“Citizen Perceptions of Local Government Responsiveness in Sub-Saharan Africa” by Bratton: Article Evaluation


The relationship between citizens and the government is imperative in enhancing service delivery and accountability. In democratic politics, citizens elect leaders to represent their interests in the various levels of government; as such there have been many studies that have attempted to unearth the answers about the responsiveness of the leaders. The level of responsiveness of elected leaders to the preference of the public is a key pillar of accountability (Glaser & Denhardt, 2000). In the endeavor to add research-based knowledge to the subject, Bratton (2012) carried out a study to explore the relationship between citizens and the local government leaders in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper presents an exhaustive review of the study about the concepts and the problem the researcher was trying to examine. The main areas of the assessment include the extent to which the researcher linked the study design and hypotheses, the methodological processes and rationale, and how research could be improved. The assessment will link the study to the governance issue being explored.

Study Concepts and Problem

The issue of governance is very crucial in modern-day society; it thus denotes the importance of carrying out studies to determine whether governance is delivering the political and social goods to the electorates (Córdova & Layton, 2016). In doing so, some concepts should be examined. It is in this context that the author examines the concept of the relationship between the new administration units (local governments) and the citizens, and responsiveness. The local governments are described as institutions legally established to provide services to relatively small geographic areas. According to Bratton (2012), the institutions are a result of the decentralization of the national government functions such as taxing, regulations, and spending. These operational definitions bring to context the meaning of the main issue under investigation. Also, it relates to similar definitions that have been provided by other researchers such as Cowell, Downe, Martin, and Chen (2012).

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The concept of responsiveness is very broad, and it requires researchers to determine the dimensions of responsiveness that are supposed to be measured. In the article, responsiveness and performance are not separated. Even though Bratton (2012) does not explicitly provide the operational definition of performance and responsiveness, there are fundamental questions in the article that present the issues under the probe. In essence, the dimensions under review are based on the expectations of the citizens in terms of accountability of local governments on the taxes they collect and the ability to provide the deserved essential services. According to Glaser and Denhardt (2000), there are many dimensions of performance such as effectiveness, responsiveness, equity, and efficiency. The dimensions are interlinked, and it becomes very difficult to get accurate answers from citizens when investigating political and social issues that touch on performance.

Bearing in mind the broad nature of the responsiveness and performance and its close relationship with constructs such as political representation and accountability, Bratton (2012) puts into consideration the different components and thus does not limit the analysis to one dimension, instead; the study incorporates a wide range political responsiveness. The result is that it makes the study comprehensive and eliminates biases that are associated with failure to understand the core issue under review in studies that are examining only one dimension. Therefore, the researcher presents the analysis of the concept of responsiveness and performance in terms of social, attitudinal, and political perceptions of the citizens. The social perception definition as presented in the article uses indicators of demographic factors of age, gender, education residential area, and poverty. The researcher operationalizes poverty by using the Afrobarometer’s Index of Lived Poverty.

The political attitudes are defined based on the assumption that African citizens across the countries included in the analysis reason instrumentally about the institutions of politics, i.e. the assessment of leaders is objectively related to the performance of the institutions in the delivery of economic and political goods. However, it is worth noting that this definition fails to put into consideration the overt corruption in which citizens offer bribes to acquire services, and hence, they are likely to be subjective when analyzing the delivery of people they have already compromised. The researcher addresses the concern of the limitation by providing an in-depth definition of the political behavior in which the article seeks to find out whether people do take advantage of political rights conferred to them through voting and whether they access their rightful services through paying the legal fees or illicitly through bribes.

From the provisions, it can be ascertained that there is a clear definition of the various concepts as the article provides a comprehensive basis under which each concept is to be assessed. It thus becomes easy for the reader to establish the divergent perception of responsiveness presented in the article and the possible biases that may arise based on the context of the definition. The definitions of the concepts become the foundation for understanding the phenomenon being investigated. The main problem under focus is to find out the extent of responsiveness of the legal units in terms of whether they meet the expectation of the citizens and the factors that influence their performance. Nevertheless, despite the comprehensive operational definition of the term as used in the article, it is important to note that secondary data was used to carry out the analytical work. Therefore, the user of the findings is restricted to the content provided and not the means applied to get the data.

Overall, the findings of the study established that local government units in Sub-Sahara Africa are regarded by the citizens as weak, and are not responsive. The findings are similar to those generated by other scholars of public administration in various parts of Africa. It has been established that legal units have not been responsive to the needs of the rural dwellers. Also, the performance and responsiveness in terms of service provision are limited to the urban towns.

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Theory, Hypotheses, and Research Design

The basis for any scientific research lies in the research design applied, data collection methods and analysis as dictated by the research questions or the hypothesis being tested. Thus, a researcher needs to ensure that there is a well-established link between the theory, hypothesis, and the research design. In the case of the article under evaluation, the study provides the context under which the local governments exist and the nature of democratic governance in Sub-Sahara Africa. Bratton (2012) presents literature on the accountability or lack of it in the various levels of the governments. One key finding from the past studies is that the local governments have a limited scope of operation due to limited functions extended to them by the national governments. However, Bratton (2012) points out that the citizens’ perception is that even with the limited functions, the local governments have been unable to make decisions that can result in developmental outcomes. By exploring the literature, the article provides a clear basis from which its hypothesis can be tested. For example, the literature provides the context which makes the reader understand the characteristic of the citizens who is to demand accountability from the government. This touches on the social situation and the attitude of the clients of the local governments who are mainly local dwellers. As such, the hypothesis is modeled on key aspects of political behavior, the tax payment, experiences of corruption and political activism.

