Improving local public services through a research-action dialogue in 4 West African communities

Introductory note and summary of studies

The ‘Construisons Ensemble-Recherche sur les Citoyennetés en Transformation’ association (ACE-RECIT), which was recently renamed ‘the Citizenship Laboratory’, organised a capitalisation and perspectives workshop on 24 May 2007 in Ouagadougou. The workshop was based on research carried out in the form of dialogue with users and suppliers of local public services.

In 2006, four communities – Sirakorola in Mali, Aguégués in Benin, Say in Niger and Boromo in Burkina Faso – signed on with SNV, the Citizenship Laboratory, Lasdel Benin (Laboratory for Study and Research on Social Dynamics and Local Development), Lasdel Niger and Mali’s Institute of Human Sciences for the pilot phase of a programme that brings together researchers and actors in the field. The goal is to help improve the sub-region’s local public services, including health care, education, access to water, and sanitation, with a contribution that is solidly rooted in local African realities.

The objectives of the workshop were to:

Presentation of the ‘Improving local public services through a research-action dialogue in 4 West African communities’ workshop

The ‘Construisons Ensemble-Recherche sur les Citoyennetés en Transformation’ association (ACE-RECIT), which was recently renamed ‘the Citizenship Laboratory’, organised a capitalisation and perspectives workshop on 24 May 2007 in Ouagadougou. The workshop was based on research carried out in the form of dialogue with users and suppliers of local public services.

In 2006, four communities – Sirakorola in Mali, Aguégués in Benin, Say in Niger and Boromo in Burkina Faso – signed on with SNV, the Citizenship Laboratory, Lasdel Benin (Laboratory for Study and Research on Social Dynamics and Local Development), Lasdel Niger and Mali’s Institute of Human Sciences for the pilot phase of a programme that brings together researchers and actors in the field. The goal is to help improve the sub-region’s local public services, including health care, education, access to water, and sanitation, with a contribution that is solidly rooted in local African realities.

A certain amount of socio-anthropological research has been carried out on the interface between the supply of and demand for public services. The goal is to understand the context, realities, expectations and perceptions on both sides–suppliers and users–of local level public services.

The results of this research should help mayors, local actors and those who provide them with technical and financial support manage expectations, orchestrate supply and mobilise resources, while maintaining the necessary political, administrative and social support. To achieve this goal, studies have been carried out under the leadership of the communities involved and in dialogue with actors.

The objectives of the May 2007 workshop were to:

This workshop hoped to showcase an innovative approach in which interactivity between researchers’ and local actors’ knowledge and points of view leads to changes in public services instigated by community actors themselves.

The challenge was to:

Upon completion of an initial exploratory phase, a 2-day workshop (22-23 May) was held to allow programme actors to mutualise their observations and future perspectives.

The workshop was followed, on 24 May, by a one-day encounter in which conclusions were shared with those involved in reform processes–associations of cities and towns, ministries responsible, ministries involved in reforms and technical and financial partners.

The latter will now be able to assess the potential of the approach and its results, view it in parallel with their own actions and give their opinions on proposals for continuing the programme.

Has the challenge been met?

‘Physical’ results are primarily papers: four reports on studies describing in detail the state of public services in the contexts that condition their production, from the viewpoints of both supply and demand.

All four reports are available on the Citizenship Laboratory site: www.ace-recit.org

The reports are dense. They vary in form but all four are very high-quality reports.

They don’t just describe services; they also analyse the conditions in which services are produced with a grid articulating the various ‘schools’ of anthropology. The method used illustrates new ways of ‘observing’ and ‘reflecting on’ these realities.

Furthermore, a number of striking analogies included in the reports confirm initial hypotheses and in particular the central hypothesis: “aid actors see the community as a complete level of administrative management and service provision, but in fact its legal, administrative and financial competencies are very limited”. These analogies confirm the central hypothesis by noting a number of difficulties and weaknesses:

The central hypothesis is also confirmed by an entire series of institutional ‘deals’ with other components of society:

Another group of hypotheses concerning the public services market has also been clearly confirmed:

Users employ services in a one-off manner in response to a specific problem to be resolved and without integrating the entire frames of reference on which they are based; users use services in accordance with an opportunistic logic, in keeping with their personal interests and to resolve problems as they arise (Boromo); there are no coherent services built on shared objectives. Such services would, for example, place the interests of the user in the center of the process (Boromo); with the exception of regular services in relatively low demand compared to the supply, services provided by the municipality take little or no notice of social demand (Say); supply is sometimes produced under conditions that are in complete contradiction with official norms. What happens, in this case, is that other norms are produced to justify the practices and keep the institution (Sirakorola).

Areas for action

The results summarised above indicate possible areas for action, themes for forums and questions for study, which will be formulated by the parties involved in the process on 22-23 May, for presentation and discussion on 24 May.

To facilitate discussion, areas for action currently taking shape are grouped into four categories:

1. Areas for action related to the foundations of the decentralisation process. (How can the overall policy framework governing the provision of local public services be improved?)

2. Areas for action involving institutions. (How can institutional interfaces and mechanisms be improved to make local public service provision more efficient?)

3. Areas for action involving partners’ financial and technical support. (How can support strategies and means of intervening in local public services be improved?)

4. Areas for action involving follow-up on the research-action process. (What is the next step? How can the research-action dialogue be continued and strengthened?)

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