Social Accountability: An Introduction to the Concept and Emerging Practice


(authors abstract) This paper highlights the World Bank’s growing interest and involvement in social accountability initiatives, which derive from its core goals of promoting poverty reduction and effective and sustainable development. It addresses five fundamental questions: (i) what is social accountability; (ii) why is it important; (iii) what are its core features; (iv) what are the key applications; and (v) what are the factors that underpin its success. The paper also explores the linkages between the concept and other key issues such as governance, gender, participation, empowerment and rights.

Social accountability is defined as an approach toward building accountability that relies on civic engagement, i.e., in which it is ordinary citizens and/or civil society organizations that participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability. In a public sector context, social accountability refers to a broad range of actions and mechanisms that citizens, communities, independent media and civil society organizations can use to hold public officials and public servants accountable. These include, among others, participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, monitoring of public service delivery, investigative journalism, public commissions and citizen advisory boards. These citizen-driven accountability measures complement and reinforce conventional mechanisms of accountability such as political checks and balances, accounting and auditing systems, administrative rules and legal procedures.

Evidence suggests that social accountability mechanisms can contribute to improved governance, increased development effectiveness through better service delivery, and empowerment. While the range of social accountability mechanisms is wide and diverse, key common building blocks include obtaining, analyzing and disseminating information, mobilizing public support, and advocating and negotiating change. Critical factors of success include: access to and effective use of information, civil society and state capacities and synergy between the two. Ultimately, the effectiveness and sustainability of social accountability mechanisms is improved when they are “institutionalized” and when the state’s own “internal” mechanisms of accountability are rendered more transparent and open to civic engagement. Social accountability mechanisms to be effective on the long run need to be institutionalized and linked to existing governance structures and service delivery systems.

Author: Carmen Malena, Reiner Forster & Janmejay Singh 

Location: Global

Language: English

Category: Paper

Type: PDF