A Tale of Social Accountability in Barranquilla, Colombia

Adrianna Algarin Castillo

“For things to remain the same, everything must change

Giuseppe Lampedusa

I am currently at the end of my first year as a doctoral researcher at INLOGOV where I am researching the implementation of social accountability, understood as a relationship between citizens and representatives, in Colombia. Social accountability entered into the public discourse at Colombian national level in early 2000. From there, its implementation at the local level has been promoted, with public audiences as one of the means to do so. Despite the law, policy and guidelines promote social accountability as a relationship that requires information, dialogue and incentives. Governments rely heavily on public hearings or audiences as the means to operationalise social accountability but these activities can feel like tick box exercises. The public audience methodology is criticised because the format tends to be unidirectional, with officials presenting information through monologues in a technical and complex language. The events therefore arguably enable accountability to be demonstrated at a superficial level but with no real accountability in place.

Public Adudience photo

A public audience in Barranquilla. Picture from @alcaldiabquilla.

For example, earlier this year (April), Barranquilla Mayor’s Office organised several sectoral meetings and a big public hearing to give account to citizens about its 2017 performance. Since 1998, when the law made public audiences mandatory, most local governments (and public authorities for that matter) use this space to provide information about what they did the previous year. The public audience acts as big public meeting where mayors invite councillors, programme beneficiaries and citizens to present their most important accomplishments. The exercise has been criticised because instead of working as a space for deliberation, mutual engagement and citizen participation, it has been used as a stage where public officials present what is convenient for their image. Thus, citizens do not get a real opportunity to engage with their representatives and hold their public officials accountable.

This way of presenting information hampers citizens’ ability to engage with and reflect on public performance, and reward or sanction representatives. For example, a 2018 hearing took more than three hours in which one by one, different officials of the Mayor´s Office presented the achievements of 2017. Because of time constraints there are no in depth explanations of what has been done or not. Curiously, being such a long event, most public’s focus is lost after the first hour. This occurs even when an annual report was shared beforehand on the Mayor’s Office website; a person attending the event may expect the report to be mentioned or go deeper into it. However, who accesses those spaces (the website and the public audience) may not be the same people.

Reflecting upon this, several analysts (academics and Civil Society Organisations) suggested that rather than holding just one big audience, smaller meetings should also be held by sector. So when this year, local government decided to go with this new strategy, the change was welcomed by CSOs who saw it as an opportunity for Barranquilla’s government to have meaningful engagement with citizens and consequently, to be accountable. Moreover, not everyone cares about the same topic. Some want to know more about culture programs, others about how much was invested in infrastructure, or why a park was constructed in x neighbourhood and not y. However, old habits endured even with the new format. The meetings were still unidirectional, with handpicked guests and without deliberation or discussion. What is more, the big public audience then became a show where public officials no longer presented information or explanation but instead where beneficiaries of programs just thanked the Mayor for what he had done in the past year.

Thus, despite the innovation -which by itself is an advance- the main problems with public audiences (big one or by sector) as a space to operationalise social accountability remain. First, the information shared beforehand does not say much about what it is that government did in the past year and therefore undermines citizens’ capacity to question it. Second, participants are handpicked and an open call to attend the meeting is deficient because is not properly advertised (among others), so instead of actively participating citizens, the meetings are more an applause committee. Third, the unidirectional focus and the use of the space to celebrate what governments consider its achievements without self-reflection and critique on what can be done better undermine their democratic and representative character.

What I have learned so far is that governments are not enthusiastic about providing information or providing explanation, when it means discussing failure or error. Nevertheless, as much as we expect representatives to be accountable, we have to hold them accountable as well. I know it takes more than the desire or will to do so. Active and meaningful citizen participation and social control also depend on context, opportunity and capacity. Still, in the context of Colombia, where the law places the responsibility of social accountability on governments, more needs to be done for them to foster a meaningful, engaging a permanent accountability relationship with citizens.

