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 four workstreams in the A4EA programme, Governance at the Margins works 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 this second phase of research the Governance at the Margins workstream will place 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 will interview a sample of these intermediaries over time to understand what issues come to them, follow how they respond to these, and what kinds of empowerment and accountability outcomes emerge.

As the research unfolds, the Governance at the Margins workstream will undertake comparative case studies in each country of instances of positive deviance – where marginalised groups have managed to access institutions and get accountability for public services – and self-reliance – where groups might have opted out and engaged in self-provision or self-organizing.

Finally, researchers will return to families engaged in the first phase of research to take a longer-term view of the governance needs they are experiencing 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 will have ramifications for current theories of change and action in governance and social development programming and reform in our focus contexts. Outputs from this project will 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


Image of Alex Shankland
Alex Shankland

Research Fellow

Image of Anuradha Joshi
Anuradha Joshi

Research Fellow

Image of Colin Anderson
Colin Anderson

Research Officer

Image of Egidio Chaimite
Egidio Chaimite

PhD Researcher

Image of Miguel Loureiro
Miguel Loureiro

Research Fellow

Recent work


Why are women still excluded from public decision-making in Mozambique?

Emerging research from the IDS-led Action for Accountability and Empowerment (A4EA) research programme is finding that – when it comes to linking marginalised households with local forms of authority, in other words taking on a role of intermediation and leadership – men still dominate....

Egídio Chaimite
Lúcio Posse

26 March 2020