The testing of the hypothesis is also linked to past literature that has established that for developing countries in Africa to enhance human development, quality governance and the commitment of the elected public servants to their mandate is paramount. However, due to the hierarchical nature and highly centralized units, accountability has been very difficult that necessitated decentralization and development of capacity for effectiveness at levels that are close to all citizens. Also, there is contentment that decentralization of governance was fronted as a strategy to enhance sector through responsiveness; however, the participation and ownership under the systems have not achieved the core mandate (Kiwanuka, 2012). Bratton (2012) underscores the literature and notes, “Public employees at the front line, including those elected or appointed to local government offices, sometimes take advantage of their political positions to extract illicit payments from citizens” (p. 518). It is based on this understanding that the researcher wanted to find out the extent to which the governments connect to their clients.

In order to test the hypothesis that hinges on the literature and theory about governance in Sub-Sahara Africa, the researcher is rife with the disparities in terms of knowledge and the ability to participate in governance between the urban and the rural dwellers. For example, Bratton (2012) noted that political activism is likely to be experienced among urban dwellers. This is because of their easy access to information and the fact that they are close to the administrative units, unlike the rural residents. Whereas Bratton (2012) links the existing knowledge to the hypothesis, he fails to present the rationale and the study design used in the analysis. Instead, there is an arbitral introduction of the secondary data as collected by Afrobaromter. This negates the fact that research design is very important as it is the framework that integrates the different research aspects. It is the blueprint for the data collection and analysis. Thus, the article falls short of a clear study design description that links the literature and the test of hypotheses. It is worth noting that even though this is an essential component of any research, in this case, it does affect the study findings as data by Afrobarometer is used for the study.

Methodological Issues

Study methodology entails the use of different research designs to inform the process of data collection. Examples of the study designs include descriptive, cross-sectional, experimental, and explorative researches. It includes the logic behind the steps that are employed by the researcher. Research on political accountability is considered a significant undertaking in addressing the gaps that have been realized in the new democracies across Africa. It helps in establishing the operational reality about the polities and how the citizens hold them accountable. In carrying such studies, there is the need for specification of the processes to be used. This forms the basis for the credibility and reliability of the study because methodology incorporates the set of methods and tools for carrying out a particular study. The current definitions of the subject matter point to the fact that a methodology is primarily used as the means of mapping the further process of conducting a study. For example, there is the need to define and provide the rationale for the various data collection parameters.

In the case of the article, the author failed to outline the type of research design, the sampling procedures used, the exclusion and inclusion criteria, and the overall process for analysis and testing the reliability of the data by Afrobarometer (Bratton, 2012). Also, there is no rationale for opting to use the quantitative approaches over the qualitative studies. Even though the main goal of ascertaining the relationship between the polities and their clients is achieved, there is the need for a clear methodology to be integrated into the paper. For example, to explain the approach used to achieve discrimination between the possible designs. It is important to note that study design can influence the level of bias in the findings. This will help in the identification of issues that pertain to the design and bias when testing the hypothesis. Also, the study design helps in finding out whether the relevant comparison is carried out in the context of the research environment.

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Improvement of the Research

To improve the study, the key focus is to integrate the methodological issues that the researcher left out. As a result, the first improvement will be to provide a study design, the rationale of how it adds values to the hypotheses being tested. From the interview, the data used was for 2008 and 2009 as obtained from Afrobarometer. Political processes keep on changing, and thus, the study design to be favorable is cross-sectional as it provides a snapshot of the situation at the time. The article analyzed 20 local governments, and there are no criteria in which they were included. This can be a source of researcher bias as there is no to be used in the study. Therefore, the second improvement will be to include a sampling design and the inclusion and exclusion criteria to identify the local governments considered.

Even though the analysis of the concept of responsiveness and performance was comprehensive, there is the need to draw comparisons based on the duration the local governments have been in operation. It is crucial to note that some of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have had the local government for over five decades (Kiwanuka, 2012). This will be critical in determining whether there are governance differences for the new and old local governments. The other dimension to improve the research is to outline clear methods that are to be used in the analysis of the data and the test of the reliability of the results obtained. For example, computing the Cronbach alpha coefficient to test the reliability of the results will be applied.

References

Bratton, M. (2012). Citizen perceptions of local government responsiveness in Sub- Saharan Africa. World Development, 40(3), 516-527.

Córdova, A., & Layton, M. L. (2016). When is “delivering the goods” not good enough? World Politics, 68(01), 74-110.

Cowell, R., Downe, J., Martin, S., & Chen, A. (2012). Public confidence and public services: It matters what you measure. Policy & Politics, 40(1), 120-140.

Glaser, M. A., & Denhardt, R. B. (2000). Local government performance through the eyes of citizens. Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, 12(1), 49-51.

Kiwanuka, M. (2012). Decentralization and Good Governance in Africa: Institutional Challenges to Uganda’s Local Governments. Journal of African & Asian Local Government Studies, 1(3), 1-7.

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