Children are not only at the heart of social accountability, but social accountability is also in the hearts of children. Children can be active participants, or perhaps better, players in the social accountability game, rather than just passive spectators and beneficiaries. But for this to work, certain ‘ingredients’ are important – and I’d like to illustrate these with a few examples.
Checkmyschool, an education initiative in the Philippines, provided an online-offline platform to check public school services. It involved students and other young volunteers from the community in checking school information; generating and sending feedback on the condition of services; and pursuing resolution with appropriate public authorities.
Constructive engagement was crucial in making this happen. A friendly but result-driven relationship with the schools created an environment that was not threatening. It prepared the children for the space and voice they need to claim as they engage with adults who run the schools. The children were especially encouraged to participate because they saw tangible results that directly affected their lives, such as the construction of new and clean toilets.
Finally, children got involved because the tools and technologies had been appropriately adjusted to them. Since some information could be technical and intimidating, the use of social media, photos and playful events helped enable their participation.
Before Checkmyschool, two case stories from Asia have also clearly demonstrated children’s involvement in social accountability initiatives. In the Philippines, boy scouts and girl scouts were mobilized in 2004 and succeeding years to help count textbook deliveries in public schools. The initiative was credited for making the delivery process efficient. Earlier, in 2000, the first ever road survey conducted by 12- to 14-year old children was undertaken in Bangalore, India. Using checklists, the children surveyed the quality of 300-meter roads. Their findings were presented to public officials, which resulted in visible changes in road maintenance in Bangalore.
Later in 2009, the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) capitalized on the potential of scouts’ involvement in social accountability. It supported a learning event for scouts in the East Asia and Pacific region, which introduced the use of tools for checking various government services in a Jamboree setting. This event applied the lessons from previous experiences, which taught the importance of using simple tools and facilitating constructive engagement between citizens and government with appropriate adult guidance.
These lessons show how to ensure that children are not unnecessarily exposed to possible political danger or harassment when they start asserting their rights. In fact, the involvement of children demonstrates that social accountability activities can also be fun and playful: in the end, they give the experience a meaningful educative value.
The examples suggest that in order to make child-led social accountability a success, the following key ingredients are necessary:
- creating a safe environment that does not feel intimidating;
- simple, fun and engaging tools; and
- feedback and evidence of results.
When reflecting on lessons learned from children’s involvement in various social accountability initiatives and workshops, it is important to remember both the need for child participation in these processes, as well as the importance of ensuring that their involvement does not undermine their safety.
Dondon Parafina is the Executive Director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP). He is currently spearheading an education initiative called Check My School, a blended online and offline platform for information access and citizen feedback. Prior to joining ANSA-EAP, Mr Parafina spent five years as the coordinator of Government Watch, an anti-corruption program at the Ateneo School of Government in the Philippines. He is also a philosophy student, a boy scout and a dragonboat paddler.