Citizen Engagement


World Bank Board members and advisors speaking with beneficiaries of a social accountability program in Cambodia.

Erik Caldwell Johnson/World Bank


Citizens play a critical role in advocating and helping to make public institutions more transparent, accountable and effective, and contributing innovative solutions to complex development challenges.

Growing evidence confirms that under the right conditions, citizen engagement can help governments achieve improved development results in creating links between citizen engagement and improved public service delivery, public financial management, governance, social inclusion and empowerment.

Evidence also shows, however, that the outcomes of citizen engagement are highly context specific and sensitive to government and citizens’ capacity and willingness to engage. Effective engagement is also affected by social, political, economic, environmental, cultural, geographic and other factors, such as gender dynamics.

Engaging citizens is especially important during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, as effectiveness of response efforts can often hinge on behavior change at the micro-level. Informing and receiving feedback from citizens in real time can provide insight into how the crisis is affecting communities and enable real-time course correction in fast evolving situations, as well as post-crisis. 


The World Bank Group (WBG) is committed to becoming a better listener and accelerating progress in the fight to end poverty and boost shared prosperity in a sustainable and inclusive manner. Engaging citizens and mobilizing communities in the process can help bring greater transparency, accountability, and social inclusion, thus improving development results.

The Strategic Framework for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in WBG Operations was developed in 2014 to more systematically mainstream citizen engagement in WBG-supported operations. The Strategic Framework defines citizen engagement as the two-way interaction between citizens and governments or the private sector within the scope of WBG interventions. This approach gives citizens a stake in decision-making in order to improve intermediate and final development outcomes.

The approach to mainstreaming citizen engagement in WBG-supported operations is guided by five principles:

  • it is results-focused
  • involves engaging throughout the operational cycle
  • seeks to strengthen country systems
  • is context-specific
  • is gradual

The Strategic Framework builds on the WBG’s experience in multi-stakeholder engagement, citizen participation, and open and inclusive governance, as well as experiences from citizen engagement efforts around the world. The Framework assesses lessons learned, and outlines methods and entry points to provide a more systematic and results-focused approach for the WBG.

In practical terms, the World Bank’s citizen engagement commitment means that all Investment Project Financing (IPF) operations financed with IBRD loans or IDA credits must meet three requirements:

  • Project design must be citizen-oriented, i.e., having at least one mechanism to engage with beneficiaries in the specific context of the project.
  • Projects’ results frameworks must include at least one beneficiary feedback indicator to monitor citizen engagement throughout project implementation.  
  • Projects must report on the beneficiary feedback indicator(s) by the third year of implementation.

Beneficiary feedback indicators can measure, for example:

  • How grievance redress mechanisms are contributing to the project, either through the percentage of grievances received and have been addressed within a specified timeframe, or through the periodic publication of reports on grievance redress mechanisms and how issues were resolved.
  • If consultation outcomes and beneficiary feedback are being integrated during project implementation, through the percentage of beneficiaries who feel that project investments reflect their needs, or beneficiaries’ satisfaction with specified project dimensions.
  • Beneficiary collaboration in project decision making, implementation or monitoring, through the number of citizens and/or communities involved in planning, implementation and/or evaluation of project activities; community contributions to the total project cost; beneficiaries’ satisfaction with the collaboration process; the establishment of arrangements for community engagement in post-projects sustainability and/or operations; or the publication of findings of citizen-led monitoring.

The World Bank’s Citizen Engagement and Social Accountability Global Solutions Group (CESA GSG), within the Social Sustainability and Inclusion Global Practice (SSI GP) oversees the implementation of the Strategic Framework, supported by a network of citizen engagement focal points in each region and GP.

In 2018, the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group conducted an evaluation of the results of the Strategic Framework. The evaluation found that the WBG succeeded in generating awareness and buy-in of the citizen engagement agenda among senior management and staff, who agreed that citizen engagement is a responsibility of the institution and a useful strategy to strengthen accountability in service delivery, mitigate risks, and anticipate problems. This change in mindset, whereby the value of engaging citizens is now encouraged across the WBG’s work, is considered a major achievement.


The World Bank monitors and reports on its efforts to achieve its citizen engagement targets on a quarterly basis for projects approved since July 2015.

To date, the following progress has been made:

  • Citizen-oriented design. 99% of our investment project financing approved in Fiscal Year 2020 had a citizen-oriented design. This represents significant progress from the baseline of 60% in Fiscal Year 2014. Citizen engagement mechanisms included in project design refer to, for example, grievance redress mechanisms that enable beneficiaries to present complaints about project activities, consultations and satisfaction surveys throughout project implementation, participatory planning and monitoring (including social audits and community scorecards), and community-driven approaches.
  • Beneficiary feedback indicator in the results framework. 99 percent of our investment project financing approved in FY20 included a beneficiary feedback indicator in the results framework, compared to the baseline of 27 percent in FY14 and 94 percent in FY19. The reporting for 2020 does not, however, include 77 emergency health projects that were processed on an expedited basis and were, therefore, exempted from inclusion in the corporate reporting on the indicator.
  • Reporting on beneficiary feedback indicators by the third year of implementation. 62 percent of our investment project financing projects approved in FY17 reported on beneficiary feedback indicators by their third year of implementation, compared to the baseline of 20 percent of projects approved in FY14 that reported by their third year of implementation. About 80% of projects approved in 2016 have reported and 46 percent of projects approved in 2015 have reported.

Strengthening country systems

Beyond the focus on investment operations, the Bank also aims to strengthen country systems for engaging with citizens. The scope of such support needs to be agreed upon with client governments, and it varies by type of operation.

For example, a Development Policy Financing (DPF) can facilitate the adoption of national legislation on participatory budgeting or procurement monitoring, while an Investment Project Financing operation can contribute to building effective feedback and recourse mechanisms to improve service delivery in specific sectors, or empower citizens at the local level to participate in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of development interventions.

The WBG is also integrating citizen engagement in Country Partnership Frameworks. Several countries have adopted Citizen Engagement Roadmaps, for example, that set country-level objectives and priority actions on citizen engagement. These instruments are context-specific and allow the tailoring of citizen engagement goals to countries’ constraints and opportunities.


In preparation of the Strategic Framework, an Expert Advisory Council (EAC) was formed to guide its development and implementation. The EAC continues to meet in order to provide feedback to the Bank as to whether citizen engagement activities are being effectively implemented and to advise on ways to strengthen implementation. The members of the Council – experts from civil society, academia, government, private sector, foundations, and development partners – were selected based on their knowledge, experience, and ability to represent a range of global and country perspectives.

CSOs are key actors and the Bank has historically benefited from different types of partnerships with them, engaging them operationally to improve development outcomes, and eliciting their input into Bank policies and programs. An important channel for engaging CSOs is the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), established by the WBG Board in 2012. The GPSA aims to expand opportunities for civil society organizations to work together with their governments to solve governance problems, especially in the delivery of services, and to improve development outcomes using social accountability mechanisms including citizen feedback. Some 54 countries have opted into the GPSA, which has supported over 32 operations in 40 countries. It provides grants to CSOs and supports them with capacity-building support, along with monitoring and evaluation, knowledge sharing and learning. The GPSA’s Global Knowledge Platform is a repository of diverse knowledge resources for social accountability practice, and a source of knowledge sharing and joint learning as well as practitioner networking. Building on its experience of the past eight years, the GPSA is leveraging the lessons learned to support coalitions of CSOs to provide tailored responses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Updated: Mar 19, 2021