What are social accountability mechanisms?
Social accountability is “an approach towards building accountability that relies on civic engagement, i.e., in which it is ordinary citizens and/or civil society organizations who participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability” (World Bank). There is a broad range of social accountability mechanisms, primarily to:
- Monitor and evaluate service
- Provide user input and feedback to service providers, policy-makers and oversight bodies
- Promote transparency
- Promote monitoring and evaluation, or
- Allow for participation in decision-making
Some examples include:
- Public scrutiny processes (social audits, community scorecards…)
- User surveys (citizen report cards, service delivery surveys…)
- Complaint mechanisms
- User representation mechanisms (user associations, citizen directors…)
- Participatory project planning, management and tracking, including community-managed project approaches
There are a number of approaches in the areas of budgeting and procurement which have a strong element of social accountability and are described in more detail in our overview of budgeting and procurement tools.
A detailed and strong overview of more social accountability tools and their effectiveness can be found in this presentation from the Water Integrity Forum 2013, by José Marín from Transparency International, who highlighted that success of such tools is highly dependant on context and strong theories of change.
How do they work?
Social accountability initiatives can be effective in improving services and strengthening integrity, especially at the local level. The tools provide opportunities to exert bottom-up pressure while also supporting collaboration between citizens/users, service providers and (government) oversight bodies. There are a number of promising cases of social accountability tools being implemented in the water sector with some success.
Success factors and conditions for implementation
- Engaging with actors that most benefit from improved service (women and children in particular) and focusing on issues that are critical to them is crucial for the sustainability of any initiative
- Local context and stakeholders relationships must be taken into account and impact the selection of tools
- Social accountability approaches are more effective when they combine citizen monitoring with evidence-based information on service quality (see more on this point in this publication from the World Bank on long-term effectiveness of social accountability initiatives in the health sector in Uganda)
- Advocacy, communication and public visibility are essential.
- Empowerment and capacity building are also elements of social accountability mechanisms that will condition their success, as pointed out in this Water Integrity Forum example and presentation from IWMI.