Accountability Innovations We Love, No.5: “Sub-National Governance Prizes”

Mugabe may not be on the short-list for the Ibrahim Prize. Source: UN

How best can we recognize and incentivize good governance and accountability? Once again this year the Mo Ibrahim Foundation could not find a winner for its African Leadership Prize. The award, established by the Sudanese telecoms magnate in 2006, is given to a former, democratically-elected African Executive Head of State who served only their constitutionally mandated term; left office in the past three years; and demonstrated exceptional leadership. The prize totals $5 million over ten years, plus $200,000 a year for life. This is a useful idea as far as it goes- but the process only rewards leaders (rather than approaches) at the national level; and doesn’t go very far in explaining or identifying the causal factors of success and whether these can be replicated elsewhere.

There are a number of lesser-known- but arguably more carefully designed- sub-national governance prizes around the world which are worth thinking about beyond the Ibrahim Prize. The awards program run by the Programa Gestão Pública e Cidadania (Public Management and Citizenship Program) in Brazil, for example, has been highly successful in terms of showcasing effective governance approaches at the local and state levels. When the awards began in 1996, there was little faith in local governance, and the program has helped to support good practices and showcase effective approaches at the local through to the state levels. It has also built upon these approaches by systematically investigating the factors that led to success and creating a center to allow for discussion of best practices throughout Latin America.

The Galing Pook Awards (run by the Galing Pook Foundation in the Phillippines) also recognizes local governance innovations based on analysis of results, impact, participation, innovation, transferability and sustainability. It provides non-monetary prizes- awarded to winners by the President- but also goes several steps further in terms of dissemination of successes. The foundation documents winning approaches in videos, adoption manuals, casebooks, primers and a variety of other materials through its enthusiastic website and comprehensive database. It also organizes adoption workshops, study visits, policy forums and trainings in a concerted effort to ensure adaptation and replication of good ideas.

The Ford Foundation has now set up the Innovations Program Liaison Group– an international network of local governance awarding institutions, which brings together the examples outlined above, and others including the Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust in South Africa; the Mashariki Innovations in Local Government Awards Programme (MILGAP) run by UN-HABITAT in East Africa; and the Participación y Gestión Local (Participation and Local Management Program) in Peru. None of these prizes provide financial rewards but have become prestigious and important means by which to recognize, incentivize and reward good governance (and are mirrored with programs in North America and Europe such as the Harvard Ash Center Bright Ideas in Government, the Alliance in Innovation and the Guardian’s Public Leader of the Year Awards).

These prizes have to be designed carefully of course- to ensure the right parameters, incentives and values are in place; that the selection process is fair and transparent; and that the relevant lessons are learned from successes- but can play an important role in spurring good-governance and rewarding accountability reforms. That’s why “sub-national governance prizes” are an accountability innovation we love!

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Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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