Scaling Up Digital Citizen Engagement

Key Contact
Aly Zulficar Rahim
Start Date
End Date
Funding Amount
$ 70,000
Knowledge-providing Countries


The World Bank Group (WBG) aims to integrate Citizen Engagement (CE) systematically into its operations, particularly emphasizing inclusion and empowerment of citizen participation. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its impact on traditional CE mechanisms, prompted a strategic shift towards leveraging digital tools for transparent, inclusive, and accessible CE. The Citizen Engagement and Social Accountability Global Solutions Group (CESA GSG) at the Social Sustainability and Inclusion Global Practice (SSI GP) implemented a "lego approach," creating modular software components for cost-effective digital tools. The focus included a digital grievance mechanism, social audit, and community scorecard. The initiative involved operationalizing digital CE strategy, conducting country pilots, establishing a "South-South digital CE data collective," and providing guidance on data protection. Key deliverables comprised technical advice, country pilot expansion, and a data collective, aligning with WBG priorities like the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) and progress in GovTech and CivicTech. Lessons learned emphasized customization options, co-creation with CSOs, comprehensive support, and the pivotal interface between CivicTech and GovTech. The final report detailed findings from country projects, including successes and challenges, highlighting the importance of open government data and addressing the dependency on GovTech for effective digital CE initiatives.


While many developing countries strive to work in the digital economy for sustainable and inclusive growth, there are still many regions where the digital divide remains wide and where the incorrect application of technology could actually mute the very voices we hope to amplify. Issues of privacy, anonymity, and online safety continue to grow as quickly as solutions to them are developed. Further, the deployment and sustained use of these technologies can be challenging and complex. However, the promise of technology to help people be heard, to give citizens agency in their countries, to help governments and the policy community better understand regional, national, and global problems is tremendous. The growing access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing countries has accelerated the urgency to integrate digital tools into participatory processes, thus ensuring they are scalable, sustainable, inclusive, and cost-effective.

Digital Citizen Engagement (Digital CE) seeks to digitize the most common mechanisms and tools for citizen engagement so that project teams across the global practice can re-purpose them for local uses. Recently the potential of Digital CE has been tapped into at a much larger scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as traditional ways for citizen engagement were not feasible in the context of quarantine and social-distancing. CE tools and mechanisms through digital platforms can facilitate inclusive, transparent, and active citizen engagement with much greater accessibility. WBG’s Strategic Framework for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group Operations addresses the impact of technology on CE, underlining that growing access to information and communication technologies in developing countries holds the potential to make participatory processes more transparent, inclusive, scalable, and cost-effective, and that ICT can play an important role in CE as a means to support scalable, sustainable, inclusive, and cost-effective participatory processes. Still, more work needs to be done to clearly identify the constraints and opportunities for digital technologies, and handhold client governments to pilot and scale up digital CE that enable meaningful “two-way interactions” between citizens and governments and thereby improve development impact.


To this end and to employ a systematic approach for digital CE, CESA GSG identified the next steps for strengthening digital approaches and tools for CE in Bank projects through the “lego approach” from the recent World Bank Report Amplifying People's Voices – Opportunities for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement Through Digital Technology. The report suggests the “lego approach,” or the deliberate creation of software components—code, interface designs, data schema, and back-end functions—in a modular fashion so that individual components, groups of components, or entire applications can be readily re-purposed by other project teams. Through basic software development discipline and WB guiding principles, this approach can accelerate the creation of cost-effective digital tools. The CESA GSG implemented the South-South learning collaboration and data collective, focusing on three key tools—digital grievance mechanism (digital GM), social audit, and community scorecard. 

