How does change happen?

Nepal’s 2015 Constitution embodies the shared aspiration in democracies around the world for more accountable, responsive, and inclusive ways to deal with matters of public interest. The pathways of change in support of these core governance values will be as diverse as Nepal’s citizens and communities, shaped by the challenges of federal restructuring, and enabled or constrained by the wider political environment.

The GF’s more than 60 partner organizations collectively combine decades of experience in supporting better governance outcomes. Roughly half of these organizations and institutions work at the community level, enabling informed and constructive engagement between citizens, communities, and public institutions. The other half begin with individual grievances, particularly affecting those most vulnerable to harms, and look for ways to ensure effective remedies that protect everyone equally. In addition to these longstanding partners, since September 2016 the GF has been developing new partnerships with public institutions (such as NASC and LDTA) as well as civil society actors, particularly in relation to federal restructuring. Together, all of these partners are well positioned to suggest answers to the vital question posed by all of these diverse efforts in support of more accountability, responsiveness, and inclusion: ‘How does change happen’?

Since the introduction of the GF’s Integrated Results Framework in November 2016, the GF, its donors, and partners have been jointly asking this question. The discussion has moved steadily toward a shared understanding of a set of common threads that are woven through the varied understandings of change. These elements are evidence, communication, norms, institutional relationships, and leadership processes.

What do we know about a particular governance challenge? What is the best way to describe what we know? For example, the legal aid work of the Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), the International Legal Foundation (ILF), the Center for Legal Research and Resource Development (CeLRRD), and People Forum (PF), among other partners, is identifying and generating evidence about barriers to justice using the language of Nepal’s Constitution and related human rights.

What norms give shape to the governance challenge? Norms include formal government laws and policies and the related decisions of judges, as well as traditional cultural norms that shape public interests. For example, GF’s partner, CAD, is working with traditional leaders to discuss the changes in local norms that can protect girls from the harms of chauppadi. At the more formal State level, Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC), The Asia Foundation (TAF), International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Informal Service Sector Center (INSEC), Nepal Madhesh Foundation (NEMAF), Niti Foundation, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), and others, are regularly bringing evidence to bear at the level of law and policy in order to sustainably change institutional norms.

How does communication take place about governance challenges? This can include information sharing, advocacy, dialogue, and deliberation that responds to evidence and proposed policy solutions. For example, Samagra Jan-utthan Kendra (All People’s Development Center), The Story Kitchen (TSK), Saathi, Sancharika Samuha, INSEC, Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research Centre (KIRDARC), and others, work through a wide range of communication strategies designed to strengthen shared understandings and approaches to governance issues like violence against women during and after the armed conflict, the impact of natural resources development on communities, or the difficulties of accessing public services in remote areas.

What institutions are also involved in the way this governance challenge is shaped and addressed? What kinds of relationships exist between different institutions and the diverse social, cultural, and political constituencies affected by this issue? For example, CeLLrd, TAF, Rural Women’s Development and Unity Center (RUWDUC), and others engaged in community mediation efforts, are working with public institutions to ensure pubic ownership and sustainability.

What kind of leadership processes are affecting the governance challenge? Some forms of leadership will not be helpful in promoting shared values like accountability, responsiveness, and inclusion. Some forms of leadership will tend to divide and stoke tensions. Other leadership processes may be more open to collaboration and dialogue among all affected. These processes may be leading toward the fulfillment of core governance values. We need to ask: how does this kind of leadership process take shape? How does it successfully link all of the elements described above (evidence, norms, communication, and institutional relationships)? For example, Samagra and Niti have collaborated to use their distinct areas of experience, skills, and knowledge to more effectively attempt to engage all of the relevant actors who need to be part of resolving the disputes generated by hydro project development.

The idea of a leadership ‘process’ shifts our attention away from the role of any one particular individual to the way different actors and institutions become linked in a common journey. Shared values are key to how shared understandings emerge, how goals are agreed, and how inevitable uncertainties are addressed. If sufficiently linked by shared values, the question for those affected and participating in the change process then becomes how evidence, norms, communication, and institutional relationships together describe a pathway of change. How is evidence supporting effective communication and better policy or a change in social norms? How much is law and policy supported by evidence and by the public trust that can be strengthened through effective communication? To what extent are communication strategies drawing on evidence and leading to changes in norms? These are the key questions that the GF is asking its partners in developing shared approaches to governance challenges.