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.