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Competing Approaches to Social Accountability

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Advocates of social accountability approaches believe that regular elections are not enough to bring about a change in service delivery

Seeking accountability from public service providers remains one of the most prominent governance challenges in developing countries. In recent years, there has been a burst of social accountability tools, and NGOs and governments have promoted their use widely. Broadly, social accountability refers to approaches that seek to foster accountability through enhanced civil society engagement.

The advocates of social accountability approaches believe that the regular cycle of elections—in spite of the near continuous cycle of elections for the village councils, state and centre—are not enough to bring about a substantive change in service delivery. In this context, there is the opportunity to experiment with alternative mechanisms of fostering social accountability. Researchers at the Centre for Future State of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK, conclude from their field studies in Delhi and Sao Paulo, Brazil, that social accountability tools can be used to set the minimum required standard of public services by “highlighting deficiencies in existing provision or entitlements”. This also works when citizens’ demands are “framed in terms of legal or moral rights”.

As a set of approaches for “good governance”, social accountability tools represent an interesting collection of hypotheses. One, that involving citizens in local planning, budgeting and spending decisions will ensure that the design and implementation of public services is pro-poor. Local governments and decentralized systems for local planning and service delivery are the usual form in which this approach manifests itself.

'Going Public' with Decisionmaking

Heather Lanthorn's picture

In our last post, we discussed how establishing “relevant reasons” for decision-making ex ante may enhance the legitimacy and fairness of deliberations on resource allocation. We also highlight that setting relevant decision-making criteria can inform evaluation design by highlighting what evidence needs to be collected.

We specifically focus on the scenario of an agency deciding whether to sustain, scale or shut down a given programme after piloting it with an accompanying evaluation — commissioned explicitly to inform that decision. Our key foci are both how to make evidence useful to informing decisions and how, recognizing that evidence plays a minor role in decision-making, to ensure decision-making is done fairly.

For such assurance, we primarily rely on Daniels’ framework for promoting “accountability for reasonableness” (A4R) among decision-makers. If the four included criteria are met, Daniels argues, it will bring legitimacy to deliberations and, he further argues, consequent fairness to the decision.

In this post, we continue with the second criterion to ensure A4R: the publicity of decisions taken drawing on the first criterion, relevant reasons. We consider why transparency – that is, making decision criteria public – enhances the fairness and coherence of those decisions. We also consider what ‘going public’ means for learning.

What Can a Community Do to Hold a School Accountable?

Deepa Rai's picture

The answer from a case study in western Nepal says the answer could be one of the social accountability tools - Community Score Card (CSC).

The case study, produced by the World Bank-funded Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), gives an overview of how the tool was used to counter mismanagement, irregularity of staff as well as quality of 21 community schools in Nawalparasi district in Nepal.
Community Score Card
CSC is a mechanism through which citizens monitor the quality of community based public services. It provides the opportunity for citizens to analyse any particular service they have received based on their personal feelings, to express dissatisfaction or to provide encouragement for good work. It also further suggests measures to be taken if flaws still remain.
Ritu, who had to interrupt her post-school education because of her marriage, now hopes for a good education for her daughters. She voiced her heartfelt opinion during the scoring, commenting on the weak ability of the school administration to control and discipline the teachers. Consequently, she was elected into the School Monitoring Committee to supervise the improvements. She is confident that the community, having had a taste of the Score Card, will maintain it, especially now that it does not entail any community expense.

Exit, Voice, and Service Delivery for the Poor

Robert Wrobel's picture

Inspired by Jeremy Adelman’s wonderful biography of Albert Hirschman (Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013), I’ve read and reread Hirschman’s masterpiece, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, (Harvard University Press, 1970) and his follow up essay “Exit, Voice, and State” (reprinted in The Essential Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013). Although Hirschman produced these works over 40 years ago, his simple model of flight (“exit”) or resistance (“voice”) in the face of unsatisfactory economic, political or social conditions remains highly relevant for policymakers and development practitioners concerned with eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and improving basic services accessible to the poor.
Hirschman’s ideas provide much cause for reflection within the context of present-day Indonesia. Indonesia has enjoyed over a decade of macroeconomic stability and economic growth. From 2000 to 2011 GDP expanded by 5.3 percent per year, and the official poverty count halved from 24 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2012.  This period also saw notable improvements in health and education. Access to education has become more widespread and equitable. Girls are now as likely as boys to graduate from secondary school. In health, Indonesia is on track to meet Millennium Development Goals for reducing both the prevalence of underweight children under five years old, and the under-five mortality rate.

