Coming together is a process
Keeping together is progress
Working together is success
This message, written on the wall of a public building in Gureghar village in the district of Satara in Maharashtra, India, implies the significant changes that have taken place at that village. Since mid-2007, 178 villages including Gureghar have been part of an innovative social accountability process that has redefined relationships between citizens, service providers and local government. Although micro-planning has been happening for over 2 decades in Maharashtra, the innovation in this pilot project is that micro-planning has been combined with a community scorecard process to strengthen relationships of accountability at the village level.
While done in partnership with the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration and the World Bank, the pilot project was spearheaded by the then CEO of the District, S. Kadu-Patil. (The primary role of a District CEO is to administer all development project and services, such as health and education services, for the District.) Before the process was initiated in the villages, the project team and the CEO invested a lot of effort to build the political will of other decision-makers and service providers. In fact, many of these functionaries were then organized into Task Forces to actually implement the process. Parallel to these conversations, a cadre of facilitators underwent an intensive 20-day training.
The actual micro-planning and community scorecard process took place over 5 days at the village level and included participatory data generation and analysis through household surveys, village surveys and focus group discussions with vulnerable groups such as women and youth. These surveys and discussions were conducted by village youth themselves with the help of facilitators. This part of the process allowed the community to determine local understandings of problems and resources as well as build ownership over the information that was collected.
As well, community scorecard exercises were conducted for education, health and other services. The “teeth” of the process, the community scorecard process is basically a structured conversation between the frontline service providers and the users of that service to understand and address gaps in service delivery. The users decide on indicators to assess the service delivery and then both the users and the service providers assess delivery against these indicators. Once the scorecards are completed, both groups come together in face-to-face meeting to discuss gaps in the scoring and jointly devise solutions. This part of the process prioritizes constructive conversation rather than confrontation but without diffusing the real problems that the community and frontline service providers face. This is where the trained facilitators played a valuable role in making sure the scorecard process was a meaningful conversation between two groups who rarely get to meet in such a space. On the last day of the 5-day process, the community came together to construct a village action plan based on the problems and needs that emerged out of the process.
These village action plans were then communicated up to inform and guide higher levels of planning. And at the higher levels, service providers came together to discuss and take joint action on the problems at the village level. This convergence was also a new but important shift. As described by S. Kadu Patil himself, convergence of service providers signifies a shift in the way development itself was viewed:
"The lack of toilets at schools and thus the lack of privacy forces girls to drop out once they reach adolescence. If they drop out, they are more likely to get married at an earlier age and get pregnant. During pregnancy, because she has not been educated, she is not able to take care of her health and after pregnancy, she does not have the awareness to understand how to nourish her baby. The problems of sanitation, education, maternal health and child health are all interconnected. This process takes a holistic view of development at the village level and allows important government agencies to be in dialogue to converge and better serve the poor."
Another important component of the process was iteration. The 5-day process was repeated in 6 months intervals after the first cycle to reinforce and monitor progress of service providers as well as the community in following through on village action plans.
Each district in India has an estimated annual budget of US$50 million to provide health, nutrition, drinking water, sanitation, and education to its citizens. Before the pilot project, Satara, although considered a better-developed district in terms of social and economic indices, still fell short in terms of actual service delivery outcomes. After one year of this social accountability project, Satara district has seen significant changes from the district down to the community level. Over this period, 178 villages in the district of Satara have seen a significant reduction in malnourished children, a 16 percent increase in immunized children and unsafe drinking water samples have decreased by approximately 63%. And these are just some of the changes that can be measured. This process has institutionalized spaces for engagement between citizens and government and between citizens and service providers that has led to dialogue and deliberation over local development programs and resources and increased awareness and ownership of village-level problems.