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What Works? A Conversation with PTF co-founder and former PTF President Pierre Landell-Mills

Key Findings: Our experience underscores that governments will only be accountable if their citizens consistently and persistently demand accountability. Continuous organized citizen engagement is essential. Popular mass movements can change regimes, but constructive governance reform momentum is hard to sustain and that is why it is so vital to have organized citizen groups with a long-term perspective to keep the pressure on.

PTF: Pierre, congratulations on your book on PTF. You have said that PTF is “demand-driven, flexible, low profile, unbureaucratic and a risk-taker.” You have surveyed some 200 PTF projects and seen all these PTF attributes come together and so what are your general conclusions?

Landell-Mills:  Our experience underscores that governments will only be accountable if their citizens consistently and persistently demand accountability. Continuous organized citizen engagement is essential. Popular mass movements can change regimes, but constructive governance reform momentum is hard to sustain and that is why it is so vital to have organized citizen groups with a long-term perspective to keep the pressure on.

PTF:  So what are the critical guidelines for these citizen groups if they are to be most effective?

Landell-Mills: They have to have a tight focus that concentrates on clear and realistic objectives. They need to be modest and not strive to do more than what is practical. They should network with officials to try and gain support from “champions” within government who share their desires for reform – and in many of our projects we have found just these kinds of people. CSOs, rather than be confrontational, should therefore look for win-win situations through constructive engagement – they have to be persistent and so learn and adapt. Success indeed comes through aggregating a large number of small gains.

PTF:  Many of the projects that you have been involved with have been concerned with small to medium-sized communities – in such environments how are CSOs most effective in improving governance?

Landell-Mills:  The effective path is for CSOs to clearly identify the specific concerns that the community has with corruption and poor governance and then use this information to raise the awareness of citizens of their rights. The next step is to work with the community groups to raise awareness, agree on approaches, tools to use, tactical issues such as sequencing actions, timing events, mobilizing the media. It is also important to reach out to and co-opt other key stakeholders. The CSO leaders act as mentors as the process moves ahead.

PTF: Often we see CSOs that give the impression that they have done their work by raising awareness?

Landell-Mills: yes, that it is essential but not sufficient. Projects have to be developed that have a chance of producing tangible results. Passing laws is not enough, for example; you have to ensure there are sufficient pressures to secure implementation and enforcement. Candidly, a single initiative in a community will often not get you very far. Persistence is vital – it calls for following up on projects, building on successes so as to have a sustainable impact. There is no unique formula – CSOs working with concerned citizens in communities have to keep on learning and refining their approaches to attain their goals.

PTF: Thank you Pierre and congratulations on: Citizens Against Corruption -A Report from the Front Line (press release).