What makes governments change?

May 19, 2009

In an interview about the current controversy about parliamentarians’ expenses, a British journalist declared that it was just the shame and embarrasment generated by media coverage that motivated the government to deal with the unfolding scandal.

How to move governments is one of the key questions that citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs) ask themselves. And we don’t always have good answers to this question. Failed and successful advocacy campaigns must have a 100 to 1 ratio.

Of course the answer to this million dollar question depends on the country, the government and a large number of other factors. A strong leader of a one party state will not be moved by the same pressure as a democratic head of state that has a strong and independent media. And we can’t expect to move a party with a strong mandate in the same way as a tenuous coalition government.

It also depends who in government you are trying to move. A senior bureaucrat may be interested in research while the political head is more likely to be interested in public perception. We also know that not all public perception weighs the same amount to politicians.  A politician in a state that is aid dependent (Mali, Tanzania or Burkina Faso) may be more concerned about the perception of donors than the same donor in a state that gathers most of its revenue from natural resources (Chad or Angola).

Again a state that is heavily dependent on imports and exports would worry more about international investor and media opinion than in states whose economies are more inward looking.

Sometimes change is driven by ref orm minded burocrats. The IBP‘s OBI has even found that competition between states sometimes moves governments to bring about reforms!

So from all of these possibilities and variables, what would you say is the most likely strategy to move your own government? Do you have any examples of how this works? Which successful advocacy campaigns have you been involved in and how did you get government to do what you wanted?

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