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How to Make a Billion Dollars Work

Parmesh Shah's picture

Large-scale public services and expenditure, especially those specifically designed for the poor, are vulnerable to leakages. Whether it is access to quality health care or education, clean water or entitlements under a development scheme; the poor face many barriers in accessing the public services and programs that are intended for them.

Social accountability interventions aggregate citizen voice and strengthen their capacity to directly demand greater accountability and responsiveness from public officials and service providers. Such interventions include the use of tools such as community scorecards, citizen report cards and social audits.

In 2007, three social accountability interventions were introduced in India in public programs on a pilot basis, representing budgets that run into the billions of dollars. With social accountability as the common denominator, three different states with three different service delivery contexts have been able to precipitate a series of impacts in just one year.

In Rajasthan, a social accountability intervention working both upwards and horizontally gathered feedback from key stakeholders to evaluate the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), a large employment generation scheme. This intervention has not only led to institutional changes in the way upper levels of government implement this program but has also heightened beneficiary awareness on their entitlements.

In Andhra Pradesh, parents and the community were mobilized to monitor the performance of school administrators and teachers, leading to a 10 percent drop in teachers’ absenteeism, a significant decrease in school dropouts and 100 percent enrollment of children in eight villages.

In Maharashtra, a system of monitoring service delivery performance closely linked with village-level planning has led to a substantial increase in normal nutritional grade children (46 percent) and immunized children (16 percent) and total sanitation in 178 villages.

These interventions share a few, key enabling factors:

• Rather than being inputs-focused, they all incorporate outcome-based design and implementation.
• They all have engagement and support from champions in the government at different levels.
• Initial stages in these interventions invested in building a cadre of monitors at community and user level.
Strategic alliances between the government and civil society stakeholders that have created an institutional platform at community level through which these accountability interventions can take place.

Social accountability initiatives are now an established part of the governance agenda and this is especially true in a country like India. Accountability tools which were first pioneered by citizens to hold service providers to account (citizen report cards by Bangalore service users) are now institutionalized by government itself (Social Audits in Andhra Pradesh are one successful case of this). While this trend is powerful in itself, the scale-up and institutionalization of these citizen-driven processes present a new set of questions on how to measure their impacts. To date, a number of these initiatives have been carried out but with limited evidence of their impacts on service delivery and development outcomes.

Based the experiences of these social accountability interventions, a new methodology has been developed for assessing the impacts of these interventions. Quite often, indicators are too broad and do not capture complex and multi-layered change. Between the introduction of an accountability intervention and the development outcomes that we hope to reach, there are a several types of changes that must take place. This methodology describes 3 types of change and the sequence in which they take place.

First, awareness raising efforts and information initiate information- and accountability-seeking behavior changes amongst service users. They learn to openly question and challenge service providers and government about lapses in service delivery and develop outcomes-seeking behavior. (For instance, getting regular immunizations and check-ups for better health outcomes) These changes then trigger responsive behavioral changes in service providers, who learn to be more accountable to users.

These localized behavior changes then lead to a series of institutional changes upwards in the way government works, including how it prioritizes its budgets, manages the implementation of service delivery projects and designs it policies. The combination of these changes ultimately increases the effectiveness of these development programs to achieve development outcomes.

The cost of these interventions represents just a small investment with respect to the budgets of these public programs. They represent just 1% of the total budget but they have hastened a series of impacts and outcomes within a period of just one year. This is a small price to pay to make a billion dollar program work.

The World Bank and the Consumer Unit and Trust Society of Rajasthan are organizing a workshop - Social Accountability in India: Moving from Mechanisms to Outcomes and Institutionalization in Large Scale Public Programs - on December 16-17, 2009 in Jaipur.

Watch this space for a report on what promises to be a valuable discussion.

Comments

Large scale leakages in government expenditure are caused by the political leaders and administrators of the country who have hijacked democracy to serve their own ends. Public is incapable of confronting these dragons because of poverty and their reactive victimizations inflicted on individuals who raise a finger. I have been a victim of such a revenge. The solution lies in a complete overhaul with a new constitution wherein democracy need be intellectualized, which I call intellocracy, through differential voting value to different levels of citizens. All such things are explained in detail at - http://intellocracy.blogspot.com

Submitted by Michael Neri on
In recent years, we have seen a significant shift of political and consequently of economic power from the upper castes that dominated Indian politics till the 80s, to the somewhat higher income OBCs, or other back ward castes, in the 90s and onwards. This has caused some reallocation of the national pie to the OBC segment, and as that segment consolidates its power base in UP, Bihar and other states, it demands improved delivery of social services such as education, health care etc. The tentative beginnings of a social accountability movement in India is a reflection of this redrawn political map, rather than to the noble efforts of activists and international bodies. Yet, the OBC's day in the sun may well be drawing to a close as India's urban middle class grows in size and influence, and demands better services and governance too. In the foreseeable future, it is this group that will define the main contours of India's economic policy. The middle class needs a rule based society, and will fight corruption and inefficiency in the public realm. We can thus expect to see less naked forms of corruption and inefficiency in the years ahead, but it will be naive to think that the voices of probity (from NGOs, the media and funding agencies) will serve to defend the interests of the poor. The middle class has its own interests which are quite different from those of the poor. An unusual level of activism from your South Asia desk may tilt the balance in favor of the poor, but it is going to take some doing. I wish you God Speed in your task.

Submitted by Sunil Sonee on
I agree with Mr.Michael Neri that interest of those poor are not taken care yet.Projects ,plans starts from up to down but for sure there are way out where not only tilt rather projects has to start from down to up. Agriculture based value added projects with proper monitoring bolted with recovery system can bring awesome result to this projects. I must say that this system exists already by nature but need of the hour is to visualize and recognize to scale up. One project leader need to understand by which physical natural system poor in INDIA and world sustain. Scaling up of this natural system will lead to sure success. I welcome valuable counter comment and positive criticsim form all specially from Mr.Pamesh Shah and Mr.Michael Neri.

Submitted by Kumari Sweta on
I very much liked what has been highlighted through this blog, a need for social accountability and more so replication and scaling up. Probably if efforts are made and proper attention is paid towards the creation of functional consumer awareness groups along with other interventions, the development word will begin to sound even more meaningful, and it will bring in a participatory flavor as against the one of unintended isolation, that has sadly crept in the sector.

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