Reclaiming the Inclusivity Agenda: Further Notes on the ‘Reform-Revolution Continuum’

  • A snap of the metacards from the national situation analysis during the 2019 G-Watch National Meeting and Learning Exchange
    A snap of the metacards from the national situation analysis during the 2019 G-Watch National Meeting and Learning Exchange

By: Joy Aceron*

Inclusive politics and governance, inclusive development and growth, inclusivity, inclusiveness –these are the most recent buzzwords within development community and among political elites these past few years. In the Philippines, even the military and police are arguing for their greater involvement on the premise of inclusivity. The controversial Executive Order 70 of the Duterte Administration that puts national security front and center of the government’s agenda, which some argue is the policy basis for the ongoing crackdown on the progressives, claims to be advancing inclusive governance or what it calls the “whole-of-nation” approach. The strong and able are using inclusivity to claim more spaces and platforms (as if they lack it), and are ironically using it to shut down the demands of those who need to be included more. Inclusivity has turned into a slogan even in spaces and mechanisms that exclude and discriminate. 

Meanwhile, there are those who are engaged in development and governance reform work, who think they can go on doing the same thing in the same way, without recognizing the growing threats and the new challenges that are natural and man-made, including the deepening disappointment among the people whose living conditions get worse by the day due to poverty and inequality. There are those who continue business-as-usual, as if the efforts of the past are enough and remain appropriate, affording them a feel-good and celebratory mood despite the world going on a downward spiral. 

The fact is despite the inclusivity agenda being mainstreamed in development circles and championed by political elites, catering supposedly to the poor, marginalized and excluded, there is still a growing unrest among the citizenry globally. The reality is that we need to do reform work differently, not only in terms of strategies and approaches, but also in how we organize and collectivize actions in order to remain relevant. The issues of inequality, exclusion and discrimination, as well as the worsening level of corruption, political repression and human rights abuses are igniting protest actions all over the world (such as in Lebanon, Barcelona, Chile, Iraq, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Egypt, Haiti, Papua, Colombia) as the inclusivity agenda of the mainstream is turning into a lip service that is unable to cater to the most pressing issues of ordinary and active citizens. The broad community of groups advancing transparency, participation, accountability, open government, social accountability and anti-corruption face the danger of assimilation, cooptation and dilution in favor of the agenda of the establishment by staying the same, dismissive of the changing world. 

Sustaining TPA Reforms Amidst Democratic Decline

The ongoing efforts towards responsive and accountable governance through transparency, participation and accountability, open government and social accountability, that have been widespread in recent years, are likely to continue. There are ongoing reforms and reform approaches that have proven to serve the people well, some needing only minor tweaking and enhancement. There are local governments where the agenda of making feedback work to improve services through constructive engagement remains valid. In some contexts, the best chance for the society to do something about the terrible situation of its people still lies in leaders inside government. 

In this light, it is counter-productive to dissuade and discourage those in governance work to continue their constructive, pacifist or non-disruptive engagements especially if that is what works even minimally in their contexts. This might just further contribute to the thinning and fragmentation of citizen action. The approaches need not be either-or.

However, the problem is if all the actions for governance reforms are happening devoid even of just a recognition of the broader context of declining democracy and human rights. Without grounding global solidarity and decision-making in development on the premise of threats to human rights and democratic consensus, there is a danger of discrediting, delegitimizing or opposing protest actions, even if that’s not its intention. This is especially so if what’s projected and “celebrated” are citizen actions that utilize “polite” citizen actions that also take up issues of inclusivity, accountability, anti-corruption, human rights. For instance in the Philippines, some government officials deny that there is a problem of closing civic space by giving as an example the government’s establishment of the participatory governance cluster and the continuation of open government commitments. 

The need to ground TPA in the context of democratic decline is crucial especially so because of the ongoing propaganda war waged by the powers-that-be to perpetuate impunity. Aided by technology that makes spreading of lies and fake news easy, the abusive power perpetuates a sense of normalcy to hide abuse and corruption and remain in power. We are in a situation where the wrong is not only happening, but is being made normal, acceptable and protected, particularly at the national and global levels. Those in power use the façade of normalcy and weaponized propaganda to evade accountability and get away with anything at the expense of the common good.

