What is Social Accountability?

Defining social accountability

Social accountability refers to the broad range of actions and mechanisms beyond voting that citizens can use to hold the state to account and make it responsive to their needs, as well as actions on the part of government, civil society, media and other societal actors that promote or facilitate these efforts. Social accountability increases transparency and quality of government policy development and implementation processes, and thus becomes the principal method for solving governance issues that hinder improvement of quality of life of citizens.  In doing so, the government receives the propositions from their citizens and defines critical issues, explores their root causes and implements possible solutions. (World Bank, 2015)

Other commonly used definitions of social accountability:

Social accountability emerges through actions by citizens and civil society organization aimed at holding the state to account, as well as efforts by government and other actors (media, private sector, donors) to support these actions. It provides extra sets of checks and balances on the state in the interest of the public. (UNDP)

Social Accountability is a process of constructive engagement between citizens and government to check the conduct and performance of public officials, politicians, and service providers as they use public resources to deliver services, improve community welfare, and protect people’s rights. (ANSA-EAP)

Although the concept of “Social accountability” has been translated and widely used as ‘Social Responsibility’, ‘Accountable Reporting’, or “Community/Citizens Oversight” in Mongolian, consistent translation of terminology has not been adopted and agreed upon.

Therefore, the MASAM team initiated and led the process to define a new terminology usage for social accountability in Mongolian language quoting cases where interchangeable usage of “responsibility” and “accountability” and various terms creating confusions. In January 2016, agreed on a new term which was suggested by the Mongolian linguists from Mongolian Science Academy as result of two consecutive seminars involving over twenty experts from academic organizations, National Academy of Governance, Institute of Finance and Economics, Mongolian Science Academy, development partners, UNDP, WB and national CSOs.

Common elements of social accountability practice

  • Constructive engagement between stakeholders, marked by a spirit of collaboration and not opposition. In social accountability, there is equal emphasis on recognizing and sustaining good practices, and on identifying problem areas for further improvement.
  • Partnerships among different stakeholders, commonly between government institutions and the people who represent them and citizens or the groups (e.g., civil society) that represent their interests. There is a widespread hypothesis that involving other types of stakeholders - such as the private sector, industry experts, public service providers, and the media - increases the impact of social accountability initiatives. While not always a requirement, engagement mechanisms such as the use of memorandum of understanding and similar instruments have proven useful in many settings.
  • The use of evidence and tools as a basis for joint action. Tools and the methodologies for carrying them out are typically agreed on by all involved, and can deal with perception or satisfaction data (e.g., citizen feedback on clinical services) to the more technical aspects of service delivery (e.g., monitoring expenditure on medicines).
  • The work is not done until we manage to “close the loop” - the feedback loop, that is.  Governments and its contracted service providers must agree on immediate and clear next steps to address issues raised by citizens and other stakeholders.
  • It is ideal that SA actions are embedded in naturally-occurring processes, especially when used as a tool for problem-solving. For this reason, the natural actors in a specific service delivery issue are those who benefit from or receive the service. In the case of schools, this can be the parent-teacher associations and students; in the case of local health clinics, it is likely to be the immediate community around each clinic.

Some examples of Social Accountability tools and mechanisms (World Bank, 2007)

Government Function

Social Accountability  Process

Social Accountability Mechanisms and Tools

Policies & Plans

Participatory Policy Making and Planning

•      Local issue forums

•      Study circles

•      Deliberative polling

•      Public hearings

Budgets and Expenditures

Budget-Related Social Accountability Work

•      Participatory budget formulation

•      Independent budget analysis

•      Performance based budgeting

•      Public education to improve budget literacy

•      Public expenditure tracking surveys

•      Social /community/ audit

•      Transparency portals (budget websites)

Delivery of Services and Goods

Social Accountability in the Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Services and Goods

•      Public hearings

•      Citizen’s Report Cards

•      Community Score Cards

•      Public opinion polls

•      Citizen’s charters

Public Oversight

Social Accountability, Public Oversight

•      CSO oversight committees

•      Local oversight committees

•      Ombudsmen


Other useful resources:

World Bank. 2007. The Enabling Environment for Social Accountability in Mongolia. Washington, DC. © World Bank. http://bit.ly/SAMongolia

Grandvoinnet, Helene; Aslam, Ghazia; Raha, Shomikho. 2015. Opening the Black Box : The Contextual Drivers of Social Accountability. New Frontiers of Social Policy;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank.  http://bit.ly/SAContextualDrivers

Other World Bank resources on social accountability: http://bit.ly/1UMKELU

Other materials that are available on this website especially in the section of Knowledge & Resources