Transparency and a New Paradigm of Governance in India

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

The recently-concluded state-level elections in India’s capital city-state, Delhi, yielded a remarkable outcome. The country’s newest political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), literally “Common Man” Party, formed only a year ago by civil society activists affiliated to the landmark 2010 anti-corruption movement, routed the country’s oldest political party, the Congress, which has governed the country through most of its post-Independence years. The fledgling party’s performance and subsequent formation of the state government (ironically with the backing in the state legislature of the same party it had demolished), is being hailed as the beginning of something like a peaceful democratic revolution. It has galvanized political participation in a fairly unprecedented way as hundreds of thousands of “common people” across the country have rushed to join the ranks of a political force they hope will deliver better governance. And it had sowed the seeds of fresh optimism in the possibility of an ethical and accountable governance system.

This euphoria might be somewhat premature in the absence of any track record of AAP’s performance in government. But the party’s ascent undoubtedly represents a distinct break from traditional politics and suggests a new paradigm in at least two ways. First, AAP transcends the politics of identity and sectarian interests and practices instead what has been called the “politics of citizenship.” While other political parties have emerged from the grassroots in post-independence India and gone on to become potent regional forces, they have typically had their moorings in identity politics of one sort or another – caste, religion, ethnicity – that gave them dedicated support bases. In contrast, the AAP’s primary plank is good governance. Although it has been criticized for espousing untenable populist economic policies – such as subsidized water and electricity, its economic ideology and policies are very much at a formative stage. Its largest selling point has been its promise to fight corruption and bring probity to governance. Its success has catapulted the problem of corruption center-stage as the defining issue in the upcoming national elections.

#3 from 2013: Who is Listening? Who is Responding? Can Technology Innovations Empower Citizens to Affect Positive Changes in their Communities?

Soren Gigler's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on August 15, 2013

It was a sunny, hot Saturday afternoon and I mingled with farmers, community leaders, coffee producers and handicrafts entrepreneurs who had traveled from all parts of Bolivia to gather at the main square of Cliza, a rural town outside of Cochabamba. The place was packed and a sense of excitement and high expectations was unfolding. It was to be anything but an ordinary market day.
Thousands of people had been selected from more than 700 rural communities to showcase their products and they were waiting for a special moment. President Evo Morales, Nemesia Achocallo, Minister for Rural Development, Viviana Caro, Minister for Development Planning, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, on his first official visit to Bolivia, would soon be meeting them.  

While waiting among them, I felt their excitement, listened to their life stories and was humbled by the high expectations they had in their government, their leaders and the international community to support them in reaching their aspirations for a better future for their families and communities. From many I heard the need to improve the well-being of their families and communities and their goal of “Vivir Bien!”

#5 from 2013: Using Twitter to Run Cities Better: Governance @SF311

Tanya Gupta's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on January 24, 2013

It will soon be nearly four years since then San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom visited Twitter headquarters.  He told Biz Stone (one of the Twitter founders) about how someone from the city had sent him a Twitter message about a pothole.  A discussion about "how we can get Twitter to be involved in advancing, streamlining, and supporting the governance of cities," led to the creation of @SF311 on Twitter that would allow live reporting by citizens of service needs, feedback, and other communication.  Perhaps the most innovative aspect at that time was that citizens would be able to communicate directly and transparently with the Government.  San Francisco was the first US city to roll out a major service such as this on Twitter.

Twitter offers several advantages over phonecalls or written requests made by citizens, some of which I have mentioned before:

#10 from 2013: Citizens Against Corruption: What Works? Findings from 200 Projects in 53 Countries

Duncan Green's picture

In the next few weeks, we will be running our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013

Originally published on May 22, 2013

I attended a panel + booklaunch on the theme of ‘Citizens Against Corruption’ at the ODI last week. After all the recent agonizing and self-doubt of the results debate (‘really, do we know anything about the impact of our work? How can we be sure?’), it was refreshing to be carried away on a wave of conviction and passion. The author of the book, Pierre Landell-Mills is in no doubt – citizen action can have a massive impact in countering corruption and improving the lives of poor people, almost irrespective of the political context.

