Monitoring Civic Engagement in Development Aid

ARC supports efforts by CSOs in the global South to hold the World Bank and other development aid institutions accountable for their commitments to civic engagement. Since 2017, ARC has researched trends in World Bank reforms, supported civil society partners monitoring development projects, and complemented the oversight efforts of watchdog CSOs.


The World Bank has made high-level commitments to include citizen engagement mechanisms in all investment projects The 2018 Environmental and Social Framework requires World Bank investment projects to develop and follow through on stakeholder assessment plans. Regional development banks  have also publicized commitments to civic engagement, such as the Inter-American Development Bank’s civil society engagement strategy (2018) and the Asian Development Bank’s indicator assessing civil society engagement (2020). The way that aid institutions fulfil such commitments impacts on whether development projects meet the needs of those they are meant to serve.

ARC’s work on monitoring and learning from civic engagement in development aid initially focused on the World Bank but has expanded to other aid institutions. Since 2017, ARC has combined: sustained policy dialogue with World Bank decisionmakers; civil society coalition-building; technical accompaniment for CSO-led monitoring of World Bank-funded projects; research to inform the advocacy objectives of our partners; and building alliances with champions of civic engagement within the World Bank. The evolution and growth of our strategic approach has enabled civic actors to hold this powerful institution accountable.

Featured publications

Civic Space: The Missing Element in the World Bank’s Country Engagement Approach—an October 2022 briefing paper co-authored by Rachel Nadelman, the Bank Information Center and Oxfam—makes the case for the World Bank to more systematically incorporate civic space analysis when developing country strategies. The report has spurred World Bank-civil society dialogue and was featured during the 2022 Civil Society Policy Forum at the World Bank Annual Meetings.

how to world bank projects commit to citizen engagement cover


Rachel Nadelman’s March 2020 Institute of Development Studies Policy Briefing How Do World Bank Projects Commit to Citizen Engagement? summarizes ARC’s early research on World Bank citizen engagement.

More About ARC’s Evolving Work

1. Facilitating sustained policy dialogue

ARC facilitates a working group that brings together World Bank staff and CSOs to address institutional transparency on stakeholder and civic engagement in projects. Facilitated by ARC since 2018, the working group has transitioned from ad-hoc meetings on subjects selected by Bank staff to a sustained, co-designed dialogue that tackles priority and sometimes contentious sustainable development concerns. ARC’s role as a university-based action research center has allowed it to facilitate discussion of sensitive issues among members with diverse perspectives and agendas. Subjects have included: how to maintain meaningful engagement when closing civic space means it leads to reprisals and retaliations; assessing the useability and impact of project-based grievance redress mechanisms; and blind spots in the Bank’s fulfilment of its access to information commitments.

The working group prioritizes meaningful and consistent inclusion of stakeholders from the global South, at the same time as leveraging its good standing and consistent institutional access to move beyond dialogue and deliver on tangible advocacy goals.

Civil society members of the joint working group include: Accountability Counsel, Accountability Lab, Arab Watch Coalition, Bank Information Center, Defenders in Development, Freedom House, Kwantu, Nomo Gaia, Oxfam International, Partnership for Transparency, and Transparency & Accountability Initiative.

2. Collaborative CSO monitoring and advocacy for institutional change

ARC supports Southern CSOs to independently monitor World Bank project implementation, including the fulfillment of citizen engagement commitments. ARC provides accompaniment and technical support for partners to carry out monitoring and use the findings. This collaborative effort has sought to create positive change at the project level, support partners to engage effectively with government, and bring Southern-led experience to influence high-level learning and policy dialogue.

Past and present civil society collaborators monitoring World Bank citizen engagement in the global South include:

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) interviewing Ugandan Health Ministry staff as part of joint ARC-AFIC World Bank citizen engagement project monitoring. Photo Credit: Ruth Namara, AFIC

3. Independent action research on World Bank trends

ARC pursues in-depth, independent research on institutional and project-based World Bank processes intended to support citizen engagement. This research aims to contribute to the knowledge base that will strengthen partners and networks.  Highlights include investigations on: whether and how the Bank fulfils its commitments to citizen engagement in practice, the incentives and constraints facing Bank staff charged with community engagement, and whether outlier World Bank projects contributed to enabling environments for civic engagement.

For a full list of ARC’s publications in this area, see related resources below.

4. The Sandra N. Smithey Fellowship for Equity and Accountability in International Development

In April 2023 ARC will launch a new fellowship program, sponsored by the C.S. Mott Foundation and the Wallace Global Fund. The Sandra N. Smithey Fellowship for Equity and Accountability in International Development will support frontline advocates, organizers, and leaders from the global South, including those in the development aid watchdog community. Fellows will be awarded time and resources to reflect on their experiences and share the lessons they have learned.  More details will be available soon.


ARC policy advisor Rachel Nadelman leads our work on development finance and civic engagement, co-convening the ongoing World Bank-civil society dialogue, providing strategic support to our collaborators, and as the principal investigator on a several pieces of research. In Colombia, ARC researchers Mariana Cepeda and Helmer Quiñones lead on monitoring citizen engagement and accountability in multilateral development bank projects in Afro-descendent communities that are historically marginalized and underserved. In the Philippines, ARC researcher and G-Watch convenor-director Joy Aceron leads and provides strategic support to community partners monitoring Philippine government social programs financed by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. ARC director Jonathan Fox and research professor Naomi Hossain provide additional support. ARC senior researcher Judy Gearhart’s work makes the link between workers’ rights and development finance in the cocoa and fishing industries. Scholar-in-residence Suchi Pande’s longstanding action research and advocacy on grievance redress mechanisms encompasses those utilized by the World Bank.

