Strengthening accountability relationships between policy makers, service providers and citizens is at the core of the public accountability effort. But because traditional, supply-side interventions alone have not been able to deliver expected development outcomes; governance practitioners, civil society and policy-makers are increasingly looking towards citizen-driven, social accountability processes to strengthen governance and service delivery. The two approaches must be integrally linked. If governance and accountability are central to the development agenda, social accountability interventions must be a part of this agenda as well. Most governance practitioners would agree on this point.
In this regard, the term social accountability has now become an established part of the governance practitioner’s vocabulary. (Though the term social accountability seems to have come from within the World Bank, actual social accountability practices precede the term itself. Social Accountability: An Introduction to the Concept and Emerging Practice and Social Accountability in the Public Sector provide good background.)
After many years of practice, piloting and trial and error; efforts are now increasingly focused on how to scale-up and mainstream these interventions. Scaling Up Social Accountability in World Bank Operations offers a few key insights that are critical in this effort.
The most important is that these accountability interventions are not just tools. Politics and context matter considerably. “Social accountability is as much about changing mentalities, building relationships, and developing capacities as it is about technical tools.”
Linked to this, an analysis of key stakeholders and their relationships of power as well as coalition-building are necessary and important. This means not only developing an understanding of who can gain from these accountability interventions but who stands to lose from them as well. And finally, the use of media and information is essential for removing information asymmetries around entitlements and services to spur citizens to action.
The paper provides other practical considerations in addition to these. For anyone interested in thinking seriously about how to scale-up social accountability efforts, it is the beginning of a necessary conversation.
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