What are the lessons from piloting and scaling up social accountability approaches in development projects supported by the World Bank? Findings suggest that social accountability holds considerable promise for achieving better governance and service delivery. However, the World Bank needs to focus more on areas such as such as linking the supply and demand sides of governance, upgrading staff skills, improving monitoring and evaluation, increasing the evidence base, and expanding external partnerships to create coalitions for change.
Social accountability is based on civic engagement, in which citizens participate directly or indirectly in demanding accountability. It is referred to as the ‘demand’ side of better governance (demand from citizens).
Extensive piloting of social accountability approaches has taken place through a number of small World Bank projects scattered across a range of countries and sectors. For example, the Citizen Report Card tool was introduced in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Senegal and South Africa. In Kenya, a consumer feedback mechanism for municipal drinking water supply services was established through citizen advisory boards, public hearings and citizen reports. These pilots generated a number of lessons on how to design and implement social accountability approaches:
- Social accountability is mainly political. Success depends on the context in which social accountability tools are used, and involves changing mindsets, building relationships, and developing capacity.
- Stakeholder analysis can help to identify the relevant players when designing social accountability schemes. It can also help in assessing accountability and power relations between those players.
- Building partnership and coalitions can help to tip the balance in the favour of change in a resistant system where citizens have little say in public service delivery.
- Combining incentives and sanctions is often effective. This is done by offering rewards for accountable behaviour based on client assessment and well as by sanctioning unaccountable behaviour.
- The quality and accessibility of public information and data is crucial. The monitoring of service providers is subject to elite capture.
- Reaching out to the marginalised and empowering the weak requires a special effort.
Challenges in scaling up social accountability initiatives include the time, money, and expertise required to implement, and establish acceptance of, them. The current project-based development approach is not conducive to time-consuming, consensus-generating approaches such as participation, consultation, feedback collection, and transparency promotion. Further:
- Existing operations suffer from a demand-side governance deficit and more efforts will need to be made to link the supply and demand sides of governance both within and outside the Bank.
- More could also be done to maximise the benefits of links with civil society organisations implementing social accountability interventions.
- The number of experienced staff with skills and specific experience in guiding operations and analytical work on social accountability is rather limited, and is unevenly distributed across Bank regions.
- Monitoring and evaluation needs to be improved. While the pilot evidence is mostly positive, only a few rigorous impact evaluations convincingly link social accountability interventions with better quality services and improved development outcomes.