Do Community Scorecards Enhance the Responsiveness of Government Officials? Evidence from the Implementation of a Development Project in Albania.

Author:Dauti, Marsela
Position:Municipality of Elbasan - Case study

Community scorecards are promoted by development agencies to enhance government responsiveness and more broadly support participatory governance in new democracies. One of the advantages of community scorecards is that they are easy to develop; they do not require specialized knowledge or skills. In the process, community members develop a shared understanding of the problems that they face and work collaboratively to communicate them to government officials (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. [CARE], 2013; Post, Agarwal, & Venugopal, 2014). Evidence shows that community scorecards have positive effects on community ownership, trust in public institutions, and access to public services (Blake et al., 2016; Edward et al., 2011, 2015; Ho, Labrecque, Batonon, Salsi, & Ratnayake, 2015). For instance, Ho and colleagues (2015) found that the use of community scorecards in the Democratic Republic of Congo led to increased transparency and improved quality of health care. Similarly, Blake and colleagues (2016) revealed that the use of community scorecards in Ghana had a positive effect on community participation, transparency, and accountability. The implementation of community scorecards rests on partnerships between government officials and community members (Blake et al., 2016), even in situations in which government officials use participatory tools to bolster rather than challenge the regime (Wild & Harris, 2011).

One of the challenges of scorecards is translating community priorities into actions (Lebbie et al., 2016). If the efforts of community members are matched solely by empty words, then dissatisfaction and distrust in government officials will deepen (Dauti, 2017). Other challenges include ensuring a long-term involvement of community members in monitoring and evaluating service delivery, broad representation and participation of community groups in meetings, and sustainability of community engagement (Edward et al., 2011; Ho et al., 2015; Mwanza & Ghambi, n.d.; Wild & Harris, 2011).

So far, despite evidence produced about community scorecards, little is known about their impact on local communities in post-communist countries. Although the use of community scorecards is promoted by international organizations as an effective tool of participatory democracy, it is unclear to what extent scorecards reach their goals. This article seeks to fill this void in the literature and provides empirical evidence on the implementation of community scorecards in Albania, a country characterized by low levels of government transparency and responsiveness (Institute for Democracy and Mediation, 2018; Transparency International, 2016).

During the local election campaign of 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) supported the implementation of community scorecards in four municipalities to inform electoral agendas and municipal programs. Scorecards were developed to provide a space for dialogue between officials and citizens, strengthen citizens' voices in decision making, and increase officials' accountability and responsiveness ("Community-Based Scorecards," 2015). The process was repeated in 2016 and was characterized as "complete and successful" by its initiators (USAID & UN Women, 2016, p. 13). Apart from this assessment, there is no evidence about their effectiveness.

This study analyzes the impact of community scorecards on the responsiveness of government officials and is driven by two research questions: (1) What have government officials done differently because of this participatory tool? (2) Have they taken any actions based on the information communicated through scorecards?

In the current study, the impact of community scorecards on the responsiveness of government officials is examined in the context of a rich body of scholarly work on democratic decentralization and participatory governance. One of the fundamental tenets of democratic theory is that the shift from authoritarianism to democracy will make governments more responsive to citizens' needs and preferences (Manin, Przeworski, & Stokes, 1999). Along the same lines, decentralization theory emphasizes that the devolution of power from central governments to local governments will enhance the responsiveness of elected representatives (Bardhan, 2002; Treisman, 2002). Additionally, citizens will have more opportunities to communicate their preferences to elected representatives and hold them accountable (Bardhan & Mookherjee, 2006). Frequent interactions will enhance responsiveness, especially for marginalized groups (Gaventa, 2004; Mansuri & Rao, 2013). However, evidence shows that often decentralization does not result in increased responsiveness by local authorities (Bardhan & Mookherjee, 2006). Furthermore, participatory initiatives that emerge with decentralization are plagued with problems. For instance, community participation is used to justify already established priorities, or new government agendas are introduced as local knowledge (Cornwall, 2002; Gaventa, 2004; Mansuri & Rao, 2012).

The implementation of participatory development projects involves numerous stakeholders: civil society organizations, formal and informal community groups, government officials, community leaders, and development agencies. The stakeholder theory suggests that stakeholders' interests, motives, and relationships should be examined (Freeman, 1984). Do stakeholders perceive participatory tools as beneficial? What are their motives for engaging in development projects? Do their interests converge? The focus on stakeholders can complement the insights from theories of democracy and decentralization.

Albania and more broadly post-authoritarian contexts pose several challenges for the implementation of participatory initiatives. Government officials may use participatory tools to communicate a message to the international community that they are committed to democratic governance. To keep popular discontent under control, they may provide some space for participation and engagement in decision making (Froissart, 2004; Giersdorf & Croissant, 2011; Hsu, 2010; Lewis, 2013; Lorch & Bunk, 2016; Spires, 2011). These strategies often succeed in a weak civil society. A common criticism of civil society organizations in Albania is that they do not have independent agendas (Transparency International, 2016).

We tracked the implementation of community scorecards in a municipality in Albania. To capture the impact of community scorecards, two methods were used: process tracing, to identify whether the priorities identified by community members were discussed and addressed by government officials, and interviews conducted with members of the citizens' commission, a group of citizens that has played a key role during project implementation.

The study shows that government officials use community scorecards to legitimize their political agenda rather than to promote greater inclusion of community voices in decision making. This finding contributes to the broader debate on the impact of participatory initiatives on local development. It also sheds light on the limits of democratic innovations in a post-communist context. To our knowledge, this is the first study examining the impact of community scorecards in Eastern Europe. Although the findings of this single case study cannot be generalized at the national or regional level, they provide important insights into the implementation of a participatory initiative in a context that lacks a vibrant civil society and vocal citizens' groups.

The remainder of the article will be structured as follows. The next section will introduce the process of developing and using scorecards in the municipality of Elbasan, followed by an account of...

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