In such a context, where protest becomes a responsibility and disruption a necessity, failure to build solidarity among people who aim to hold power accountable in a variety of ways could be perceived to be undermining and stopping dissent and protest. Such negligence, insensitivity and ‘political incorrectness’ could potentially weaken the already-weak resistance that is being threatened and suppressed in countless ways. Engaging in development and reform work like it’s business-as-usual, for instance, becomes a platform to assimilate the legitimate concerns of the people that ends up delegitimizing campaigns against the broader situation of worsening human rights and declining democracy. Approaches need not be either-or, but we need to be clearer where we stand by naming our context.

The ‘Reform-Revolution Continuum’ Idea

The challenge always is to “connect-the-dots” and find/ imagine the different actions to exist in a continuum. I call it the “reform-revolution continuum.” This is a concept-in-progress which to me means citizen actions that hold power accountable in variety of ways are inter-related and can be consolidated and linked to form part of a continuum - from constructive to protest approaches, from invited to claimed spaces, from cadre-type to broad coalitional efforts leading to a spectrum of gains from minimal/ instrumental to reform-oriented to transformative/ revolutionary. See earlier discussion on this here:

It is crucial, given the current conditions, that such perspective forms part of the discourse even if this is hard to be operationalized in actions and evidence. 

A simple but relevant approach is naming the moment to frame the actions and efforts to build solidarity across progressive actors and actions. One simple way that G-Watch operationalizes ‘the reform-revolution continuum’ way of thinking is by always contextualizing our efforts. A simple situation/ conjunctural analysis makes a lot of difference. 

For instance, in the recent G-Watch National Meeting and Learning Exchange, our situation analysis painted a very bleak and seemingly hopeless situation of the country, the government and the TPA field on Day 1. We were still able to identify bright spots and opportunities, but generally the assessment was bleak given the democratic decline, worsening human rights situation and the weakening of TPA. We name the situation “a blackhole,” an anti-poor government ruling with impunity, with any reform efforts sucked into being a façade of normalcy. 

On Days 2 and 3, we were able to learn from 12 initiatives of citizen action for accountability. The atmosphere then turned positive, optimistic and hopeful, given the successes (even very small ones) of the initiatives and the lessons learned from them. Everybody said they were inspired and became hopeful after hearing about the initiatives. 

We had to process and grapple with those two contrasting dispositions due to seemingly contradicting realities in just one event. Our planning had to factor all those in, which led us to target minimum-maximum gains and ways to build on long-term ideals, while being quick in taking advantage of opportunities to remain relevant. We focused on agenda we think are ‘blackhole-resilient,’ characterized mainly by the presence of broad autonomous forces advancing their agenda in order to still continue working on our mandate of advancing TPA without failing into the blackhole political situation we are in. One concluding thought of the meeting was: 

Threats and challenges have always been there. It is indeed greater now. But the work has also gifted us with more lessons and with stronger solidarity out of experience and wisdom. The only moment the situation defeats us is if we stop. Reform continues to revolution and towards a better world if we continue.

Reclaiming Inclusivity

The other approach of using reform-revolution lens is by discoursing what it means for policy-making to be inclusive - reclaim inclusivity agenda’s radical meaning and broaden its scope and scale. Not only who are involved, but who ultimately decides; not only what issues are taken up, but who ultimately benefits and what kind of benefits are derived. Not only in passing progressive policies, but also in enabling those affected to ensure those policies are implemented. Not only the empowerment of the poor, but the regulation of the powerful. Not only progressive national policies, but also global issues that perpetuate and worsen poverty, inequality and exclusion. 

