, responding to text from the Foundation’s strategy blogpost. 

 

Some possible new directions for Hewlett Foundation’s TPA grantmaking (with Global Integrity feedback) 

 

Guided by our commitment to outcome-focused philanthropy, we take stock every five or so years of what happened over the previous strategy cycle, how the current landscape looks—and how it is changing—to learn, adapt, and respond to this new context in a meaningful way.

Kicking off a strategy refresh during a global pandemic presents opportunities, constraints, and increased uncertainty. Global calls for racial justice and the decolonization of international development further compel us to step back and reflect on our roles in addressing power inequities, including those we perpetuate ourselves.

In this blog post, we will share what we’ve learned so far and how we’re incorporating those lessons into our next five-year strategy. We hope you’ll share your feedback and questions by writing to us at TPA@hewlett.org. We will then respond directly to your feedback and questions and solicit further insights during a webinar in the first half of September.

As we described in greater detail last September, the first half of the strategy refresh aimed to 1) learn from an evaluation of our previous strategy and 2) understand how the TPA field evolved over the past five years. Last month, our colleagues at On Think Tanks published the results of both the strategy evaluation and field scan through an interactive report that includes an overview of the shifts in funder priorities and strategies; think pieces authored by TPA experts in Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana; and a concise list of outcomes from our previous strategy—among dozens of other pieces of thought-provoking content.

 

Comment 1: From TPA, to problems, power and learning?

The TPA agenda has evolved in promising directions over the past few years, to focus more on problems, then power, and then data rather than putting transparency first. We have been glad to contribute to this evolution (see our piece on “Transparency: From revolution to evolution”). We’re also encouraged by emerging discussions about the sorts of learning that are needed  to assess the effectiveness and inform the evolution of approaches to addressing complex governance-related challenges where causal dynamics are embedded in particular contexts.

Nevertheless, at Global Integrity, we have deliberately moved away from an explicit TPA framing. This reflects our concerns about the TPA framing and the ways in which a strongly normative flavor – as well as poorly developed theories of change and inappropriate MEL – has perhaps at times resulted in insufficient focus on effectiveness and impact, and therefore a weak foundation for adaptive implementation (see, for an early reprise of this, our “The value of open governance” blogpost).

In recent years, our preference has been to spend rather more time exploring the value of what we think is a better (because more aligned with how the world is, and how change happens) framing and theory of change rather than spend our energies on critiquing or polishing the TPA framing (see our latest note on “What we do and why we do it”). We would be interested to know whether the Hewlett Foundation considered going further in this direction.

 

The strategy evaluation and field scan are complemented by a deep dive analysis of 23 years of support to civil society in Mexico. The final interactive report, which was also published last month, includes a description of how Mexico’s social and political context evolved over that period. The report includes ten case studies that depict the kinds of organizational development and social change that rarely happen within a single grant period, yet can emerge after a decade or more of sustained support.

Lessons learned from the past strategy

Our previous strategy (2016-2020) theorized that government accountability is enabled by government transparency and citizen participation. This means that when civil society, citizens, and media have access to information and ways of participating with their government, they can hold their governments accountable and, as a result, increase or reinforce the quality of public services. The problem we were trying to address was poor service delivery, which we hypothesized was caused by weak transparency and accountability mechanisms. Our goal was “for citizens (especially women), civil society organizations, and journalists to use information about their governments to hold them accountable for their obligations, including providing basic services like health, education, water, and sanitation.” We set the scope of our strategy to be global with national grantees in East Africa, West Africa, and Mexico.

 

Comment 2: Delivery – power, incentives, systems and learning

We are working with colleagues at the SOAS Anti-Corruption Evidence programme (Mushtaq Khan and Pallavi Roy) to develop our thinking about a governance and anti-corruption agenda that combines SOAS-ACE’s focus on power and incentives with Global Integrity’s focus on systems and learning.

These conversations have been inspired most recently by the work that Mushtaq, Pallavi and colleagues have been involved in relating to the emergence of multiple adaptive networks in the response to the COVID-19 crisis in Bangladesh. This video, with Jonathan Papoulidis of World Vision, is a super-inspiring must-watch, with this blogpost on rethinking corruption for COVID-19 providing a shorter introduction.

At the heart of our collaboration is a focus on delivery mechanisms, and supporting the design of delivery mechanisms that are less prone to corruption. So, not addressing corruption or bad governance head on, and not simply seeking to improve transparency and enhance participation in the hope that that might shift the balance of power and curb the extent of corruption. But instead, seeking to support efforts to understand and shift the political economy dynamics that contribute to bad governance, create space for corruption, and hinder the effective delivery of services.

My view is that this sort of approach  – perhaps along with people-centered systems change – is a very promising one that is worth exploring and testing some more. (See here for our notes from a series of SOAS-ACE and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine pieces on governance and corruption challenges in relation to health systems).