Sponsors have included UK Aid (through the Action for Empowerment and Accountability research program), the Open Society Foundations, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Wallace Global Fund.

Related Resources

International Aid Actions for Accountability: Identifying Interaction Effects Between Programmes, journal article, Development Policy Review, (Rachel Nadelman, Rosie McGee, Ayesha Khan, Euclides Gonçalves, Jonathan Fox, Richard Burge, Fatai A. Aremu, Colin Anderson, 2022)

Shrinking Civic Space: How Can the World Bank Respond?, blog, Oxfam International (Rachel Nadelman, Christian Donaldson, and Katelyn Gallagher, October 2022)

Civic Space and Reprisals Risks: Missing Elements in the Assessment of Development Projects, panel at World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings Civil Society Policy Forum (moderator: Rachel Vernon; panelists: Rachel Nadelman, Ruslan Myatiev, Maninder S. Gill, October 2022)

Civic Space: The Missing Element in the World Bank’s Country Engagement Approach, Oxfam Briefing Paper (Christian Donaldson, Katelyn Gallagher, and Rachel Nadelman, 2022)

Grievance Redress Mechanisms in the Public Sector: A Literature Review, background paper for The Skeptics Guide to Open Government, Open Government Partnership (Suchi Pande and Naomi Hossain, 2022)

El control social en Colombia: Un balance sobre las veedurías ciudadanas, Accountability Working Paper, ARC (Mariana Cepeda, 2022)

Participatory Oversight Institutions, webpage, ARC (2022)

Indigenous Rights, Safeguards, and Conflict Resolution: Successes, Failures and Lessons from Three World Bank Projects, World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings Civil Society Policy Forum (moderator: Rachel Nadelman; panelists: Mario Paniagua, Roberto Espinoza, Carolina Juaneda, Gabriel Quijandría, Kennan Papp, Dianna Pizarro, Angela Caballero Espinoza, April 2022)

How Can the World Bank Reduce Child Labor and Farmer Poverty with its Proposed Côte d’Ivoire Cocoa Project? blog, Bank Information Center (Sofia Dinn with Judy Gearhart, 2021)

Environmental and Social Framework Implementation in Latin America, panel at World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings Civil Society Policy Forum (moderator: Rachel Nadelman; panelists: Laura Montaño, Carolina Juaneda, Marivero del Mastro, Sofia Abreu Ferrerira, October 2021)

The World Bank Has Made High-level Commitments to Engaging Citizens—So Why is it Proving So Hard to Implement?, blog, LinkedIn (Naomi Hossain and Rachel Nadelman, 2021)

How Do World Bank Staff Perceive the Institutional Environment for Building Citizen Engagement into Projects?, Accountability Working Paper, ARC (Rachel Nadelman, 2021)

Citizen Engagement in Practice: Lessons From the Independent Monitoring of Citizen Engagement Implementation in World Bank-Funded Projects in Ghana, Malawi and Uganda,  panel at World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings Civil Society Policy Forum (moderator: Rachel Nadelman; panelists: Beauty Emefa Narteh, Michael Kaiyatsa, Gilbert Sendugwa, Erik Caldwell Johnson, April 2021)

U.S. Foreign Assistance Portals are Inadequate to Assess Reform on Locally Led Development, blog, American University Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (Katerina Parsons, December 2021)


How Do World Bank Projects Commit to Citizen Engagement?, Policy Briefing, Institute of Development Studies (Rachel Nadelman, 2020)

¿Cómo se comprometen los proyectos del Banco Mundial con la participación ciudadana? Policy Briefing, Institute of Development Studies (Rachel Nadelman, 2020)

Contested Terrain: International Development Projects and Countervailing Power for the Excluded, article, World Development (Jonathan Fox, 2020)

How Does the World Bank Build Citizen Engagement Commitments into Project Design? Results from Pilot Assessments in Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Pakistan, IDS Working Paper, Institute of Development Studies (Rachel Nadelman, Ha Le, and Anjali Sah 2019)

Citizen Engagement: An Independent Review of the World Bank’s Commitments in Design and Practice in Myanmar, report, ARC (Rachel Nadelman, Anjali Shah, Wunna Htun and Ha Le 2019)

Citizen Engagement: An Independent Review of the World Bank’s Commitments in Pakistan, report, ARC (Anjali Shah and Rachel Nadelman 2019)

Citizen Engagement: An Independent Review of the World Bank’s Commitments in Mozambique, report, ARC (Ha Le, Rachel Nadelman, Anjali Sah, and Ian Evans 2019)

Citizen Engagement: An Independent Review of the World Bank’s Commitments in Nigeria, report, ARC (Rachel Nadelman, Ha Le and Anjali Sah 2019)

World Bank Citizen Engagement Assessment Tool (WB-CEAT) Version 4.0 (2019)