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Rosemary McGee - Research Fellow

Power and Popular Politics
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Erin Lewis

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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.  

The Unequal Voices project - Vozes Desiguais in Portuguese - examines the politics of accountability in health systems in Brazil and Mozambique, exploring how accountability can be used to deliver better health services for citizens everywhere.

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The aim of this cooperation with the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation is to strengthen their Democratisation, Decentralisation and Local Governance Network's understanding, learning, and policy engagement in decentralised and democratic local governance.

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IDS is the external monitoring, evaluation and learning partner for Diálogo, a programme which aims to contribute to improved governance and accountability for Mozambican citizens.

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An empowerment and accountability programme aimed at improving the quality of health and education services in Mozambique.

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Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development (MAVC) is a four-year $45 million fund to support innovation, scaling-up, and research that will deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness.

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A new partnership between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and IDS has been formed with the aim of supporting SDC’s ‘Democratisation, Decentralisation and Local Governance Network’ (DLGN) between 2012 and 2014. IDS’ contribution will seek to improve DLGN’s effectiveness and impact of policy strategies and operations.

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The Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA) project is an action research project designed by researchers at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and carried out with a number of institutional partners.

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This collaboration between IDS and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) aims to bring appropriate participatory methods into quality assurance within SDC. It will also bring new levels of rigour to the principles of participation, poverty orientation and empowerment in the work of SDC and its partners.

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This collaborative project between IDS and HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (HSI) was designed to contribute to learning on accountability initiatives in fragile contexts by exploring the dynamics and enabling factors within three ongoing accountability projects.

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Promoting greater citizen participation in local governance through international dialogue and exchange.

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IDS publications on international development research

Appropriating technology for accountability: messages from Making All Voices Count

Making All Voices Count was a programme designed to solve the ‘grand challenge’ of creating more effective democratic governance and accountability around the world. It used funding from four donors to support the development and spread of innovative ideas for solving governance problems – many of them involving tools and platforms based on mobile phone and web technologies. Between 2013 and 2017, More details

IDS publications on international development research

Supporting innovation and the use of technologies in accountability initiatives: lessons from Making All Voices Count

Making All Voices Count was an international initative that harnessed the power of innovation and new technologies to support effective, accountable governance. More details

This is the fornt cover of MAVC Learning Event Report More Accountable and Responsive Governance: ho to technologies help make it happen

More Accountable and Responsive Governance: How Do Technologies Help Make It Happen?

The change Making All Voices Count wants to see is more responsive, accountable governance. The programme has contributed to this change by supporting tech-enabled initiatives which amplify citizen voice and nurture government responsiveness, and by building understanding of when and how the technologies help create and support change. More details

This is the font cover to IDS Working Paper 474, 'Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency: A Colombian Case Study'.

Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency: A Colombian Case Study

IDS 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

This is the front cover of MAVC learning Event paper Transforming Governance: What Role for Technologies?

Transforming Governance: What Role for Technologies?

The technological innovations of the last two decades – cell phones, tablets, open data and social media – mean that governments and citizens can interact like never before. Around the world, in different contexts, citizens have fast-increasing access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) that enable them to monitor government performance and express their views on it in real time. More details

Thematic Expertise:
Accountability; Conflict Violence and Security; Participatory methodologies; Poverty; Monitoring and Evaluation.

Related Programmes and Centres:
Addressing and Mitigating Violence; Action for Empowerment and Accountability; Centre for Development Impact.

Geographic Expertise:
Bolivia; Brazil; Chile; Colombia; Mozambique; Nigeria; Spain; Uganda.