The book captures the experience of the Partnership for Transparency Fund, set up by Pierre in 2000. It summarizes experiences from 200 case studies in 53 countries. This has included everything from using boy scouts to stop the ‘disappearance’ of textbooks in the Philippines to introducing a new code of ethics for Mongolia’s judiciary. The PTF’s model of change is really interesting. In terms of the project itself:

  • Entirely demand led: it waits for civil society organizations (CSOs) to come up with proposals, and funds about one in five
  • $25k + an expert: the typical project consists of a small grant, and a volunteer expert, usually a retiree from aid agencies or governments, North and South. According to Pierre ‘the clue to PTF’s success has been marrying high quality expertise with the energy and guts of young activists’. (I’ve now added ‘Grey Wonks’ to my ‘Grey Panthers’ rant on why the aid world is so bad at making the most of older people).
  • The PTF is tapping into a zeitgeist of shifting global norms on corruption, epitomised by the UN Convention Against Corruption (2003). The idea that ‘they work for us’ seems to be gaining ground.
  • The PTF prefers cooperation to conflict – better to work with champions within the state (and there nearly always are some, if you can find them), than just to lob rocks from the sidelines (although some rock-lobbing may also be required).
  • It also prefers action and avoids funding ‘awareness-raising’, ‘capacity building’ and other ‘conference-building measures.’

So what works? On the basis of the case studies (chapters on India, Mongolia, Uganda and the Philippines), and his vast experience of governance and corruption work, Pierre sets out a ‘stylized programme’ for the kinds of CSO-led initiatives that deliver the goods:

Access to Information: Aid Effectiveness is the True Test

Kate Henvey's picture

Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the same question I asked when the Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index was released in October 2013.

This week I found myself asking the same question as the 2013 World Bank Access to Information Report was released, highlighting how the Bank’s Access to Information Policy has provided the framework for the institution to emerge as a global leader in transparency and openness.

 “Of course, data and knowledge are not an end in themselves,” President Jim Kim noted in the opening message of the report, “ultimately the true test of our effectiveness is how we use this evidence to change the lives of over a billion people in extreme poverty.”

Bits and Atoms: Limited Statehood and Digital Technology

CGCS's picture
Steven Livingston, a Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs at George Washington University, discusses his upcoming book Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood.

Much of the development, governance and more general international affairs literatures speak of failed or fragile states when describing a breakdown of governance capacity.[1] In Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood Gregor Walter-Drop of the Freie Universität Berlin and I use a different formulation. We provide a more nuanced conceptual foundation for thinking about the nature of statehood and how digital technologies might serve to ameliorate the effects of what we call limited statehood. Following Max Weber, statehood is characterized by a monopoly on the means of violence, the ability to make and impose binding rules, and by the effective provisioning of public goods. An area of limited statehood is defined by the absence of some or all of these qualities.

As Thomas Risse and his colleagues have argued, limited statehood has at least three manifestations. It can be territorial, limited to a particular geographical space within the larger context of the sovereign borders of an otherwise consolidated state. The urban slums of Nairobi, Lagos, or Rio are territorial areas of limited statehood, confined spaces where basic public goods – clear water, sanitation, security, and infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks — are missing. Limited statehood can also be sectoral, limited to specific policy areas where the governance capacity of the state falls short. And it can be temporal, where an otherwise fully consolidated state suffers a temporary loss of governance capacity. Disasters in this respect constitute a governance stress test, measuring the governance capacity of state institutions. When Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines in November, destroying everything in its path, the Philippines government was overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge found in restoring order and providing for basic public services. In much the same way, the Japanese government was overwhelmed by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The tsunami added to the burden when it caused level 7+ meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans fits this category “in the sense that U.S. authorities were unable to enforce decisions and to uphold the monopoly over the means of violence for a short period of time.”[2] These examples make clear that even fully consolidated states such as Japan and the United States can experience periods of limited statehood.