Adriana-AlgarinAdriana Algarin C. is a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Local Government (University of Birmingham).  She also has experience as a research assistant at Universidad del Norte (Colombia) and her research interests include social accountability, local governance and political representation.



All views reflected on this blog are those of the author(s) and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.

Squaring the circle: Facing the challenges of local government transformation in the Philippines

Mendiola Teng-Calleja

Transforming local government is critical to developing countries like the Philippines. Local government units (LGUs) grapple with problems related to poverty, peace and order, social vices, as well as environmental change and natural disasters. Many LGUs are burdened by bureaucracy or red tape, limited financial and human resources, as well as corruption. On top of these, apathy from external (community) as well as internal (employees) stakeholders continue to challenge the LGUs. These daunting problems gathered through interviews with leaders and employees in our multi-case study of nine local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines that have undergone successful transformation served as impetus for change.

How did the LGUs transform themselves?

The transformations of the LGUs appear to have been catalyzed by three inter-related elements: vision, LGU leadership, and citizen engagement. The LGUs developed a vision that was typically articulated first by the governor or mayor (local chief executive/LCE). In turn, these leaders engaged and rallied the citizens around this vision of change.

Leadership played a critical role in initiating and sustaining transformation across the LGUs.  Aside from having a clear vision for the local government, the LCEs likewise demonstrated competence in driving the program of government; showed effective management skills especially in planning, systematizing work and monitoring output; was visible and accessible to the citizens; as well as modelled credibility and ethical behaviors. The local government leaders in the nine LGUS were also risk-takers that demonstrated political will and courage in upholding the common good.

The LGU leaders ensured the success and sustainability of their change initiatives by ensuring citizen engagement. The local governments instituted mechanisms to counter apathy and promote participation by citizens. These included consultative planning, community consultations through public hearings and feedback mechanisms, volunteer involvement in LGU projects, as well as forming sectoral organizations and alliances. One leader shared that their roads “…were mostly rough roads.  So when there was a road project, we called on the neighboring barangays who would eventually benefit from it to work on the project…  They were the ones who constructed the roads while we provided them food.  The money intended to pay for labor was reallocated to buy materials. So instead of constructing a one-kilometer road, we were able to build longer ones because we did not have to pay for labor. It’s the people who did it.”

In line with the leaders’ and the citizens’ vision of change, the LGUs in the study focused their efforts on transformation or reform in the following key areas: improvement in systems and organizational structure, culture-building, human resource development, as well as policy and program development.  Ensuring that transformation initiatives will be institutionalized entailed reorganization and the creation of new units and positions. All nine LGUs engaged in efforts to improve processes and procedures by enabling equal and efficient access to government services mostly through information and communication technologies. To address corruption and red tape as well as promote transparency in service, the LGUs instituted systems for results-based performance management. There were also deliberate and regular efforts to monitor and assess projects.

Leaders in almost all of the LGUs mentioned culture-building as critical in managing and sustaining change. As such the leaders engaged in efforts to promote a culture of service, professionalism, discipline, continuous improvement, and pride among LGU employees. Changing the culture was not only necessary from within the LGU. It was also critical to change the mindset and behaviors of their citizens. One of the LGU leaders expressed that “The greatest challenge is (changing) the mindset.  Culture is one of the most important things in getting what we want to achieve and in going to our chosen path.  Culture resets the perspectives of people”.   

Infrastructure development (such as building farm-to-market roads) was among the main priorities of the LGUs. This was supported by numerous programs to spur employment, livelihood, and other economic activities. The reforms as well as new projects/programs were backed by ordinances and executive orders to make sure that these would be continued by future leaders.

Although the LGUs’ context and priorities varied, the changes reported by the various LGU informants suggested common outcomes related to local governance (transparency and democracy), quality of life (social equity), and citizenship (sense of pride). Aside from heightened engagement and vigilance among the people, success is seen in the remarkable reduction in poverty incidences and the productive economic life of the community. There was also an increased sense of pride among the citizens.