Key activities included:

  • Operationalizing the strategy for digital CE following the “lego approach” focusing on three key tools: digital GM, social audit, and community scorecard.
  • Conducting country pilots to test applications, gather feedback for understanding implementation models and diverse needs, and offer recommendations for a sustainable model aligning with global challenges and World Bank priorities.
  • Assisting in establishing the "South-South digital CE data collective" for tool development and knowledge-sharing.
  • Providing guidance on data protection, governance, and safeguarding.
  • Establishing a shared data architecture with definitions and taxonomies across applications, supporting decision-making on protocols or platforms for the data architecture.

Lessons Learned

The "lego approach" aims to create a digital public good for CE that minimizes the challenges of developing and maintaining digital initiatives. Users' diverse needs can be addressed through three different approaches: customization, configuration, and custom development.


  • Refers to changes administrators can make to a standard template app.
  • Examples include renaming the app, selecting language and country, adjusting roles and permissions, adding new forms, and creating reports and dashboards.
  • Changes are easily packaged with each app, maintaining data standards while offering flexibility to users.


  • Involves actions by configurators when creating a new app or modifying an existing one.
  • Results in either an entirely new app or a new version of an existing app.
  • Configurators can create or modify forms, update workflows, add pages, structure the app, develop core reports and dashboards, and utilize AI capabilities or communication channels.
  • Changes fundamentally alter app functionality, requiring careful testing and validation but offering flexibility within an existing codebase.

Custom Development:

  • Involves software developers creating or modifying apps using any code library.
  • Common data standards provided by the Lego Approach ensure interoperability.
  • APIs are available for access to AI services and communication channels, saving time, money, and ensuring greater interoperability among different apps.

While many customization options are currently available, further efforts are needed to streamline the customization process, providing enhanced ease of use. Additionally, providing comprehensive documentation and training guidance is crucial to support users in utilizing these customization features effectively. Co-creating apps with like-minded CSOs is also recommendable since it can enhance adoption and sustainability, and expertise can be crowdsourced. To facilitate the adoption and use of apps, it is essential to provide a comprehensive support package including: Data protection guidance, user guidance, user training, admin guidance, admin training, support, custom training, hosting, and server installation and set-up guidance and training. It is recommended that there be a dedicated entity responsible for managing these aspects, encompassing the development and maintenance of guidance and training materials. This entity would also be responsible for providing ongoing support and training to users, ensuring the effective implementation and utilization of the apps.

Finally, a recurring theme in the lessons learned is the interplay and interdependency between GovTech (government technology) and CivicTech (citizen technology). A recommendation is made for the CESA data collective to conduct an analysis, focusing on specific sectors, to identify core data sets crucial for open government data. Additionally, the analysis should consider key touch points for CE linking to the service delivery process. This will help assess GovTech maturity and identify areas requiring further investment to address this dependency. Furthermore, CESA apps like the Community Score Card (CSC), Social Accountability (SA), and Grievance Redress Mechanism (GRM) should include the option to import lists of facilities or projects, facilitating easier linkage between citizen data and government data.

World Bank Contribution

The World Bank provided thought leadership and technical guidance on the data architecture creation and on prototype application development. The World Bank team directly worked on organizing the various knowledge-sharing events.

Moving forward

There are three types of users of these tools.

  • Category 1: Types of CSOs who are going to use these tools as it is.
  • Category 2: Types that would require some modification.
  • Category 3: Types of CSOs who would require a lot of modification to be able to use these tools and may choose to build something themselves.
  1. The Data Architecture will primarily be used by the Category 3 users. We want them to use a similar data structure so that we can use AI and Machine learning (unsupervised machine learning) in the next phases of the project subject to additional fundraising.
  2. The Lego Approach will be used mainly by the Category 2 users and the World Bank will support the implementation of these tools and provide specific technical assistance if requested by CSOs.
  3. For Category 1, all 3 prototypes will be very useful. The World Bank team will support the implementation of these tools and provide specific technical assistance if requested by CSOs.