When we discourse inclusivity these days, it is important to ground it on the reality of the asymmetry of power and resources. Being inclusive in this light means giving preferential option for the poor, the marginalized, the discriminated, the excluded. Their voices need to be heard more, their issues addressed, and in the case of indigenous peoples, their knowledge and wisdom uplifted more because they obviously have something to offer to address pressing issues such as the climate crisis. In other words, inclusivity addresses directly and squarely the problem of inequality, not only exclusion. 

Being inclusive needs to be seen in terms of processes and content of policies. In both, there is procedural and substantive inclusivity – not only who are involved, but who ultimately decides; not only what issues are taken up, but who ultimately benefits and what kind of benefits are derived. 

Grounding the inclusivity agenda on the issue of inequality, what needs to be covered are two clusters of agenda: the empowerment and enfranchisement of the poor, marginalized and discriminated, on the one end; and the regulation and control of monopolistic power that is prone to abuse and impunity, on the other end. It is not enough to provide for the poor and empower them. For the inclusivity agenda to gain ground in addressing inequality, it should also take on the problem of over-concentration of power and wealth.

When it comes to policies and programs that cater to the poorest, marginalized and discriminated, the global and national trend of actions by the political elites and the development community has been to cater to these groups. There are now many programs for the poor/ addressing poverty, policies addressing discrimination and exclusion. There remains a problem in sufficiency and implementation of policies and programs. Progressive policies that are passed are sometimes not implemented because of lack of participation of the beneficiaries in holding the duty-bearers accountable. How populist, right-wing, authoritarian regimes are able to appropriate this approach is also a problem that needs to be dealt with. 

Broadening the Inclusivity Agenda on a Global Scale

The other side of inclusive politics and governance is what makes it disruptive and revolutionary: how to effectively regulate the powerful, especially the monopolistic, dynastic power devoid of accountability. The efforts here remain wanting because of how effective vested interests have been in countering push-back by social movements and reform forces using a far wider variety of means at multiple levels, including weaponizing state institutions that are developed and designed in their favor. Progressive policies are passed but they are not implemented. Accountability efforts in this area that connect-the-dots, form broad coalition among peoples and sectors and integrate actions at different levels from community to international can be the difference. One direction is to bring about such scale in different critical policy areas and form broad inter-related solidarity in the process.  

It does not help that the agenda of regulating the concentration of power and wealth is not yet viewed in the mainstream as a needed part of a holistic anti-poverty/ pro-poor strategy. The connection between the over-concentration of power and poverty has been muddled and projected as mere abstraction, a likely result of the politics of knowledge that remains dominated by pro status-quo forces. 

Related to checking the powers-that-be, a critical addition to what it means to have inclusive policies and policy-making is to address problems that affect everyone globally and the future, such as the environment/ climate crisis, the weakening of the democracy and human rights consensus, capitalist/ corporate greed (including in the newest resource: data/ digital technology) and others. It is especially inclusive to take up these global issues not only because they affect us all but because the issues of poverty, inequality, exclusion and discrimination are caused, perpetuated and worsened by these problems. 

A critical question in addressing these issues is: What mechanisms, processes and platforms of decision-/ policy-making at international, regional, national and local levels in state and society are sufficient and appropriate to take up these issues, i.e., can the existing ones effectively deliver the drastic changes needed to arrest the global catastrophe that these problems could continue to bring about if they remain unaddressed? This is crucial because given the state of today’s world and the failings of the past, the existing decision-/ policy-making mechanisms and spaces for solidarity in state and society need to be drastically transformed or new ones created in a way that they can handle a revolution. 

In sum, this article offers a new framework, the reform-revolution continuum, as a way of ‘connecting the dots’ of varied approaches and agenda of citizen action for accountability that aim to sustain governance reform, on one hand and respond to closing civic space, democratic decline and human rights attack, on the other hand. Two ways of operationalizing the reform-revolution continuum framing is presented: in terms of naming the moment to contextualize actions and goals and by broadening and deepening the inclusivity agenda.

*Joy Aceron is Convenor-Director of Government Watch ( and Research Fellow-Adviser at Accountability Research Center in School of International Service of American University (