Transforming local governments in the Philippines seemed like squaring a circle. Yet the stories of the LGUs illustrated how the confluence of vision, leadership and citizen engagement can make it happen.

Proposed Model for transforming Local Government Units:

transforming government units figure

This post was based on a journal article titled “Transformation in Philippine local government” written by Mendiola Teng-Calleja, Ma. Regina M. Hechanova, Ramon Benedicto A.Alampay, Nico A. Canoy, Edna P. Franco & Erwin A. Alampay published in Local Government Studies, 2017. The paper was commended for the Local Government Studies 2017 John Stewart Prize.

CORD_Joy_3 (002)Mendiola Teng-Calleja is an Associate Professor at the Psychology Department of the Ateneo de Manila University. She is also the Director for Organization Development and Human Resources Solutions of the Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development. Her research interests include organization psychology, organization development, and humanitarian work psychology.


The views represented in this blog are those of the author(s) and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.

The Planners’ Dream Goes Wrong? Questioning Citizen-Centred Planning

Alex Lord, Michael Mair, John Sturzaker and Paul Jones  

We are delighted that our paper The Planners’ Dream Goes Wrong?’ Questioning Citizen-Centred Planning has won the 2017 John Stewart prize for best paper in Local Government Studies.

The paper emerged from an empirical study focused on the at the time emergent policy of Neighbourhood Planning. On the basis of a small research grant we set about conducting fieldwork in contrasting urban settings whose differences would tell us something important about the ways in which that policy was being implemented. We were interested in addressing three questions through the research. Firstly, we wanted to know why the policy took root in some places but not in others. What were the drivers of/barriers to neighbourhood planning becoming established in particular areas? Secondly, we were interested in how communities had responded to the request for ‘them’ to take on what was in effect a new semi-professional role, that of citizen-planner.  What had to be in place for individuals to take on this role?  Thirdly, we wanted to understand the local government perspective on this particular rebalancing of state-civil society-market relations following the election of the Coalition government in 2010.

We are hugely indebted to those who participated in the work and enabled us to answer the questions we posed by showing us what was happening where they were.  In the course of our fieldwork we interviewed citizens, community activists, planners, business people and politicians. They gave up their time willingly and for no recompense.

In trying to make sense of all the information we eventually gathered, all four of us spent a great deal of time together comparing notes and discussing findings. As a group, we represent two urban planners and two urban sociologists. Whilst there is an overlap between us in terms of our interests and our work, we brought separate skills and reference points to it and that interdisciplinarity was itself of benefit to the research.

Following these meetings we produced a first draft of the paper. The central device of writing it around song titles came from an article one of us had read about the ‘Jam Generation’ of which then Prime Minister, David Cameron, was said to be a part. The Jam song, ‘The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong’ suggested itself from there. It chimed with us for several reasons. Citizen-centred planning had indeed long been the cherished dream of some (academic) planners. But given what we had seen of neighbourhood planning in action, we found it hard to imagine they now had what they had been dreaming for.

The final published version continued the trope of using dream-related song titles as sub headings.  Some are more obvious than others. The rest of the paper was developed in the traditional iterative manner whereby documents sequentially appended ‘version xx’ were passed between the four of us over a number of months.  In deciding on a journal to submit the final iteration of the paper to (’version 23’) we very quickly decided on LGS.  So much of what we had to report on spoke to the devolution of power from professional planning vested in the democratic institution of local government to putatively ‘self-assembling’ arrangements of citizens and businesses.  Themes of statutory retrenchment and de-professionalisation were all bound up with political theory and the live testing of a policy.  LGS was the obvious place to go.

When we learnt that The Planner’s Dream had won the 2017 John Stewart prize we were suitably chastened but delighted.  The experience of publishing with LGS has been nothing other than positive and we definitely hope to do so again in the near future – perhaps using movie titles as the structuring device next time.