New knowledge:

Kwantu expanded country pilots by providing technical advice focusing on three key digital CE tools—digital GM, social audit, and community scorecard—in linkage with these operations. The goal was to showcase a proof of concept (thereby generating new knowledge on digital CE) for 'Template Apps' developed through a low-code platform.

Grievance Redress Mechanism

The grievance redress mechanism (GRM) app, initially developed by Kwantu and CSAT in 2022, is actively used by CSAT in Malawi to monitor grievances and inquiries related to projects funded by the Constituency Development Fund. The app consists of a web-based portal for administrators and a mobile app for citizens and field workers. Due to limited Internet and smartphone access in Malawi, cases are received in person or through a toll-free line, logged in the GRM.

The logged cases undergo a workflow that allows for updates and routing to different team members. SMS alerts are provided to those raising grievances, keeping them informed about the status and resolution. To adapt this app into a prototype template app, the following steps were taken:

  • A copy of the app was created.
  • The app was reviewed to identify and remove CSAT-specific elements to make it more generic.
  • The case management workflow was extended and linked to additional roles resembling grievance workflows in other projects.
  • Verification was conducted to ensure inclusion of fields required for the proposed data standard.
  • A report was generated to output data in accordance with the data standard.

Social Audit

This new app is developed based on an analysis of social audits from literature and key respondent interviews. Similar to the CSC app, it begins by prompting the admin user to input one or more facilities or projects for a social audit. Further consultation with users is required to determine the focal points for social audits, enhancing the app's relevance.

To refine the app, engagement with organizations utilizing social audits is crucial. Areas for review include:

  • Whether the facility/project list should be merged with the CSC app, allowing organizations to record a CSC or social audit cycle from the same app.
  • Whether the app should empower admins to create surveys and collect responses, or if this process should remain on paper.
  • Identification of any necessary changes to the forms used in the app based on feedback and requirements.

Increased knowledge on the Applicability of CSC App:

The Community Score Card (CSC) app, originally created by Kwantu in 2011, has evolved to version 2 (funded by this grant), incorporating feedback from pilots in Malawi and Nepal in 2021. Within a profile, an admin user can initiate a CSC cycle and delegate responsibility to a user, typically the facilitator guiding the CSC process. The facilitator utilizes a series of forms to record data generated by CSC participants.

Key outcomes of this deliverable include:

  • Real-time Visualization: Data from the app is visualized in real time on dashboards, with filters enabling exploration from various group perspectives (e.g., female-only groups or groups of disabled people).
  • Upcoming Changes: Version three of the app is in progress, with a few more months needed to finalize changes. The goal is to release version three by November 2023 and pilot it in Malawi for further feedback.
  • Template App Features: The app is close to being a template app, used by several CARE and VSO country teams. It allows customization of local language, country, and indicators scored.

Increased understanding:

Kwantu, a South African social enterprise specialized in digital CE was hired to provide technical advice to country teams regarding the applicability of digital CE for three pipeline projects with which development outcomes could be improved with the “lego approach.” As a result of this grant, our understanding of how digital CE can be implemented in World Bank project has increased tremendously. Here are some specific details:

P163592 CASA1000 Community Support Project:

  • Focus: Community-driven development in the Kyrgyz Republic involving over 300 villages.
  • Approach: Used a participatory needs assessment at the local/village level through in-person and later online forums (Your Priorities platform).
  • Impact: Online forums increased accessibility, especially for groups like mothers. Overcame social norms, facilitated deliberation, and enabled voting on proposals.
  • Recommendation: Further analysis of this digital CE tool for online consultation and idea generation is advised.


Strengthening the participation of vulnerable groups in municipal governance in Jordan (BETF implemented under the Municipal Services and Social Resilience Project (MSSRP - P161982):

  • Focus: Improving access to municipal services for vulnerable groups, refugees, and women in Jordan.
  • Approach: Utilized Google software for a Government Technology (GovTech) intervention in 28 municipalities, aiming for sustainability.
  • Challenges: Ensuring effective management processes within municipalities, and dealing with cultural dynamics, including strong tribal relationships bypassing the GRM.
  • Lesson: Sustainability lessons, particularly in CivicTech and GovTech interventions, should be explored further.

