The work of parliament and parliamentarians is changing within most nations: they grow stronger as many countries develop better structures and processes but weaker in the sense that many citizens become more disillusioned with their political leaders. An engaged democracy is essential for the most overarching social and economic development goals and especially those concerned with poverty reduction and challenging inequalities. It is generally agreed that two keys to progress in social and economic development are: (a) an effective parliament with a strong opposition and (b) active public political participation. And yet in Ethiopia and Bangladesh progress has been made on poverty reduction even though parliamentary scrutiny remains weak.
While political anthropology has greatly enhanced our understanding of how the state is embedded in society, this research will more specifically explore the relationship between parliament, parliamentarians and individuals and groups within the public, posing the overarching question: what makes MPs effective, what roles do they play in poverty reduction and the promoting of equality, how do we measure it and who decides? The goal is to explore the extent to which poverty reduction depends on an effective parliament with MPs engaging with the public. The objectives will be:
1. To undertake a mapping of relationships between parliamentarians and members of the public involved in poverty reduction initiatives within Bangladesh and Ethiopia.
2. To explore the extent and effectiveness of public engagement by parliamentarians in poverty reduction through two case studies:
(a) poverty-related policy-making and law-making,
3. To assess from the perspectives of various stakeholders the role of parliament and parliamentarians in poverty reduction.
4. To facilitate the development of researchers' capacity in three countries to measure parliamentary effectiveness.
5. To disseminate findings and recommendations about parliamentary effectiveness in South Asia, Eastern Africa, the UK and globally.
Through mainly qualitative methods of mapping, interviews and observation, using anthropological, gender and actor-oriented approaches, a network of researchers in three countries will provide a unique dataset on relationships at the heart of democratic institutions.
This research is a collaboration between SOAS, Hansard Society and researchers in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. SOAS/Hansard Society will support in-country researchers to carry out this research and disseminate findings widely in their regions and beyond. Our selection of Bangladesh and Ethiopia is based partly on high levels of poverty and inequality, economic and social development being key national objectives for both countries, the key bilateral aid partnerships between Britain and these two countries, and our own experience of both locations. Both countries share a determination and some success in reducing poverty, but weak oppositions within their parliaments, poor representation of women, and narrow engagement between parliamentarians and the public. What are the prospects for democracy in these countries? What does 'good governance' mean from different perspectives and to what extent is it a critical factor in reducing poverty? How can the representation of poor people's interests be improved?
We will produce rigorous research and high quality outputs that are tailored to their audience and influence a wide range of stakeholders through extensive follow-up. The findings will be published in research reports, Good Research Guide, journal articles, blogs, and a monograph on parliament. Dissemination will also be achieved via our extensive network of national and international stakeholders contacts; local, regional and international media; online and through social networks; and through workshops in each of the countries, with a final project dissemination conference and series of meetings.
This project will:
(a) enhance the theoretical understanding of how and why public engagement by parliament and parliamentarians affects the progress of poverty reduction and promotion of equality (objectives 1-3);
(b) develop research capacity on anthropology, governance and parliamentary studies within Bangladesh and Ethiopia (objective 4);
(c) enable development policy-makers, parliamentarians, parliamentary officials and civil society organisations in South Asia, Eastern Africa and the UK to promote more effective parliamentary public engagement (objective 5).
We will hold a series of workshops throughout the project in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the UK to ground the project in the local context, engage with local stakeholders, and facilitate deeper insight into the issues and findings as the project progresses. These workshops will involve MPs, parliamentary and government officials, research and civil society organisations. The project will conclude with a conference and meetings in London to disseminate the findings to UK and international stakeholders in the policy-making sphere and facilitate discussion about their implications for future policy development.
Our findings will be disseminated through journal articles (Parliamentary Affairs, the Journal for International Development and Development in Practice), research papers, and conference contributions, and a final monograph. We will form a learning and dissemination link with the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre. Utilising an on-line project blog, electronic newsletter and social media (Twitter, Facebook) we will disseminate the findings on an on-going basis to our extensive international network of research colleagues in the fields of anthropology, development and parliamentary studies as well as governance specialists in aid agencies.
In addition to national stakeholders and policy-makers, we will also ensure dissemination to practitioners and campaigners working in bilateral donor agencies (especially FCO, DFID and USAID), civil society and parliamentary monitoring organisations (as examples, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly), as well as multilateral agencies (such as the World Bank Institute, UNDP Governance and Parliamentary Development offices, and UN Women). A Good Research Practice Guide will be developed so that other researchers might be encouraged to utilise the research model (particularly the mapping, observation and interviewing of MPs, ethnographic fieldwork tools and gender analysis) and thereby extend the research in their own areas/countries, thus broadening the long-term impact and potential comparative reach of the research in the future.
Finally, we propose to target a range of outputs at local, regional and international media. We intend to approach the BBC, with whom the Hansard Society has excellent links, with a view to developing a radio programme for the BBC World Service in order to disseminate the findings to the broadest possible audience in the case-study countries and internationally. We are confident of our capacity to deliver this extensive impact plan because of our previous record of work in this area and the unique added value created by the combining of our individual reputations and contacts. The PI has a track record of achieving impact; for example by being among the first cadre of ethnographers of development organisations (1998) and by introducing anthropology to the study of parliament (2005). Her twenty-five years of experience in research extends to development, evaluation, inequality, gender and parliament in East Africa, South Asia and the UK. An independent, non-partisan political research and education charity, the Hansard Society has a long record of work on parliamentary reform, and is an international leader in research and innovation around parliamentary public engagement strategies.