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▸ Broadly speaking, accountability can be defined as a relationship between two bodies, in
which the performance of one is subject to oversight by another.
▸ In the context of public administration, for oversight to be exercised, two distinct mechanisms
need to be in place:
• answerability – defined as an obligation of public officials to inform and explain what
they are doing
• enforcement – defined as an ability to impose sanctions on those who violate their
▸ In a democracy, the main instrument that citizens can use to hold the legislative accountable
is periodic elections, a key mechanism of vertical accountability. In practice, free and fair
elections are insufficient to ensure the duty bearers and service providers adhere to the
principles of good governance like rule of law, transparency and accountability.
▸ The system of checks and balances between the institutions of the state is referred to as
horizontal accountability. It includes the ability of the legislative to hold the executive
politically accountable through planning and budgeting and ministerial oversight.
▸ Horizontal accountability is also exercised through fiscal mechanisms, like formal systems of
auditing and financial accounting, and administrative mechanisms like hierarchical reporting,
public service codes of conduct, etc.
▸ Vertical and horizontal accountability measures are not sufficient to ensure that public money
is actually spent in accordance with existing regulations and standards and for the purpose it
is intended. So, additional accountability mechanisms allowing for more direct participation
of citizens in accountability processes beyond elections are termed diagonal or social
▸ It refers to a form of accountability that emerges through actions by citizens and civil society
organizations [CSOs] aimed at holding the State to account, as well as efforts by government
and other actors [media, private sector, donors] to support and respond to these actions.
▸ Its goal is not to replace but to reinforce and complement existing accountability mechanisms.
▸ It affirms the fundamental principle that duty-bearers (public officials and service providers)
are accountable to rights-holders (citizens) and offers a rich set of approaches and tools for
applying that principle into practice.
▸ Those who engage in social accountability bring fundamental principles of good governance
and democracy to life. that is, the premise that governments have an obligation to inform and
explain and that they are answerable to their people for political promises, use of financial
resources, and how they govern.
Social accountability is about involving citizens and communities in the processes of governance
so that decisions and actions of the people and organizations with power are made public and can
be questioned. This not only improves governance but also leads to better service delivery and to
community empowerment.
Social accountability approaches can be applied at local to national level and can target a range of
governance issues and processes including:
▸ public information-sharing, policy-making and planning;
▸ the analysis and tracking of public budgets, expenditures and procurement processes;
▸ the participatory monitoring and evaluation of public service delivery, as well as broader
oversight roles, anti-corruption measures and complaints handling mechanisms.
Social accountability is fundamentally a rights-based approach; it is predicated on the:
▸ right to information
▸ right to voice
▸ right to organize, and
▸ right to participate in governance functions.
Paired with these citizen rights is the responsibility of citizens to understand and play a proactive
role in exercising these rights.
Social accountability centers on the flow and interactions between three components:
1. Information
2. Civil society (citizen) action
3. Government (state) response
Most obviously, social accountability interventions use information to catalyze civil society action
to result in an official government response. However, civil society mobilization and action can
also lead to the generation or dissemination of relevant information. The government’s response
to citizen action can lead to information being released to the public. However, “all information is
not equal; all citizen action is not the same and all official responses cannot be seen as
accountability enhancing.”
There are three key actors which have a role to play in strengthening social accountability.
1. The State
a. The State has a central responsibility to implement the important political,
legislative and judicial reforms needed to achieve a democratic transition.
b. The State is also responsible for creating an enabling environment for social
accountability relations, guaranteeing the freedom of association and access to
information, ensuring citizens’ rights to public information and opening up public
budget and expenditure records, improving internal systems of transparency, etc.
2. Civil Society
a. Civil society has emerged as a growing actor that can and should play an active role
in holding the State accountable and advocating for policy proposals to advance the
social justice agenda.
b. To be effective agents of social accountability, CSOs must be able to access
information, mobilize citizens, make their voices heard and negotiate a response
from public authorities. CSOs must also themselves strive to be legitimate,
transparent, democratic and accountable organizations.
3. Media
a. Both traditional media and new social media could play a crucial role in amplifying
the voice of the citizens and facilitating the dialogue between the civil society and
the state.
b. A strong, independent media has a powerful role to play in promoting social
accountability. The media can pressure the State for accountability by
disseminating information about social and economic inequity, and, more
importantly, framing those issues in a way to hold the state accountable and to
encourage a sense of empowerment.
Finally, while accountability is often presented as a triad equation, there is a need to
consider the role of the fourth player, one that has significant influence, particularly in socalled developing countries. That fourth player are the international organizations.
4. International Organizations
a. World Bank
b. IMF
c. ADB
There is a need to consider this fourth actor because they hold a convening power to bring
together state actors, civil society and media to discuss complex governance issues. By
promoting multi-stakeholder consultation processes, such as country-led governance
assessments, they create platforms for potentially constructive dialogue focused on
objective criteria, such as indicators, allowing for more constructive discussions.
Implementing social accountability is challenging for government officers at all levels. The
attitudes of both citizens and officials are important because they need to value the principles of
accountability and be committed to putting them into practice. However, social accountability has
many benefits.
Improved social accountability is not only a mechanism to punish and control misuse of office. If
applied in a constructive manner and institutionalized in regular government procedures and
behavior, it is also a mean to structure communication between a government and its citizens and
could contribute to a change in the relationship between the two parties, from a “producerconsumer” type of relationship to one where they work together to improve services (coproduction) .
Promoting the principles of social accountability can contribute towards:
▸ Improved governance
▸ Enhanced public services
▸ Enabling officials to make well-informed decisions.
▸ http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.03.011
▸ Joshi, A. 2013. Context Matters: A Causal Chain Approach to Unpacking Social
Accountability Interventions. Work in Progress Paper. Brighton, UK: Institute of
Development Studies. Available at http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/ContextMattersa
▸ http://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=80595&printable=1&fbc