 

We focused our grantmaking (~USD 72M or 38% of total grant money from 2015-2020) on improving transparency (fiscal transparency) around the use of public resources and on increasing citizen participation (~USD 33M in governance channels and ~USD 30M in service delivery monitoring).

We invested in accelerating the adoption of international transparency standards led by international organizations. We supported some of the largest existing transparency platforms, such as the Open Contracting Partnership and the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative. We hypothesized that if national governments committed to global transparency and accountability norms, civil society organizations would pressure them to implement the commitments. This would build an enabling environment in which local civil society monitors government effectiveness and advocates for reforms. We also invested in national and regional organizations working to strengthen citizens’ ability to speak and the channels to engage with government at national and sub-national level.

This approach contributed to some notable progress, especially around the disclosure of information on government revenue sources (e.g., taxes from extractive industries) and budget plans. It also helped lead to the rise of strong civil society actors—for example, in Mexico, civil society organizations can now challenge government economic and social policy. Additionally, it helped build strong relationships between civil society organizations and sub-national level governments—for example, it improved inclusive policymaking and implementation in Kenya.

However, our team’s broad thematic and geographic mandate spread us thin and scattered our partners’ successes. Individual success stories didn’t seem to lead to structural, system, or (government) organizational culture change. The team worked at multiple geographic levels (international, regional, national, and subnational), supporting more than a dozen governance thematic areas. And the goal statement, which focused on improving public service delivery, did not capture the full breadth of our grantmaking.

 

Comment 3: Geographical focus or strategic shift?

I agree with the first two sentences of the preceding paragraph. But I am less sure that sentence 1 is the explanation for sentence 2. My sense is that a strategy which foregrounds TPA rather than the sorts of challenges that TPA might help to address, even with investments concentrated in fewer countries, might not be the best way of contributing  to the structural and systemic changes that are needed, particularly in challenging contexts where powerful players are able to veto governance reforms that do not serve their interests.

 

The landscape scan reinforced and supplemented internal learnings. We found that:

  • Many funders are shifting their attention towards national-level efforts. There is growing consensus that commitments to global norms by national governments do not consistently translate to action on the ground, greater participation, and improved livelihoods for groups that have been marginalized. For instance, more than 15 governments made over 100 commitments at the 2016 Anticorruption Summit hosted by the UK, and only 22% have been completed, many of which are still reliant on foreign funding.
  • There is a growing recognition and support for a more transformative approach to gender and power within TPA. Most stakeholders acknowledge that although women, youth, people with disabilities, and refugees are among the most marginalized in society, existing approaches are not uprooting the societal beliefs and practices limiting their power.
  • There is a growing concern that civic participation is under threat. In many geographies where the Hewlett Foundation has supported local actors, the elite have captured political, economic, and civic spaces—limiting the ability and decreasing the willingness of the population to participate in public decision making.

In summary, based on key lessons from our past work, we feel we should:

  • Frame our goal in terms broader than public service delivery, given how our investments evolved in practice and the role of TPA in enabling other government functions.
  • Prioritize our efforts and not spread ourselves too thin in the new strategy.
  • Work in a focused manner in-country to contribute to structural and systemic change in governance and accountability.
  • Prioritize in-country work that informs global norms, actions, and commitments (rather than working from global to local).
  • Acknowledge and address issues of power and inclusion more intentionally.

 

Comment 4: From global to local, to local to global

I welcome this shift of emphasis, to prioritize support for addressing particular problems in (and across) particular countries. But it’s important to aim for a complete learning circle, from practice, to principles, and back again.

To construct that complete learning circle, or cycle, it’s important that when country-focused work is being designed (by local actors) that consideration is given to how the experience and evidence generated through that sort of work across multiple projects and countries might be brought together, analyzed and synthesized in order to effectively inform norms, actions and commitments at a more global level.

Informing the global may not be the top priority for local partners, but it shouldn’t be an afterthought for donors.

 

Incorporating lessons learned in our next strategy

Given the lessons we describe above, we are considering the following three major shifts in our next strategy.

First, while we still are invested in improving the quality of public services, we are likely to shift away from improving public services as our ultimate goal. Instead, we think our grantmaking is best positioned to help our grantees improve the responsiveness of governments to the needs of underserved populations by addressing the elite capture of the state and the resulting diminished power by historically excluded groups. We will therefore focus on building and shifting power, particularly for women and young people, throughout the strategy.

 

Comment 5: Implementation gaps, power and incentives (see also comment 2)

The focus on power is good/key, and I can see that TPA most naturally connects with efforts to empower the relatively powerless. But another way of supporting governance reform would involve working with local partners to develop institutional arrangements for the delivery of services that some of the powerful players will support – and ensure are implemented – for reasons of their own self interest. So, contributing to better governance by getting some of the powerful to behave differently, but doing that by working with their incentives rather than (or as well as) by building countervailing power.

