Case Study

Civil Society Strengthening for Government Accountability

How can well-targeted civil society advocacy improve the accountability of government spending?

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Civil society advocacy can offer important checks on government performance, helping ensure state commitments to public welfare are fulfilled. In the Niger Delta, a region with a history of violent conflict around the distribution of its resource wealth, effective advocacy for transparency and accountability in public spending is especially important to the stability of the region and the well-being of its citizens.

Since 2008, the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform (NDCBP) has worked to represent public interests in addressing corruption in government spending. Dogged research and strong advocacy had earned NDCBP the support of the citizens it represented, civil society groups across Nigeria, and international donors. But the organization had yet to secure the government engagement necessary to influence public spending decisions. Recognizing NDCBP’s potential, Reboot invested in enhancing the technical competency, political relevancy, and organizational sustainability of the coalition’s budget advocacy work.

NDCBP’s one-year partnership with Reboot led to the coalition receiving unprecedented levels of access to and influence in state spending processes. Previously treated as an external antagonist, NDCBP is now advising senior government officials on the allocation of public resources. The coalition’s success has resonated among civil society actors across the region, encouraging its peers to adopt similarly targeted and evidence-based approaches to advocacy.

“The purpose of our reports in the past was to tell people that the government has ‘stolen it, stolen it, stolen it.’ The purpose was to get them angry, but it doesn’t get them interested. It makes them give up before they can even start. Our reports are crafted in such a way now that says ‘so much can be done’. The idea is to get people engaged.”

—Ken Henshaw, NDCBP

Founded in 2008, NDCBP is a coalition of activists and civil society organizations advocating for greater transparency and accountability of government spending across the Niger Delta. While its work had gained NDCBP wide respect among local, national, and international audiences, the organization expressed concern that its work had not yielded the government reforms it targeted. Several factors prevented NDCBP from realizing the impact it sought. Historically tense relations between NDCBP and government officials—exacerbated by the coalition’s frequent and antagonistic commentary on government performance—had perpetuated a cycle of mistrust. This dynamic impeded opportunities for dialogue between NDCBP and the state and therefore limited the coalition’s influence.

Additionally, NDCBP’s approach to research was not sophisticated enough to evaluate the complex processes it sought to influence. Its analysis evaluated, in largely binary terms, if state budget allocations translated into visible public assets and used linear models for assigning accountability for poor performance in budget execution. As its analyses lacked important context and technical nuance, governments were able to easily dismiss them as uninformed and unconstructive. Finally, limited organizational capacity and resources further constrained NDCBP’s efficacy.

Despite its activist orientation, NDCBP was open to exploring alternative models for its work. Reboot was engaged to manage a grant to NDCBP to improve the impact of its budget advocacy efforts. Specifically, Reboot sought to enhance the political relevance and influence of the coalition’s advocacy. Doing so required that NDCBP’s work be regarded as credible by the actors it sought to influence; improving the technical rigor of NDCBP’s research and analysis was therefore an early priority. Once armed with reliable data, NDCBP then needed to win the attention and interest of the key actors it sought to influence.