To date, there is no consensus on whether or how transparency or accountability improves development outcomes. Nevertheless, there is some emerging evidence that certain factors are associated with relative success – for example, it is becoming clear that certain types and channels of information provision are more likely to enable citizens to directly hold service providers to account (Kosack & Fung, 2014). A widely cited example of this is the successful case of community monitoring in the health sector in Uganda (Svensson & Bjorkman, 2007). Nevertheless, recent meta-reviews have concluded that overall, the evidence supporting the assumed links between greater transparency and accountability and better services remains limited (Gaventa & McGee, 2013; Joshi, 2013; Lynch et al., 2013).
Kosack, S. & Fung, A. (2014). Does Transparency Improve Governance? Annual Review of Political Science, 17(1), 65-87.
Why do some transparency and accountability initiatives fail while others succeed? This paper reviews 16 evaluations of the impact of information provision. It finds that three key variables account for variation in outcomes: possibilities for collective action, political willingness, and implementation chains. More successful interventions provided information on inputs and outputs, provided information on the rights of citizens along with information about the performance of the provider, and presented information about performance in comparison with other villages or national standards.
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Gaventa, J. & McGee, R. (2013). The Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives. Development Policy Review, 31(S1), s3-s28.
This comprehensive literature review finds that the evidence base on transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) is not large enough to begin to assess overall trends and impacts. Some isolated studies have shown that TAIs have created opportunities for citizens and states to interact constructively. These have contributed to better budget utilisation, improved service delivery, greater state responsiveness to citizens’ needs, spaces for citizen engagement and the empowerment of local voices. Relationships within and between state and civil society have proven critical.
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Joshi, A. (2013). Do They Work? Assessing the Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives in Service Delivery. Development Policy Review, 31(S1), s29-s48.
Transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) have emerged as a key strategy for improving public services, but the links between transparency and accountability and their impact on service delivery are often assumed. This article finds evidence suggesting that a range of accountability initiatives have been effective in their immediate goals, and in a few cases have had a strong impact on public services, but that overall evidence of impact on the quality and accessibility of services is mixed. Political economy factors, including the nature and strength of civil society movements, the relative political strength of service providers (for example, teacher unions), the ability of cross-cutting coalitions to push reforms, the legal context, and active media all appear to have contributed in varying degrees to the successful cases.
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Svensson, J. & Bjorkman, M. (2007). Power to The People: Evidence From A Randomized Field Experiment Of A Community-Based Monitoring Project In Uganda. Washington, DC: World Bank.
This paper analyses the importance of strengthening accountability between health service providers and citizens for improving access to and quality of health care. It presents a randomised field experiment on increasing community-based monitoring. As communities began to more extensively monitor the provider, both the quality and quantity of health service provision improved. One year into the program, there are large increases in utilization, significant weight-for-age z-score gains of infants, and markedly lower deaths among children. The findings on staff behaviour suggest that the improvements in quality and quantity of health service delivery resulted from an increased effort by the staff to serve the community. Overall, the results suggest that community monitoring can play an important role in improving service delivery when traditional top-down supervision is ineffective.
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Lynch, U., et al. (2013). What is the evidence that the establishment or use of community accountability mechanisms and processes improves inclusive service delivery by governments, donors and NGOs to communities? London: EPPI Centre.
This systematic review analysed whether community monitoring and accountability mechanisms improve equitable access to service delivery and reduce corruption. Four intervention types were reviewed: greater freedom of information, greater transparency in service delivery mechanisms, an increase in budget control by citizens and increases in the consumer’s assessment of service accessibility and quality. Together, the findings draw attention to the importance of capacity development, empowerment, level of corruption and health. Overall, more rigorous research is needed. The review found that interventions are most effective when they are grounded in grassroots communities and adopt cross-cutting approaches, for example, combining cash transfer interventions with education and training opportunities or combining community infrastructure programmes with quotas for participation of women in governance roles.
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For further resources on transparency, see the section on access to information, and its constraints in the GSDRC’s communications and governance topic guide.
For further resources on accountability, see the supplement on the accountability and responsiveness of the state and society.