Social Accountability

Social Accountability is a relatively new term that encompasses elements of the “Rights based Approach” that CSOs have used for the past 10 years. The World Bank (and particularly the World Bank Institute) have been responsible for popularising and encouraging its use, particularly through their setting up of the “ANSAs” (Affiliated Networks of Social Accontability) in Africa, South Asia, and SE Asia., and more recently, their series of “How To” notes.

ANSA Africa’s book “Social Accountanlity in Africa – practioners experiences and lessons” 2010, explains the meaning of social accountability well : “In the broadest sense, social accountability is the requirement of those in lower to explain and take responsibility for their choices and actions. (…) his is a proactive process where government officilas do not sit and wait for citizens to demand , but actively and voluntarily disseminate information, convene forums of participation, and ultimately give account (…) The tools and apporaches used by actors who aim to assert slcial accountability is not a new phenomenon, but the conept of social accountability is new terain that aims to develop a framework of how citizens demand and enforce accountability from those in power”.

An important point about social accountability is that it takes the “short route” to accountablity from the government by having citizens interact with government officials respobsible for programmes: this distinguishes it from the “long route” which is that of democratic elections, held over 4-5 year intervals, and which are another, and slower way for cktizens to demand accountability frlm their governments.

CSOs have for a long time seen themselves as complements to government, with alternative ideas on how development should be advanced. CSOs have often seen, for instance, faults with government programmes of clean water supply, or primary health care, and have devised their own ways of doing this better, and have often sought funding from other sources to allow them to do this. Social accountabiity takes a different perspective: it says that citizens, in their social contract with government, have sought to get laws passed and regulations enforced which will benefit them. These laws and regulations, once passed, become operational and should bring benefits to the citizens. They observe, however that frequently, these laws and programmes connected to them, are not implemented properly, or, if they are implemented, have faults and problems which mean that they do not have the impact intended.

In such cases, citizens, rather than create their own alternatives, seek to face government with these results, and demand that government is accountable and responsible to the citizens for implementing the laws and regulations that have been duly passed into law. They do this by mobilising citizens to (a) understand what laws and regulations have been passed and what their entitlements are under these laws, (b) appreciate to what extent their entitlements have been duly implemented or not (c) understand whether the laws and regulations have had the impact intended or not, and (d) in cases where entitlements have not been implemented or have been implemented with unhelpful outcomes, to seek redress, and a correction in their implementation

The context for most social accountability work, is, therefore when government laws and regulations are not working well for the benefit of the citizens, particularly the poorest and least powerful, and this is happening because of bad faith or intentional corruption in the administration of such programmes by government officials, or bad design of such programmes so that they do not produce the benefits intended. It may be that a deformation in the programmes intended was also part of the bad faith or corruption of the government officials. Whatever tools are used by social accountablity programmes have to be considered in this context, therefore – will they be effective when citizens entitlements are being restricted intentionally.

My involvement in social accountability work was in the World Bank’s PRAN in Nepal. My contribution to social accountability thinking was (a) to emphasise that a knowledge of the relevant laws was a necessary first step, and (b) to suggest that a “Plan B” was always necessary for citizens seeking government accountability, because it is very likely that the government officials will deny or seek to refute the citzens demands. This has been included in the PRAN sourcebook mentioned below.


The following books have been very valuable:

Sourcebook for 21 Tools for Social Accountability in Nepal. PRAN Nepal 2012

Social Accountability in Action. PRAN Nepal 2013

Using Evidence to establish Accountabiity – a sourcebook on democratic accountability for development

practitioners and learning facilitators. Action Aid 2011. African/Asian/Latin American versions

Mapping Context for Social Accountabiity bySimon O’Meally, World Bank, 2013

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