Day five of the social lab – the rubber hits the road

Today is the day for groups to dig into the detail of their planned micro-actions and get feedback and coaching.

The seven ‘big ideas’ have been reduced to five. The groups driving each idea have clarified their assumptions and identified a first draft of what actions they believe they must take to realise them. There is a wonderful spirit of collective effort to heal the broken relationships between stakeholders in Rumphi’s development decision-making.

Groups were matched to support each other with critical feedback and encouragement. They jump into each other’s plans to look at them with fresh eyes.

Groups now must select the first micro-actions they will take over the next 6 weeks. There is no comprehensive ‘project plan’ for the year-long collaboration. This is emergent design in action. Each action is a hypothesis to be tested, reflected on and understood before the next action is planned. Teams come back together after 6-8 weeks to share their lessons with social lab members and plan their next round of actions.

First up were two complementary teams. One team, composed mostly of Rumphi District Council members, and Area Development Committee members, were going to explore ways of ‘Opening up the District Council to all stakeholders’.

The second group, made up of mostly local NGOs, proposed to explore ways in which community members can participate in the planning and monitoring of development projects funded by the Constituency Development Fund (CDF – a small discretionary fund allocated to every MP for their electoral constituency), and the far more substantial District Development Fund (allocated by the District Council, usually with little or no public consultation). Their first micro-action is to test the assumption that they can get access to the guidelines, list of projects, and budget allocations for the funds in Rumphi District from District Council Officials.

Both teams briefly presented clear, practical micro-actions that benefited from the constructive feedback of the other group.

The final three groups were almost all members of grassroots community-based organizations, with a few NGO workers thrown in.

The third group wanted to explore the idea of drafting a community charter as a mechanism for citizens to hold CBOs and NGOs who work in their area accountable. Example agreements that could be in the citizen charter included, “Every CBO/NGO that wants to work in this community must actively engage community members in the design and implementation of their project; Every CBO/NGO that works in this community must openly share budget information on what they are investing.” For their first micro-action, they proposed testing to see if there is buy-in by community members for the idea of a community charter.

The fourth group wanted to improve trust and relationships between ordinary citizens and Village Development Committees and the Area Development Committee community structures, which represent their needs to district government. Their assumption was that citizens are not happy with the way they are represented by these committees. They proposed conducting a citizen satisfaction survey to test this assumption.

The fifth group took a deeper look into the role of Health Advisory Committees as a community accountability structure. Their assumption is these committees are being bypassed or ignored by duty bearers.

Each team left the workshop, late on the Saturday evening, with a clear purpose and energy. The sharing and support will continue through a social lab WhatsApp group until we meet again in mid-April to capture learning and design the next round of micro-actions.


Five big ideas about citizen voice in Rumphi, Malawi

  1. Opening up the District Council through dialogue and networking with all stakeholder groups to build greater trust and working relationships.
  2. Increasing citizen participation in planning and monitoring of the Constituency Development Fund and District Development Fund guidelines and projects.
  3. Drafting a community charter to support citizens holding community based organizations and non governmental organizations accountable.
  4. Enhancing citizen voice and trust with the village development committees and area development committees as community representatives using feedback surveys.
  5. Investigating how to strengthen the role of Health Advisory Committees as key community structure within health accountability system.

The Rumphi Social Lab is a collaboration of Youth And Society Malawi, Root Change, Keystone Accountability and USAID Local Works

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