What we might focus on in any future article is hard at this point to say: the political landscape is particularly volatile at the moment and both central and local government could be said to be in a near permanent state of crisis, or at least crisis management, leaving us unclear as to what policy is, or what it might be, in many important areas. What is clear, however, is that the underlying issues the article spoke to remain. As Wendy Brown has noted, devolution “frequently means that large-scale problems, such as recessions, finance-capital crises, unemployment, or environmental problems, as well as fiscal crises of the state, are sent down the pipeline to small and weak units unable to cope with them technically, politically or financially” (cited by Roy Scothorne writing for the LRB in Dec 2017). Insofar as devolution continues to be the preferred solution to a whole series of issues, not just planning, planners are unlikely to be the only ones whose dreams will be going wrong.


Alex Lord is professor in the department of Geography and Planning at the University of Liverpool.  He has led research projects for the Economic and Social Research Council, the European Union, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Royal Town Planning Institute. 

Paul Jones is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Liverpool. His research centres on the political economy of the urban, and has recently included studies of architecture and the built environment and digital city models, and – with Michael Mair – analysis of the Private Finance Initiative, supermarkets and contemporary state reform.

Michael Mair is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Liverpool. His most recent research falls into two main areas: politics, government and the state and the methodology and philosophy of research. 

John Sturzaker is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Liverpool, with a background combining planning practice and academia. He has published on participation, power and localism in planning, and is engaged around these topics within the planning practice community.

All views represented in this blog are those of the author(s) and not INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.

Emergency Preparedness

Cllr Ketan Sheth

Emergency response is at the forefront of the minds of elected members and officers who work in the UK’s local authorities, helping to provide important public services. That’s because in the last year or so we have seen emergency responses to many challenging situations from flooding, to terrorism attacks and of course Grenfell Tower.

While the terrorist incidents in London were managed by individual local authorities and emergency services with minimal need for support from their neighbours, the scale of the Grenfell Tower disaster required a pan-London response. I’m proud that over 100 Brent Council staff answered the call for mutual aid. They covered roles as diverse as working at the Borough Emergency Control Centre and providing support directly to affected families. Brent’s own Chief Executive temporarily joined the head office of the Grenfell Fire Response Unit to head up the humanitarian assistance response.

In light of the number and scale of incidents in 2017, Brent Council’s Audit Committee agreed there would be benefit in reviewing Brent’s own emergency preparedness. Given the cross-cutting nature of incident response, the task group was drawn from the Council’s three scrutiny committees and the Audit Committee; and I was chosen to chair it.

During this work we looked at best practice and benchmarking from other London boroughs, heard from experts in the field, reviewed documents and plans, took part in a scenario exercise as well as visiting the facilities that would be used as our own Borough Emergency Command Centre during a major incident.

The resulting report, which we discussed at Full Council a few weeks ago, outlined a number of Brent’s strengths, and made nine recommendations, many of which were already underway or completed by the time the report was published. Emergency duty rotas have been reviewed and numerous more senior council officers have been trained to coordinate major incident responses. New training has been commissioned from the Cabinet Office for both senior council staff and local ward councillors to ensure they are ready to respond if needed, a review of emergency accommodation and rest centre locations has been carried out, and meetings and exercises have helped maintain our already very strong relationships with the police, ambulance, fire, and local partners such as Wembley Stadium.

Thankfully, incidents on the scale of Grenfell are rare. Outside of Brent’s support for the Grenfell response; the Civil Contingencies team dealt with 21 incidents in 2017; mostly domestic house fires, floods, or explosions, and a few localised issues such as power cuts, storms and burst water mains. The exception was the discovery of an unexploded bomb which required the (thankfully temporary) evacuation of a large number of households in the Brondesbury Park area, which tested officers and local ward councilors, both of whom rose to the occasion. While we all hope that the people of Brent are spared any major incident, they can feel reassured that a strong foundations are in place should the council be called upon to respond. And, we will continue to keep emergency response in the forefront of our minds and respond to many different situations.

