The ResilientAfrica Network carried out the first West African Deliberative Poll in the Ghanaian city of Tamale to provide community driven responses to challenges of sanitation, hygiene and food security in the region, educating the 208 random participants who met with experts.
Problems and Purpose
Tamale is a fast growing Ghanaian city experiencing an overwhelming influx of people that have strained the ability of their government to meet their needs, especially regarding water supply and sanitation (ResilientAfrica Network, 2015). Efforts by the Ghanaian government to address these needs have been largely unsuccessful, resulting in the increased prevalence of disease and food insecurity. With Tamale’s significant population of 461,072 in 2010 and its projection as the fastest growing city in West Africa, it became critical for the local government to seek direction from its citizens on how best to improve both the livelihoods and health outcomes of the population.
To achieve this a Deliberative Poll was organized focusing on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); and Livelihood and Food Security, with the aim of helping local government and development agencies decide on how to innovate to meet the most urgent needs in this regard.
Background History and Context
The poll was conducted in the context of an increased focus on resilience in development thinking, especially in Africa. The framing of resilience in this respect gave focus to providing multi-level interventions targeting individuals, households and communities (Ghana News Agency, 2014). Academics, the local government and other development institutions in the area had carried out interventions to build such resilience but did not achieve their envisaged success. To remedy this, the ResilientAfrica Network mobilized resources and attention to the need to innovate, in introducing the first ever Deliberative Poll in West Africa and the second ever in Africa (ibid; Vibe Ghana, 2015).
Prior to this, Ghana had experienced impediments to democracy largely characterised by political cultures that did not place adequate value on democracy above other kinds of political systems and because of the close relationship between the military and the state (Haynes, 2013). The country had experienced long periods of personalistic rule, largely set in motion by military coups, which in turn weakened the legitimacy and accountability of their government. In helping explain this, Haynes (ibid) purports that African countries did not have the structures necessary to sustain democracy after independence and as such were unable to allow for democracy.
In spite of this Ghana was one of the first two countries to gain independence and to set up democratic structures through multi-party elections. To ensure that these democratic gains are sustained, Haynes (2013) identifies the factor of human agency as crucial in building and securing clear democratic progress. He further asserts that stable civil societies are important in helping facilitate the establishment and embedding of unbiased bureaucratic processes that in turn increase the prospects for democracy. It is in this context that the innovation of deliberative democracy in Tamale Ghana served as an opportunity to strengthen civil society and to emphasize the importance of human agency in making decisions affecting one’s development.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The ResilientAfrica Network’s (RAN) West Africa RILab hosted by the University of Development Studies, and with support and advice from the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, conducted the Poll. Funding and additional technical support came from the USAID through its Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
To provide a workable sample, a scientific random sample of the Tamale population was collected through a random selection of households and a further random selection of participants within the households. This created an overall sample of 243 people, of which two declined to take part in the initial survey and a further thirty-five respondents who completed the initial survey chose not to take part in the deliberations (ResilientAfrica Network, 2015). This brought together a total of 208 people who completed both days of the deliberative polling exercise, bringing the response rate to an impressive 85% (ibid).
The resultant sample consisted of 52% of females with an age average of 33.7 years and 27.9% of the participants who had never gone to school. This was very similar to the actual demographic trends in the city, with a proportion of 50.2% of females and 49.7% of males (Ghana Statistical Service, 2014:20). However, the sample inaccurately represented disparities in levels of education, as 40.6% of the total Tamale population has never been to school (ibid: 33), as opposed to the 27.9% represented in the sample. The sample provided a close proportional representation of the population in farming at 10.1%, compared to 17.6% of the actual population involved in the agricultural sector (ibid: 42). It however gives a significantly disproportionate representation of business owners at 33.2% of the total sample, compared to an actual proportion of 2.4% according to census data (ibid: 42).
