For and By the People: USAID's Work on Local Governance

The 2010-14 SDLG program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, implemented by Tetra Tech ARD, consulting by HDI, was designed to promote decentralization and improve capacity of local governments in Bangladesh. Objectives are:

  1. Expand the roles and authorities of local governments (achieved through closed-door policy dialogs or CDPDs and not covered in this case-study)
  2. Enhance citizen participation in local government activities including, partaking in planning meetings, discussion of development projects, helping in revenue collection activities and participating in standing committee and Citizens in Governance (CiG) forums (to improve financial and decision-making transparency and accountability of local government offices)
  3. Strengthen and expand capacity of Local Government Associations (LGAs) by developing database, networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities between different local government constituencies (not covered in this case)
  4. Ensure better media reporting through orientation and capacity building of local media professionals to facilitate greater coverage of local government activities on local and regional media outlets (not covered in this case)
  5. Work with LGAs and media involved capacity building, marketing platform design and activities. Therefore, this social marketing case-study concentrates on objective-2, which was the major behavior-change thrust area


SDLG used a baseline, a knowledge-attitude-practice (formative) study for insights and an end of project evaluation survey. In fact, the combination of interventions (e.g. establishing citizen forums, creating association opportunities for local government officials and training media professionals to increase coverage) was developed on the basis of consultation meetings with community members. 

In addition to information collected through a 2011 baseline survey and 2013-14 endline survey, the communications campaign was developed on the basis of qualitative evidence from audience research. For example, it was found that in 85% of targeted households didn’t know of the existence of laws mandating meetings / committee structures – which were therefore largely missing the voices of women and the most poor. This is why, emphasis was put on youth and women while targeting for the project and getting them to participate. The campaign was constructed from the seminal understanding that a power imbalance existed between citizens and officials. Thus, the CiG was born, to formalize and legitimize an alternative citizen body that could act as a counterbalance and a watchdog.

Key Insights

Most citizens hold a deep-set view of the government as some sort of a feudal authority instated to rule over them. Local governance -- as a process involving elected officials, citizens, media and other interest groups -- was not understood by most community members interviewed.

Youth segments did not see the necessity of contributing to make the government work properly. Many opined that it was a ‘money-game’ and their only incentive to join was financial gains. Women leaders and (potential) CiG members felt ignored by male members of the community. ‘What can we add that they (males) haven’t already said?’ asked one woman in Sirajganj, reflecting a pervasive attitude.


The SDLG campaign marketed an idea: ‘government is a process and you can take part in it’. In turn, it offered a chance to shape and influence communities’ development and inhabitants’ wellbeing. This is a shift away from the traditional perception of local governments as viceroys of a central monarchy. SDLG aimed to build awareness about the value of participation in local government so that citizens will demand more transparency & accountability and help prioritize development projects. At the same time, capacity building supports the supply of quality services from local government entities and the LGAs, with the media reinforcing the message with expanded local coverage. Systems of collaboration between citizens and governments paved the path for growth of self-generated revenues.

In terms of services and/or systems, setting up of platforms like CiG forums, Local Government Associations (for knowledge-sharing), radio-shows (for women leaders) and eye-witness reports for young, amateur journalists created avenues for such participation. Strengthening existing legal provisions like Standing Committee meetings, open budget and planning meetings actually put citizen feedback to work.

The product at hand is an idea: citizen participation in local government brings tangible benefits for the community. The idea’s tangible components were CiG and standing committee meetings, revenue collection drives, planning & budgeting meetings, project site visits and discussions on the citizen charter. As a social marketing project, SDLG provided these platforms / opportunities for free. It also provided communication platforms like ‘Women’s Hour’ (radio variety show hosting women members and leaders) or Eye-Witness Reports (video clips on local development and governance, shot by young activists). In both cases, participants were encouraged to find corporate sponsors for continuing their activities once SDLG concluded.

For promotions, TV and radio advertisements were used in conjunction with billboards, tin-boards (see annex), posters, citizen charters, booklets, guides etc. Interactive folk drama and high profile visits (e.g. by the US Ambassador) was used to pique interest and deliver a strong message. Additionally, digital and social media training was targeted at youth to enable them to document and produce reports on local development and governance.

Moreover, much of the media content generated by SDLG was also co-created with citizens. The first instance is that of young students / activists who were given a basic training on computers, social-media (Facebook) and hand-held camera operation. They were asked to film development projects, revenue collection efforts, public structures needing repairs etc. and produce their own ‘eye-witness reports’. These were then uploaded to SDLG website, Facebook page, participants’ social networks – serving the dual purpose of fostering a watchdog role and instilling a sense of ownership in local development.

The SDLG radio program for women leaders was also partially co-created. Unitrend produced 4-episodes with help from local trainees, who then took over the task of completing the rest. Local women leaders came to share their experience and encourage girls to enter the local government. One national FM and five community-radio stations broadcast the shows. Likewise PR coverage on local newspapers, instead of being supplied from corporate headquarters, was developed by local journalists, with basic guidance from SDLG. This improved their commitment to the issue and drove up chances of follow-up stories.



Outcomes from the SDLG project were measured through the Performance Monitoring Plan (PMP) and the endline survey of 2013-14. Highlights are as follows:

·       500 out of 500 (100%) CiG forums set up in the 22 districts (PMP)

·       Overall citizen awareness of participatory planning and open budget meeting went up 25% (endline)

·       Incidence of citizen participation in participatory planning and open budget meetings reached 97 and 99 percent respectively (at baseline, 85% households had not heard of these meetings) (endline)

·       Citizen satisfaction with local elected council chair increased by 20% (endline)

·       Citizens conviction that their input and feedback was considered in the local government decision-making process crested to near 100% in both unions and municipalities (PMP)

·       23%  increase in citizens who think their local government manages funds with transparency and accountability (endline)

·       Average 62% increase in local revenue generation across unions and municipalities (PMP)


Our work with SDLG reinforced the notion that social marketing must be led by a strong, relevant consumer insight that pertains to ‘what audiences want’. Insights – seldom spelled out during focus groups – should be ideally developed in the field.


People respond when they’re given what they want, not what development-agencies want to give. Program benefits must not be shoved down like bitter pills. Rather, they should be delivered how medicine is administered to children – coated in sugar (i.e. something the recipient wants). Plain descriptions of functional benefits – if not linked to a higher dream / ambition /fear – can fail to change behavior.


‘Good governance’ was found to be an inadequate motivator during our work on SDLG. Likewise, ‘environment’, ‘social protection’ and ‘human rights’ are likely to be poor incentives for behavior change in a country like Bangladesh. ‘Promise of status / respect’, however, may be a potent force.


Community mobilization activities have high-impact and recall, when compared to mass media messages. In social marketing, there is no real substitute for audience interaction. It facilitates community co-creation and positions co-creation as lucrative opportunity.  

It is time to start developing qualitative indicators for behavior change communications – because, by definition, behavior won’t be amicable to quantification. For example, there have been lively discussions by female members at CiG forums, who had traditionally kept silent in front of men. This signified real change. However, this was not captured in the data – meaning SDLG couldn’t claim a significant achievement.


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