Gulf of Guinea Lagging Regions Social Cohesion Project (P175043): 

  • Focus: Development of a digital Governance Resource Management (GRM) and community-driven development app in West Africa.
  • Evolution: Started with the eHDW app in Indonesia, shifted focus to digital GRM in West Africa, currently used by 90 facilitators in Togo.
  • Challenges: Recruitment of developers and lack of geo-files at the village level. Highlights the interdependency between CivicTech and GovTech initiatives.
  • Lesson: Usability and flexibility of task-based user interfaces in managing complex interactions. A potential model for other CE tools.

To increase the understanding of these digital applications, workshops were delivered amongst the selected World Bank project PIUs and related client agencies/institutions.

GovTech, Citizen Engagement, and Social Accountability: Where to start? (June 21, 2023)

  • Participants included representatives from the Government of Malawi.
  • The webinar explored the connections between GovTech, Citizen Engagement, and Social Accountability. It addressed how social accountability tools can generate demand and identify areas for improved data when government data management is weak. Conversely, in cases of stronger government data management, it discussed essential datasets for citizen feedback and engagement, considering packaging and the role of open government data standards. Practical examples from the Malawi Governance to Enable Service Delivery project were used to illustrate these linkages.

Artificial Intelligence and Citizen Engagement (July 12, 2023)

  • Participants included CSCO representatives from the digital CE field—Kuja Kuja and Peloria.
  • The webinar focused on exploring ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) can enhance citizen engagement in government service delivery. It addressed the opportunities and risks associated with the use of AI, considering the potential demonstrated by large language model AI, such as ChatGPT, and concerns about misuse. The experiences of two organizations using AI were shared, and the discussion delved into various applications of AI in enabling citizen engagement, along with the associated risk mitigation strategies.

Increased Regional Cooperation:

With guidance from CESA GSG Kwantu also established and convened the “South-South digital CE data collective.” In May and June 2023, consultative discussions were held with early adopters of digital Citizen Engagement (CE). These discussions served as a sounding board to determine the role and added value of the CESA data collective. Subsequently, a concept note was developed, outlining the collective's need and potential role. Formative activities include agreeing on a shared vision, articulating value, establishing principles, defining governance, and creating a costed work plan. To initiate the process, a multi-stakeholder collaboration meeting took place on July 12th, involving 27 participants representing Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and CivicTech organizations. The meeting aimed to frame the need for a "Collective" in digital CE work by CSOs globally, bringing together innovative actors. The report details participant feedback and emerging consensus on the group's focus. Meeting minutes and recordings were circulated, with further follow-up pending clarification of resources for this workstream.

Furthermore, guidance materials on data protection, governance, and safeguarding risks drafted and shared through the “South-South CE data collective” and relevant learning events. To help assess and mitigate potential risks a framework was developed based on the responsible data maturity model (developed by CARE). Lastly, data architecture across applications with definitions and taxonomies was shared through the “South-South CE data collective.” Data Architecture Roadmap documents were developed to focus on a summary of commonalities across the three tools reviewed (GRM, CSC and Social Audit).


  • CARE
  • VSO
  • CESC (Mozambique NGO)
  • Aga Khan Foundation
  • Do for Children (Malawian NGO)
  • CSAT (Malawian NGO)
  • National Local Government Finance Committee (Government of Malawi)

Learn More

To learn more about ongoing efforts on scaling up digital citizen engagement, read World Bank blog article recently published on February 12, 2024 “Generative Artificial Intelligence as an Enabler for Citizen Engagement” by Aly Rahim, Chris Mahony, and Sruti Bandyopadhyay that talks about how artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, combined with citizen feedback, can transform data into actionable insights for development finance.