How citizen-led data is supporting policies in Viet Nam

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Provinces across Viet Nam are now starting to shape their policies in response to priorities and experiences that citizens report in UNDP Annual PAPI Survey. Photo: UNDP

The relationship between governments and citizens has undergone a sea-change in most developing countries in the last decade, riding a tide of economic aspirations that are swelling the ranks of the middle class. Viet Nam is no exception. There seems to be a general rule of thumb: the more prosperous and educated citizens become, the more they want efficient and accountable governments.  

Citizen-led monitoring and accountability are emerging as key features of the new Post-2015 development agenda as a means of enabling citizens to define the issues they believe should be prioritized in the development process. They are also vital if governments, both local and central, are to be held to account.

With Viet Nam’s entry into the club of middle-income countries, citizens are increasingly demanding a public administration system that promotes equitable development, and spreads the dividends of prosperity across an ever-widening sphere. Citizens expect greater participation in the decision-making processes of public policies, as well as in their implementation and monitoring.

It was in this context of increasing demands for greater citizens’ voice in government affairs that UNDP Viet Nam and its national partners looked for innovative ways for the government and citizens to better communicate with each other. They wanted to develop objective channels that would make it possible for citizens to voice their aspirations and grievances. 

‘What is the experience of an average Vietnamese citizen in their interactions with the agents of the state, whether in using a public service or in demanding information?’ This was the question that led to the birth of PAPI, the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI).

The quest for the answers have led to a pioneering set of metrics of citizens’ experiences that are well on their way to informing better governance and public administration. 

Since 2009, PAPI has captured and reflected the experiences of nearly 50,000 Vietnamese citizens on a diverse range of issues, from their satisfaction in the services they received to their expectations of transparency and accountability in the processes they encountered.  PAPI has become the largest time-series national governance and public administration performance monitoring tool in the country.

In 2013 alone, a total of 13,892 citizens participated in the survey. This is a major achievement in itself for PAPI, which is providing practitioners and policy makers with an unparalleled wealth of data and information that is starting to have a real impact on high-level policy decisions, for example in the area of Anti-Corruption.

The data and information is freely available at www.papi.vn.

Every year the PAPI explores a particular theme in governance. The 2013 edition focuses on questions of equality and inclusion. The results are gaining a great deal of attention in policy debates within Viet Nam, with the study pointing towards potential drivers of (in)equality.

These findings are remarkable, and offer a real insight into the policy reforms needed for greater equality and inclusion.

Citizens’ experiences with governance vary across Viet Nam. Variations of citizen’s experiences with state actors are not simply about regional differences, historical patterns such as north-south development trajectories or even rural-urban divides. Something much more individualized and personal is taking place and affecting citizens’ responses to the PAPI survey. For instance, overall:

  • Men experience substantially better governance than women.
  • Kinh citizens (majority ethnic group) report better governance than ethnic minorities.
  • The wealthy and professionals experience greater satisfaction than the poorer, micro-entrepreneurs and manual labourers.

These findings indicate that governance varies not only across provinces but also within them, with citizens experiencing governance differently even within the borders of a single province.

Another significant finding is that the ‘poorest performing provinces’ from earlier years are  raising their game, posting higher scores year on year, even as the average scores rise as a result of overall improvements. 

To date more than 22 provinces have issued official responses to PAPI findings in an effort to improve performance. As shown by the PAPI, it is all about citizens articulating their priorities and influencing policies that affect their lives, so that barriers to human development can be addressed and overcome. This is the power of open data and participation.