For more information about Brent Council’s Emergency Preparedness Task Group Report, please visit www.brent.gov.uk/scrutiny

Picture1Cllr. Ketan Sheth is a Councillor for Tokyngton, Wembley in the London Borough of Brent. Ketan has been a councillor since 2010 and was appointed as Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee in May 2016. Before his current appointment in 2016, he was the Chair of Planning, of Standards, and of the Licensing Committees. Ketan is a lawyer by profession and sits on a number of public bodies, including as the Lead Governor of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.

Blog posts represent the views of the author(s) and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.





What can you expect from the INLOGOV MSc Executive Apprenticeship?

If your organisation has signed up to  INLOGOV MSc Apprenticeships, and has given you the option to apply, you might be wondering if the course is right for you.  This post gives you a brief summary of what to expect to help you decide.

By the way – if your organisation is not signed up then read this post about why it is worth talking to INLOGOV about our MSc Apprenticeships.

The benefits

This is a course than can help you in your work and in your career.

In work it will help you develop as a public service leader and give you new ways to think about the challenges you face.  You will get to meet INLOGOV staff who are involved in cutting edge research and build new connections with others on the course.

Your career will also benefit.  Once you complete the course you will gain a Masters Degree from a Russell Group University, a Level Seven apprenticeship and diploma from the Chartered Management Institute with the possibility of membership.

And, because the scheme is part of the apprenticeship levy, you do not have to pay fees.

Your employer also benefits.  The INLOGOV MSc Executive Apprenticeship is a great way to improve the workforce and to ensure that pressing organisational challenges can be met.

Time and commitment

The course takes two and a half years during which time you need to spend 20% of your contracted work time on the apprenticeship.  This covers both the taught and the work based elements.

The way you spend this time is flexible and can be agreed between you, your employer and INLOGOV.  However, this time must only be used to work towards the MSc Apprenticeship.

Studying for the apprenticeship

Some of your time will be spent on the taught element.  This includes six modules and a dissertation.  You can expect to spent around 8 days on the Birmingham University Campus and the rest of the time studying online at a times to suit you.

There are no exams.  You will be assessed on written assignments and on the dissertation.

The modules you will study are:

  • Public Management and Governance
  • Leadership in Public Services
  • Commercialisation of Public Services
  • Public Policy and Evidence
  • Performance, Strategy and Challenge
  • Digital Era Public Policy

Each module will be assessed in the same way:

  • Assignment 1, 1,000 word essay (30%)
  • Assignment 2, 3,000 word essay (70%)

You will also complete a 12,000 word dissertation. The topic of this project will be chosen with input from your employer.

The workplace element

During the two and half years of the course you will upload a portfolio evidence to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the apprenticeship standard.

In the final six months you will also complete a workplace project to look at a current organisational challenge that you have agreed with your employer.

The assessment for the work place element will consist of a professional discussion, looking at the portfolio of evidence,  and a project showcase for your work place project, held with an independent assessor.


Throughout your studies you will receive the same academic support as any other student studying with INLOGOV including access to the resources of the University of Birmingham.

INLOGOV will also provide a practice tutor to support you through the workplace elements of the apprenticeship.

At the beginning of the course you will meet with your practice tutor and someone representing your employer to agree responsibilities.


Once you get the go ahead from your employer you can start the application process.

To be eligible for the course you should have either a good first degree or be able to demonstrate sufficient work experience.

The application is done online and there is no formal interview required.

Further information

For more information about the course, including details of the MSc modules, visit the course website.

Talk to INLOGOV about your MSc Executive Apprenticeships


The MSc Public Management and Leadership Executive Apprenticeship is a new course that has been developed in partnership with SOLACE.  It’s being offered by INLOGOV from October 2018 and has been designed with the Apprenticeship Levy in mind.

Catherine Mangan, Director of INLOGOV, explains why it’s worth thinking about.