Methods and Tools Used
This is a case of deliberative polling, broadly defined as a unique form of political consultation that combines techniques of public opinion research and public deliberation to construct hypothetical representations of what public opinion on a particular issue might look like if citizens were given a chance to become more informed. As a method, it involves polling before and after participants have the opportunity to become informed on other perspectives and engage in discussion  .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The deliberation was carried out face-to-face over the course of two days and divided to focus on Livelihood and Food Security on the first day and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene on the second day. To assist in informing and structuring the briefing materials for deliberation, an advisory group of various stakeholders was set up, including government officials, academic experts and representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The resultant deliberation was characterised by the daily screening of briefings in the form of a fifteen-minute video to accommodate the low literacy rates of the population.
A total of thirty-nine policy proposals were deliberated in the poll and rated on a scale of 0 to 10 based on their ascribed importance both before and after deliberation. The 208 deliberators were then assigned randomly to 15 smaller groups led by trained facilitators, whose role was to ensure open discussion, free from their own biases (Stanford University and University of Development Studies, 2015). The results of discussions in these small groups were then taken up to a broader plenary discussion with all participants, in which questions agreed in groups were posed to a widespread team of experts to respond to in helping inform the final poll.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
As a result of the process, a list of top ten proposals was identified through opinion polling and a group of experts selected from stakeholders that had taken part in the polling process subjected the identified options to further analysis. This analysis focused aspects related to feasibility, possible impact, gender sensitivity and the ability of interventions to address a wide-range of challenges facing the region. These recommendations were then taken up to the local government for consideration, and disseminated to various development agencies for their consideration in planning future development programmes in the area (Warilab, 2015).
The poll was successful in influencing an increase in knowledge of participants on the issues deliberated, as evidenced by gains on the knowledge index in the post-deliberation survey. Participants increased knowledge levels for the different information areas with an average gain of 12.4 percentage points, and with a range of 5.3% to 16% gains. In this regard, the poll increased the efficacy of participants for future decision-making and deliberation on similar issues. To further attest to increased efficacy of participants, the poll results showed a significant change in the level of importance ascribed to 28 of the 39 proposals (ResilientAfrica Network, 2015).
As an additional indicator of the impact of the process, the poll received positive evaluations from almost all the participants with 99.5% of them reporting that it was a valuable use of their time. All the participants felt that the briefing materials and the event as a whole were valuable with 90% viewing the event as extremely valuable (ibid). In assessing the facilitation of the deliberations, 95% of participants strongly agreed that the group moderators provided everyone with an opportunity to participate in the discussion (ibid). Furthermore, in relation to respect for fellow participants’ views, 99% agreed that they learned a lot about people very different from them, which showed high levels of tolerance and insinuated an overall supportive environment for deliberation (ibid). These results rank highly on the global scale and are evidence of the high level of implementation of the poll as attested to by participants (Stanford University and University of Development Studies, 2015).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Tamale Deliberative Poll was unique given that it was the first time such an innovation had been implemented in Ghana and in the West African region. This meant that it defied existing norms of political participation in providing an unusual space for citizens to influence decision-making. Further to this, the poll gave justification to the theory that deliberative democracy can be implemented in a development context even if the population has low levels of education (ResilientAfrica Network, 2015). The poll proved the guidelines of Dryzek (Steiner, 2012: 188) on addressing literacy and education limitations to provide favourable conditions for deliberation, as evidenced by the adaptation of briefing material to the needs of the partly illiterate participants, and the documented changes in the efficacy of participants.
The high-ranking evaluation results that affirmed the quality of deliberation and its accommodation of diverse opinions, served to give credence to Habermasian recommendations to grant participants equal opportunities to influence the process and to have equal resources (ibid: 32). The evaluation results also counter the claim of Alfred Moore (ibid: 34) on the tension between inequalities of knowledge and the ideal of citizen equality in that participants of varied levels of education reported satisfaction with the level of respect given to them as equal participants with equally weighted opinions. Further to this, the polling process subjected existing experts and moderators, as possible authority figures to the ideal of equality of all participants (ibid: 36) in ensuring their role did not impede on the participants’ freedom of expression. In the end only participants were allowed to make the final valuation of options outside of the control of otherwise ‘privileged’ members of the gathering.
