Introduction and Social Accountability Concepts
There is a growing recognition in the world today that strengthening the “demand-side” of governance is a critical element in enhancing the accountability of public officials, strengthening public institutions, reducing corruption and leakage of public funds and improving public service delivery.
Demand-side approaches imply the involvement of a variety of "non-governmental" stakeholders-citizens, the media, watch-dog groups, trade associations, and others-in both contributing to government decision-making and in holding governments accountable. In many countries, citizens and civil society organizations are no longer relying on “top-down” measures to improve governance, but instead are becoming actively engaged in demanding good governance, participating in processes of public decision-making and resource allocation, monitoring government performance and exacting accountability. The term “social accountability” refers to the wide range of different actions on the part of citizens and CSOs to hold the state to account, as well as actions on the part of government, media and other societal actors that promote or facilitate these efforts.
Unless public officials and institutions can be held to account, then critical benefits associated with good governance, such as social justice, poverty reduction and development remain elusive. In many countries lack of public accountability results not only in corruption and wanton waste of precious development resources, it also seriously compromises the quality and effectiveness of public policy-making, planning and the provision of services to meet basic needs. In addition, it denies citizens their inherent right to influence decisions that directly affect their lives and to hold state officials accountable for the public resources with which they are entrusted.
We begin by providing a conceptual overview of social accountability and explain its importance in bringing about improved governance, increased development effectiveness, including through better service delivery, and empowerment. We distinguish “social accountability” approaches from traditional accountability mechanisms and present the building blocks of social accountability, including key factors for its success. The module ends by giving an overview of specific social accountability tools and mechanisms as they relate to the Public Financial Management (PFM) cycle.