“Here at INLOGOV we have been working in partnership with local councils for over 50 years to provide training and learning that is tailored to meet the needs of local government.

We have evolved as you have evolved and we understand what matters to you and to your employees. The challenges of austerity and of working with the wider public sector, for example, are major themes in our research and in our courses.

If you have been working with us on our 21st Century Public Servant project, on commissioning, on commercialisation or on co-production (to name just a few), you will know that staying in touch with local government is part of what makes our research cutting edge.

Using the Apprenticeship Levy to Support Senior Leaders

If you are thinking about investing your apprenticeship funding in the development of your senior managers, then we would love to talk to you.

Whether you are integrating MSc Apprenticeships with your existing leadership programme or creating something new, we can work with you to deliver an MSc Executive Apprenticeship that helps you to attract, retain and develop talented staff and to:

  • Prepare the next generation of senior managers and leaders
  • Recruit the brightest and best into graduate entry posts
  • Invest in your current senior leaders

This course is a way for you to promote a learning culture in your organisation and, through carefully targetted workplace projects, the MSc Executive Apprenticeship will also give you extra capacity to address pressing organisational challenges.

For employees the MSc Executive Apprenticeship is a way to gain an internationally recognized masters degree from a Russell Group University and a professionally recognized qualification without having to pay fees.

About the Course

The core elements of the apprenticeship have been designed with the new Apprenticeship Levy in mind so that local authorities have the option to use their apprenticeship funding to develop their senior leaders.

The workplace elements can be tailored to ensure that the 20% of time that students spend ‘off-the-job’ provides the maximum added value while fitting flexibly around service delivery. Throughout the course students will have access to INLOGOV staff and resources to help ensure that both their academic and workplace studies are a success.

The programme, which typically takes two and a half years, involves a combination of in-work learning and University study.  Participants will be offered a tailored experience and the opportunity to study in the UK’s leading academic centre for local governance and public management.

The MSc element of the apprenticeship combines online course material with a small number of days of more traditional teaching. This gives students both the flexibility that comes with distance learning and the benefit of a campus experience where they get to mix with apprentices from other councils and international students doing our regular MSc in public management.

On successful completion of the Executive Apprenticeship, participants will have acquired the knowledge, skills and qualities necessary to become dynamic and effective leaders of public sector organisations and will be awarded an MSc in Public Management and Leadership from the University of Birmingham, a Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership, and Chartered Manager Status (subject to necessary experience) through the CMI.

You can find out more on the INLOGOV website here.


The Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) is the leading UK centre for the study of public service management, policy and governance. With over 50 years of experience working within local government and the public sector, the Institute of Local Government Studies creates the latest thinking for public servants.

INLOGOV is uniquely placed to offer the executive apprenticeship.  As a team, we combine expertise in local government, experience of working with local councils, excellence in teaching and we are a pioneer in offering an online Masters in Public Administration.

We also have a strong track record of co-designing postgraduate programmes with local authorities and public organisations, including delivering the training component of the National Graduate Development Programme in partnership with SOLACE, for the Local Government Association.

Our staff come from varied disciplinary backgrounds and regularly work with politicians, managers, communities and partner organisations to enhance practice through academic insight.  We are engaged in policy and management research, continuing professional and management development and consultancy for central government and other national and local agencies. We draw great strength from our close links with the world of practice in local government, the voluntary sector and other public service agencies, for example those of criminal justice.

We offer a range of postgraduate degrees, at Doctoral, Masters, diploma and certificate levels. We welcome applications for part-time study as well as full-time. Our applied research activity feeds directly into our programmes, so our participants are among the first to hear the latest research findings and to reflect on how new thinking might impact on future policy and practice.

If your organisation is interested in the MSc Executive Apprenticeship contact:

Stephen Jeffares S.R.Jeffares@bham.ac.uk or Louise Reardon L.H.Reardon@bham.ac.uk