The Deliberative Poll arguably served to find the contested balance between equality and efficiency (Miller, 1992) in its ability to bring a relatively gender balanced sample of participants with diverse backgrounds to deliberate over a two day period. The poll ran for a short two-day period and was acclaimed by the majority of participants as being an effective use of time. The participant evaluation results also approved the efforts by the moderators to provide a supportive environment for equal engagement with a large majority of participants giving positive feedback on the efforts of moderators in this regard.
The format of the deliberations and the method used to decide on polling choices was sensitive to the arguments against deliberative democracy as relying on the good argument and on a common conception of good (Gastil, 2007). The poll was designed in such a way as to ensure multiple conceptions of what was perceived as common good, which resulted in a choice of 10 top proposals from a pool of thirty-nine. This allowed for multiple opinions and options to be discussed and given weight without the expectation of selecting one all-encompassing goal of what would be good for the entire community. The ultimate decision was left for the development agencies and local government to ascertain, not based on the assumption of common good, but on a set of government defined principles around practicality, impact and applicability to a diversity of population groups and development needs (Ghana News Agency, 2015).
However, in spite of these strengths the poll was not as representative as it could have been, which brought the quality of deliberations to question. The poll didn’t make reference to any deliberate efforts to provide for inputs by young people, who are often marginalised from decision-making in most cultures in Ghana. The poll also failed to provide for a representative sample of individuals based on the nature of economic activity they are engaged in. It instead provided a disproportionate sample skewed in favour of business owners, who form a minority in the Tamale community. With regards to impact, the poll didn’t have as direct an impact in decision-making as the final decision was out of the hands of the participants and there were no plans made to validate the policy makers’ decisions by re-engaging the participants. This left the recommendations subject to manipulation by decision makers and allowed for some level of inequality in the follow up to the deliberation process. Furthermore, the method of deliberation, in facilitating discussions in English amidst low levels of English literacy, failed to adequately adapt to the main language of the area. These combined factors bring the quality of deliberation to question and can account for the moderate knowledge gains of participants after the deliberations, which arguably would have increased by a greater margin if the facilitation methods and levels of representation were made more sensitive to the dynamics of the population.
Amidst limitations in representation and the methods of deliberation employed, the Poll provided a lesson on how to adapt deliberative democracy initiatives to the needs of populations with low levels of literacy. The use of videos to present briefing material helped adapt content to these needs and resulted in increased participant knowledge. In this regard it showed how deliberative polling in communities similar to Tamale and political contexts similar to Ghana can be used to address citizen demand for involvement in decision making (Ghana News Agency, 2015) and to advance democracy in the region overall.
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Warilab, 2015. ‘Ghana Deliberative Poll (DP) Result Dissemination Planning Meeting’, Warilab, June 24 [Online] http://warilab.org/news/106-ghana-deliberative-poll-dp-result-disseminat...(Accessed 29 February 2016). [dead link]
In collecting data, the initial report provided on the Stanford University’s Centre for the Study of Democracy website didn’t provide sufficient information on the dynamics of the Tamale community and on the justifications for the poll. It also provided very little information on how the poll fed into the journey of Ghana towards a more democratic government. To overcome these limitations it was necessary to seek out additional information sources, particularly those of the ResilientAfrica Network and from new sites that covered events prior and after the Deliberative Poll. Furthermore, to gain more contextual information on the demographics in Tamale and the political context within the region leading up to the Poll, it was necessary to seek official demographic data from the Central Statistics Office and additional academic sources.
Additional data on resources utilised and the staff that were employed for the purposes of running the poll was unavailable from sources used, as this was sensitive data requiring ethically sound methods of enquiry from the organisers themselves which could not be employed within the given assessment time.