Governance at the Margins: Exploring Marginalised Groups’ Engagement with Public Authorities (A4EA)

When citizens and communities in fragile settings don’t engage with public authorities to solve their governance issues, what do they do instead and why?

When marginalised people do engage, make claims and demand accountability from public authorities, what are the roles, strategies and practices of the different intermediaries that broker these engagements?

One of the five Phase 2 research workstreams in the A4EA programme, Governance at the Margins has worked in settings affected by violence, conflict and fragility to explore when, why and how marginalised citizens choose to strategically avoid direct interactions with authorities and work ‘beneath the radar’.

In the first phase of A4EA research, as part of the programme’s Governance Diaries project, researchers followed a cohort of families living in conflict-affected areas over the course of a year. The project noted how rarely people in these households reached out to authorities directly, and the high prevalence of fear and internalised powerlessness.

Decisions not to engage with or make direct demands of authorities played out in different ways. In some cases, these decisions had characteristics of ‘opting out’ of those systems of governance and choosing to collectively provide services and solutions themselves at a community level.

In other cases, where people did choose or need to contact authorities, they most often did so through a range of intermediaries – such as local elites or civil society activists.

In the second phase of research the Governance at the Margins workstream placed a particular focus on how different intermediaries play their roles. This expands on existing scholarship on political brokerage and mediation of community needs, with a particular focus on problem-solving and gaining accountability.

Building on the approach of the first phase, researchers interviewed a sample of intermediaries over time to understand what issues come to them, how they respond to these, and what kinds of empowerment and accountability outcomes emerge.

Researchers also returned to the families engaged in the first phase of research to take a longer-term view of the governance needs they experience and triangulate findings from other sources.

This research offers opportunities to inform how reformists, campaigners and practitioners working on empowerment and accountability reach marginalised people and avoid their further exclusion. The findings have ramifications for current theories of change and action in governance and social development programming and reform in our focus contexts. The project outputs add to the limited contemporary scholarship on processes of brokerage and mediation, on actions ‘beneath the radar’, and on the nature of the social contract in fragile and violent settings.

Project details

start date
1 April 2019
end date
31 December 2020


About this project


Recent work

Working Paper

Accountability Bargains in Pakistan

IDS Working Paper 550

Poor and marginalised citizens rarely engage directly with the state to solve their governance issues in fragile, conflict and violence-affected settings, as these settings are characterised by the confrontational nature of state–citizen relations.

27 May 2021


Covid-19: A Stress Test for Trust?

IDS Briefing

To tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, governments need citizens to trust messages on behaviour change, and to support more draconian steps like lockdowns. Yet, lack of trust in public authority and a prevalence of rumours are shaping people’s responses to the virus, especially in fragile,...

4 March 2021