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social accountability

Holding the state to account

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

women at a community meeting, Mumbai IndiaIn a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.

Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?

When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.

The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.

Speak up and be heard, Indonesia! Championing social accountability in healthcare services

Ali Winoto Subandoro's picture

To get a full picture of how social accountability can improve the quality of health services in Indonesia, one only has to travel to the border areas in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province.  

On a scorching afternoon in August 2015 in Bijaepasu sub-district, a six hour drive from the provincial capital Kupang, a queue was forming in front of the village health center or puskesmas. The crowd seemed undeterred by the temperature that hovered around 40 degrees Celcius.

Leaning against its deteriorating walls were mothers and babies, elderly women and men. The queue was long and slow moving. The health center workers appeared overwhelmed. There were barely any medical equipment or supplies.

2007: Sunshine works: Solar gers and transparency

Jim Anderson's picture

In 2007, Mongolia’s economy grew at a double digit pace with modest inflation. The slump of the 1990s must have seemed a distant memory in the last full year before the elections in 2008.

The previous year saw several iconic projects approved, and 2007, the next year in our 25 years in 25 days reflection, did likewise.  The Renewable Energy for Rural Access Project (REAP) became effective in 2007 and was ultimately expanded.  The project brought a modern solution to a century old problem:  how can the benefits of electricity be harnessed to benefit the quarter of Mongolia’s people who are nomadic herders living in gers?  Connecting them to the grid was not a solution both because distances are vast and because nomadic people move around.  The modern solution was to give the herders access to solar power through a program launched by the Mongolian Government supported by the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands. “Thanks to the National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program, over half a million men, women and children, covering half the rural population of Mongolia and 70 percent of herders, now have access to modern electricity.” For these 100,000 herder families, the off-grid solar home systems generate enough power for lights, televisions, radios, mobile phone charging and small appliances. (Video here.) 

Connecting the dots for accountability

Brendan Halloran's picture
A Quechua leader addresses the Minister of Health at the 2nd National Conference on Health in Peru.  Photo credit: ForoSalud

In the past decade, efforts to promote more open and accountable governance have proliferated. These endeavors have taken on many shapes and sizes, from international multi-stakeholder initiatives to community-level citizen action, and everything in between. 

Most often, these approaches have sought to leverage elements of transparency and information along with some form of citizen engagement or participation, with the goal of influencing government actions to be more responsive and accountable.  

Learning the lessons of land protection from Africa’s justice advocates

Rachael Knight's picture

Looking out onto irrigated fields, NigeriaRural communities across Africa face a variety of threats to their customary and indigenous land and natural resource claims. The drivers of these threats are diverse: increasing foreign investment, national elite speculation, rising population densities, climate change, and national infrastructure mega-projects, to name a few.
The introduction of such external destabilizing influences often sets off a cascade of resulting intra-community challenges. In most communities, the challenges are multiple and overlapping: the divisive tactics of investors may pit community members against one another; state infrastructure development may claim the communal areas communities depend upon for their livelihoods and survival and create intra-community conflicts over scarce resources; elites seeking land may make back-room deals with leaders, undermining community trust of local leaders.
Land rights advocates and practitioners are frequently called upon to support communities facing such issues. However, when practitioners engage deeply with these communities, it often becomes clear that a multiplicity of factors and trends have weakened the communities’ ability to respond effectively to the conflict or threat – therefore requiring use of a variety of simultaneous strategies to ensure successful outcomes. The threats and trends are often directly and cyclically linked, with negative trends exposing communities to additional threats.

Enthusiasm, Confusion and a Bit of Clarity: Where are We Going with Social Accountability?

Joe Wales's picture

The debate around social accountability is not short of energy, enthusiasm or ideas. It has gone through many phases over the last 20 years and has become increasingly sophisticated as its evidence base has grown, a trend reflected in discussions at the recent ODI-World Bank conference on “New directions in governance”. Despite this progress is being held back by a lack of clarity on some issues and a narrow focus on the demand side. This blog argues that we need to broaden our thinking beyond a focus on civil society and citizens alone to engage much more strongly and strategically with the state and its divisions, aims and capacity.

One basic issue that raises tensions is whether or not social accountability works – a question that can be endlessly misinterpreted. Often when we talk about social accountability not working what we are actually saying is that external projects to support social accountability have not delivered what we expected them to deliver. Without this caveat, debate on what works can raise hackles amongst activists and SA proponents as it is taken as an attack on the idea of social accountability itself. In fact there is broad agreement that social accountability is a good thing in principle and can produce results. However the need to assert this point of principle is should not hold back attempts to identify where evidence is still needed – particularly on whether external agents can contribute to SA, how they can do so and under what circumstances.

Expanding Budget Literacy in Nepal

Deepa Rai's picture

In mid-July, when the Government of Nepal’s FY15 budget was announced live on TV, radio and social media, most Nepalis were keen to watch the latest game of the World Cup. However, in a country with a literacy rate of only 57%, where almost half of Nepalis can neither read nor write, analyzing complex GoN budgetary information would not have been their priority. The World Bank’s Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), however, is hoping to change that and educate people how the GoN budget affects their lives.
PRAN, together with Institute for Governance and Development (IGD), has recently developed ready-to-use, neo-literate flip charts outlining the importance of the government budget, its priorities, and its processes. These new IEC materials have been officially approved by the Government of Nepal for use nationally. Used effectively, they can help Nepali citizens become much more aware of what is rightfully theirs.  
Since 2011, PRAN has promoted increased social accountability and transparency in Nepal. PRAN seeks to educate communities about their local budget process and content.  As part of this effort, these new flip charts will serve as an awareness-raising tool by offering a detailed visual explanation of how the budget is designed, reviewed and approved.

The Poor, the Bank, and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

José Cuesta's picture

Something Is Changing

Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.  
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.   

Moving beyond street protests: Building social accountability in the Arab world

Line Zouhour's picture
Young man in the streets of Tripoli

At the heart of the upheavals that swept across the Middle East region during the Arab Spring was the call for more transparent, fair and accountable government. In the aftermath of the uprisings, specialists are left to address the issue of transition to democratic rule. In doing so, they have to answer the following questions: how can we systemize the culture of accountability and democratic governance? How can we channel the popular energy of street mobilization into a powerful institution that keeps duty-bearers in check?

Involving Women in Nepal's Local Decision Making

Deepa Rai's picture
“The issue is not about women’s allocation being absent from the Village Development Committee (VDC) budget but it is about how these allocations don’t address the real problems of women from that particular area. This is where we come in.”