Implementation gaps – including re TPA – happen for a reason; because powerful players don’t want to see the effective implementation of things that might close the space for corruption that seems to serve their interests. The governance and anti-corruption agenda needs, I think, to more fully face up to that and consider the implications.

 

Second, we likely will spotlight issues that address two pressing obstacles to our goal: a weakened information ecosystem and threats to the civic engagement of women and other groups that have been marginalized. While many other obstacles result in diminished power by historically excluded groups, we think these are the issues we are best positioned to address given our experience and team composition.

Third, we are likely to recenter our strategy at the country level. We recognize that effective systems’ change requires tackling challenges that are best understood by in-country organizations with deep networks within local communities, elites, and governments that enable them to drive agendas starting from local aspirations. We won’t shift away from global work entirely but will likely spend a majority of our resources in a few priority countries.

 

Comment 6: Local leadership, global challenges

I find the preceding paragraph potentially misleading. Systems don’t stop at national boundaries. Yes, country actors should lead, but that does not necessarily mean focusing only on things that take place within boundaries. I’m almost certain you don’t mean to imply that, but it could be mis-interpreted in that way, and it would be a big mistake to miss the cross-border and global nature of many systemic challenges.

 

Operationalizing our next strategy

We have notionally identified three outcomes and six countries to pursue our goal and encourage greater focus. We are leaning toward four priority countries to focus our country work, namely Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, and Senegal. We are also considering targeted grantmaking in Tanzania and Burkina Faso to explore their potential for a more in-depth engagement down the road. We identified these six countries based on criteria agreed by the team, including their political economies, Hewlett’s overall experience in the country, the status of TPA policies, the current gender and social inclusion environment, and other funders’ activities.

We are considering supporting underserved populations to exercise greater power by pursuing three complementary outcomes:

  • Increase the size, resourcing, and resilience of coalitions of underserved populations.
  • Strengthen an independent, free, and pluralistic media that represents the perspectives of underserved populations and assesses government performance and priorities.
  • Increase the use of key government information—such as budgets, audits, and development plans—to support the campaigns of underserved populations.

We are also considering a fourth potential outcome: increase the inclusion and influence of under-represented groups in government. (Note: we don’t love the labels “underserved populations” or “under-represented groups” and we invite suggestions for better alternatives that apply across multiple countries. We are generally referring to groups of people who experience systemic injustice.)

Open questions

We don’t expect to have all of the answers even in the “final” version of the strategy, and we plan to experiment, learn, and adjust along the way. Still, we have a number of open questions we hope to address over the next two months as we finalize the direction of the new strategy and seek approval from the Hewlett Foundation leadership. For instance:

  • What are the greatest risks of the proposed strategy? What could go wrong? And what, if anything, can we do to mitigate those risks?
  • How can we best contribute to the goals of prospective grantee partner organizations in priority geographies? How do national and subnational organizations seek to participate in international initiatives?
  • How can a US-based funder best support long-term, equitable partnerships between under-resourced, grassroots groups and larger, more established NGOs in our priority countries?
  • What are the most relevant opportunities for global advocacy and learning to contribute to our overarching goal of building and shifting power to historically excluded groups?
  • How can we best coordinate with peer funders and other actors to support the strength and resiliency of national organizations? What can we learn from other funders who are prioritizing place-based grantmaking?
  • How should we measure progress toward our three outcomes across the four priority countries? How can we best contribute useful knowledge to the field through grantmaking, commissioning evaluations, and facilitating peer learning?

 

Comment 7: Other funders’ strategies?

I didn’t see anything in this strategy or in the process about how Hewlett’s TPA strategy – including country selection – relates to the evolving strategies of OSF, Luminate, FCDO, USAID. I would not want the strategies of these various funders to have the same focus. That would be pretty problematic. And I can imagine the challenges of achieving coordination amongst so many rapidly moving agendas!

But I’d expect there to be some value to be gained from more explicit efforts to take account of others’ strategies, in the design, the implementation, and, perhaps most importantly, the learning. That would I think help to better inform the evolution of the TPA and wider governance and development agenda.

 

Alan Hudson
Executive Director

One comment on “Beyond transparency, participation and accountability: Feedback on Hewlett Foundation’s evolving TPA strategy”

  • Katherine Bain says:

    Great feedback and wonderful that Hewlett is so open to open feedback and its sharing! I share your view that entry points around delivery of public services seems to make more sense than the more traditional, normative approach many of us were trained and incentivized to follow in the governance field. The recent SOAS-ACE work o COVID is fascinating but leaves me wondering about questions of scale and transferability. This, I think, offers an opportunity to deepen our MEL approaches, as Aston, Guerzovich and Wadeson argue in their recent blog. But if we cannot support the scale up and learning from the many disparate but rather small scale success stories we all know about, we are falling short. Candid discussions and more purposeful experimentation on how best to do this, while learning from each other, is urgently needed.

    Reply

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