Engaging citizens: a game changer for development?

Nearly every week, I read news stories about citizens clamoring for change in governance- citizens who want their voices heard and acted upon. In countries all over the globe, citizen groups are working (sometimes with governments and sometimes against them) to build a more citizen-centric approach to governance. Why? People—ordinary citizens—are at the heart of good governance, and governments are genuinely more effective when they listen to and work with citizens to tackle development challenges.

Engaging citizens can help improve transparency and accountability of public policies, promote citizens’ trust, forge consensus around important reforms, and build the political and public support necessary to sustain them.

As part of our commitment to support this important agenda, the Governance Global Practice, the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, and the Leadership, Learning and Innovation Vice Presidency of the World Bank Group, in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS, have developed a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course)—a free, four-week online course on Citizen Engagement.  The course is hosted by Coursera and starts on March 15.

The course provides a holistic overview of citizen engagement through interactive videos, resources, and activities. It explores underlying theories and concepts of citizen engagement, examines the role it can play in improving policymaking and public service delivery, and investigates the impact of new technologies that empower governments and citizens to work together more effectively, particularly in developing countries.

The course is taught by a faculty of global experts and practitioners including John Gaventa (Institute for Development Studies), Rakesh Rajani (Ford Foundation), Danny Sriskandarajah (CIVICUS), Jonathan Fox (American University), and Beth Noveck (GovLab).

Through this course, we want to share and learn from the rich experiences of our development partners and course participants, and to contribute to the development of a global community of practice around citizen engagement.

Although the Bank has been offering free e-learning courses for years, this is the third MOOC that has been developed on the Coursera platform—the world’s largest MOOC platform with over 10 million users. The first two courses, on climate change and risk management, enabled us to reach an unprecedented number of people worldwide. This new MOOC on citizen engagement is similar in international scope and will allow us to share cutting-edge research and insights with leaders, practitioners, and interested citizens around the world.

The course encourages collaboration and the sharing of ideas through open online discussions, dedicated social media channels, and Google Hangouts. Participants will share case studies from their own contexts with the broader group, allowing participants to learn not only from our presenters and facilitators but also from each other.

Students will also engage with existing communities of practice in this field, namely the Global Partnership for Social Accountability, Making All Voices Count, Participedia, and the Open Government Partnership, further utilizing the power of many to solve complex governance and development challenges.

The World Bank Group recently launched its new Strategic Framework for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group Operations. This framework builds on the WBG’s commitment to align all public and private sector interventions to our twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, and to make citizen engagement a critical feature of our business model.

Citizen engagement and MOOCs underscore the critical value of a public good, and recognize that the wisdom of the many is greater than the knowledge of the few.
This MOOC reflects our commitment to citizen engagement for development, and we hope that by leveraging the inclusive, participatory, and collaborative nature of the MOOC format we will be able to help build a truly global community dedicated to citizen-centric governance.

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