Competing approaches to social accountability

My latest Mint column is up – this one is on understanding Social Accountability, looking at a couple of approaches and the assumptions that underlie them. The point about a mix of hypotheses, or theories of change, is an important one for me – they aren’t entirely different, but are distinct enough for practitioners to ensure that they understand the implications of their chosen approach. Another over-arching observation that these approaches are for the most part, focused on the public sector – what of services that are privatised?

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.
Two, that information regarding the state of public services (and in comparison to ideal service standards) in the hands of citizens will mobilize citizens to action. Social audits or Community Score Cards implemented with citizens groups in urban or rural areas provide such information to citizens.
A third one, that citizen (specifically, users of public services) feedback or performance outcomes presented to service providers would act as a catalyst for change for these organizations. Exercises such as the Annual Status of Education Report (for primary education in India), report cards on service providers (such as Citizens Report Cards in Bangalore) are instances where such data may be collected and used for advocacy to generate pressure on service providers to reform service delivery and improve their performance.

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