Rosemary McGee - Research Fellow
Trained in interdisciplinary Development Studies, I am a scholar-activist. I have alternated between my academic role at IDS and various development practitioner roles in the international NGO sector.
I am from the UK and have lived and worked in Colombia for several years, and also in Spain, Uganda, Mozambique, Central America, Bolivia and Brazil. My PhD research, based on rural ethnographic fieldwork, explored poverty and social policy in Colombia. I believe that one way that societies and polities can change for the better is by people becoming more reflective, self-critical individuals, practitioners and members of organisations, institutions or processes, making more focused efforts to learn from their own and others’ experience. I apply this belief in my work in international development and aid.
I joined IDS in 1999. My initial work here was on participatory poverty assessment methodologies. From 2000-2003 my focus was on promoting and supporting the participation of civil society organisations in policy processes. Research and advisory work with donor agencies and NGOs on participation in Poverty Reduction Strategy formulation and monitoring led me onto more critical conceptual and empirical work on the spaces available for CSO and citizen participation in policy processes. I managed a large-scale applied research project on poverty knowledge and policy processes in Uganda and Nigeria, in close partnership with co-researchers from NGOs and research institutes in each country.
Since 1997 I have held several posts in the international NGO Christian Aid, as a policy researcher on gender and on participation, an advocacy officer and a programme manager. Most recent was my posting as Country Representative in Colombia from 2003-6 while on leave of absence from IDS. Reflection on that experience is captured in an article about the challenges of working at the aid and advocacy frontline for a large international development NGO. In my current IDS role I continue to work for Christian Aid as well as other international development NGOs including Trócaire, Plan International, Plan UK, CARE, World Vision, ActionAid and Amnesty International. Several team relationships with INGOs converged in 2008-9 in a process of collective reflective learning that the PPSC team convened with representatives of eight Big International NGOs, looking at their role in supporting progressive social change in a changing world .
Four often overlapping themes are now central to my work:
Accountability and power: From the early 2000s, accountability became ‘the new participation’, in the words of my colleague Prof John Gaventa. From seeking ways to enable CSOs and citizens to participate in policy processes, I joined the movement of southern community and youth groups, NGOs, users’ associations and social activists seeking to hold to account states and aid agencies. Looking into these citizen-led and social forms of accountability brought me up against the tension often encountered between accountability as commonly understood - usually to donors - and learning, for improved performance and more equitable, accountable development outcomes. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and impact assessment approaches can either reinforce or mediate this tension (see below).
Ultimately, accountability initiatives are about shifting power. A Review of the Impact and Effectiveness of Transparency and Accountability initiatives which John Gaventa and I led for DFID in 2010-11 highlighted the challenges of demonstrating this sort of impact, as well as the need for more learning-focused approaches to design and implementation. In several projects with the International Budget Partnership I have explored and supported civil society advocacy on budget policy and practice. In other projects I have looked at aid transparency , accountability initiatives in fragile settings assumptions and realities about the citizens who engage in ‘citizen-led’ accountability initiatives, and power and rights analysis in NGO programme planning and learning. In 2012 -13 I worked on a collaborative project with HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (HSI) which was designed to contribute to learning on accountability initiatives in fragile contexts by exploring the dynamics and enabling factors within three ongoing accountability projects.
Understanding and assessing impact: My recent M&E and impact assessment assignments have involved navigating the tensions between accountability and learning objectives and somehow reconciling them. Putting into practice the abovementioned research and thinking on accountability programmes and power, I have led qualitative evaluations of large, multi-site, complex governance programmes for Christian Aid and the International Budget Partnership. Colleagues and I are about to start work on an evaluation for the Swedish International Development Agency using a methodology based on reality-checks. I have developed a participatory impact assessment framework for Christian Aid’s Latin America and the Caribbean region based on Most Significant Change and reflective learning.
Citizenship in violent settings: During my various periods of residence and work in Colombia I have researched and managed development and human rights programmes in violent and highly insecure settings. Learning from this was channelled into my work in the Citizenship Development Research Centre’s research group on Violence, Participation and Citizenship, which explored research and action methodologies for use in violent settings. With colleagues at IDS, I maintain an interest and some involvement in work in and on violent settings, including a planned action research project on Power, Violence and Citizenship, for which I hope to lead a Colombia component.
Citizen engagement and CSOs as change agents: How do advocacy campaigns and movements for change achieve and sustain their goals? Gaventa and I explored this question with scholar-activists in eight diverse but mainly middle-income countries, producing an edited volume of analytical case studies of Citizen Action and National Policy Reform: Making Change Happen. More recently, I have advised on civil society support programmes for a number of official aid agencies in a range of political and governance contexts.
Teaching and learning
From 2012 I convene the MA Participation, Power and Social Change. I supervise MA dissertation candidates in my areas of expertise and currently have four doctoral supervisees. I have designed and delivered Reading Weeks and training courses for NGO and aid agency personnel on themes such as accountability, and working with power and rights-based perspectives.
Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency: A Colombian Case StudyIDS Working Paper 474 (2016)
In a situation of longstanding and complex violent conflict in Buenaventura, Colombia, we used action research to explore with social activists what power, violence, citizenship and agency mean to them and how they experience and exercise citizen agency in relation to the violence. More details
Opening GovernanceIDS Bulletin 47.1 (2016)
This Bulletin hopes to rescue the transformative potential of the project of opening up governance relationships and processes to instil fairer power dynamics among and between citizens and their states. More details
Evaluation of the Strategy for Support via Swedish Civil Society Organisations 2010-2014Report (2015)
This report synthesises the findings and recommendations from an evaluation of Sweden’s Civil Society Strategy 2010–2014 as implemented by Swedish civil society organisations and their national partners in three countries – Nicaragua, Pakistan and Uganda. More details
Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency
Pre-submitted version of article for IDS Bulletin 45.5 More details
Localising GovernanceIDS Bulletin 45.5 (2014)
Drawing on different perspectives, this IDS Bulletin takes a fresh look at how local governance 'really' works and how it could become more accountable, effective and legitimate to support development that favours poor and marginalised people. More details
Research, evidence and ethics in ‘civic tech’ – a call to action04 May 2016
By Rosemary McGee
Accountability inside out and outside in07 May 2015
By Rosemary McGee
So there's a ‘short-code route of accountability’? Really?09 Jun 2014
By Rosemary McGee