© James Kiyimba

How can social accountability best support water management to achieve the SDGs?

Social Accountability Mechanisms for Increased Water Integrity

Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. This goal can only be achieved if corruption and the lack of integrity in the water sector are tackled. In that respect, SDG 16, which calls for effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, is a strong companion and supporting framework to achieve Goal 6.

Implementing Social Accountability (SAcc) mechanisms is one way of promoting accountability and inclusiveness in the water sector in line with target 6b on the participation of local communities in the water sector and target 16.7: “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”. We believe that SAcc mechanisms will in turn contribute to making water governance less vulnerable to corruption and help ensure water and sanitation for all.

There are several SAcc mechanisms that can be implemented in the water sector. We know cases where such mechanisms have been successful in making governments and service providers more responsive and transparent about developments. But there are challenges and open questions: how can we make sure SAcc is truly inclusive and participative? How can we ensure authorities will respond? How can civil society be more effective in raising its voice on water concerns? How big is the impact of SAcc and in particular, what is its concrete effect on reducing corruption? To echo John Gaventa from the Institute of Development Studies in his blog post on SAcc as a possible bridge between states and citizens, how can we make sure the foundations and anchors of our bridges are strong?

In your experience, how have social accountability mechanisms made a difference and contributed to SDG6? Share your story in the comment section below or join us in Stockholm. We will discuss this topic and answer such questions during our seminar at the Stockholm World Water Week on Monday, August 29th at 2 pm (NL Pillar Hall Pelarsalen). The session is co-convened with Global Partnership for Social Accountability; Kenya Water and Sanitation CSOs Network; U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre; Water Witness International and WaterAid. Join us to learn about successful cases where social accountability mechanisms have had benefits on water service delivery and management or follow our event via the live stream.


Feedback Systems on Water Issues

Feedback systems are a social accountability mechanism through which governments / service providers can show that they are responsive to the needs of civil society on water issues. These feedback systems can be implemented at various levels on a regular basis or at specific points in the water sector value chain.

A WaterAid project in Burkina Faso shows how feedback systems are used regularly in the planning phase of new water developments. Community discussions are held at local level, which provide input to the authorities about the community’s water security challenges. Authorities also ask the community whether they will benefit from efforts to improve their water security. This feedback system ensures that the community is involved, and gives authorities a chance to respond to citizen’s need.

In Nepal, feedback systems are regularly used at district level for annual reporting. Local communities engage in public hearings (as discussed in this webinar with GPSA) where they can meet face to face with the authorities that provide services and can address their frustration on lack of services or ask questions about tariffs. In this case, many service providers have actually taken on board the comments from the public and modified some of their services.

In Tajikistan, newly created Community Advisory Boards, supported by an Oxfam programme funded by the World Bank, enable communities to provide feedback to the Consumer Union of Tajikistan on the performance of the water supply and sanitation service providers. Service performance indicators were developed for this purpose.

Having such feedback systems can help local authorities gain insight into what some of the pressing water issues for civil society are. Whether authorities are always equally effective in using the feedback mechanism to change or adapt their policies or improve water service delivery and water management is still an open question.


Evidence-Based Advocacy in the Water Sector

Another relevant social accountability mechanism used in the water sector is evidence-based advocacy, which encourages local level evidence collection on issues that are of concern to the community. It enables the community to voice its issues to the responsible institutions at various levels.

In Mozambique, a citizen report card study conducted in two districts focused on collecting perceptions from users on quality of services in their areas. The evidence from this study went from the rural community at district level, where issues were first discussed, to high level policy players at the national level. The evidence was used for advocating policy reforms and addressing issues that were important for citizens, such as reducing collusion in awarding contract or speeding up fund disbursements.

In Tanzania, the Fair Water Futures programme led by Water Witness International and Shahidi wa Maji, aims to support community-activated water resource management. It is based on measures to raise awareness and help communities better understand their water rights: e.g. development of popularized versions of water laws, increased access to relevant authorities, and community sensitization on legal entitlement and water resources. By knowing their rights and legal entitlements, citizens engage in evidence-based advocacy to push for improvement in service delivery and water management.


Ongoing Research on Social Accountability

The examples from the feedback systems and evidence-based advocacy show how social accountability mechanisms can be put in place at various levels and are a valuable inspiration. It is now essential to acquire a stronger evidence base to explore success factors and demonstrate the effect of SAcc mechanisms on reducing corruption. WIN is therefore conducting a research project together with U4 and IWMI to study cases of participatory and transparent budgeting in Ethiopia, Nepal and the Philippines.


Help us gather more cases and evidence, share your story below or join us in Stockholm on Monday August 29th.

What can you do?

You can take simple steps to launch an integrity change process. Here are the tools to help you.

Stay informed

Sign up for our newsletter for bimonthly updates on the activities of the network worldwide.

Tell us your story

Are you promoting water integrity in your organization or in your region? Tell us how and help the network learn from your achievements.

Learn from experience

See how people and organizations are changing the water sector with integrity.