In recent years, social accountability has moved to the forefront of Government and Civil Society agenda appearing with increasing frequency under good governance, poverty reduction, and decentralization.
According to the World Bank definition, social accountability is an approach, initiated by civil society or the state, towards building an accountable and responsive government by relying on civic engagement. It is placed prominently in the demand side, which assumes an informed, responsible and engaged citizenry, complementing the role and function of government. Social accountability mechanisms are hence demand-driven, and operate from the ‘bottom-up’.
A range of initiatives has been implemented to develop the institutional capacity of governments to provide people’s basic needs and to make them accountable. These include, for example, citizen participation in public policy-making, participatory budgeting, independent budget analysis, public expenditure tracking, citizen monitoring of public service delivery and projects or sub-projects that directly affect them, citizen advisory boards, lobbying and advocacy campaigns. Another mechanism to improve governance was the establishment of public and private sector accountability institutions. There were also some reported successes in these institutional efforts.
New approaches to improve the delivery of basic services and make governments accountable have focused on the greater role of the citizens and citizen groups. It is seen largely as a significant part of the process of democratization and suggests that involving citizens gives the greatest chance of success. Achieving this requires developing a partnership between government officials and citizens, and effective communication between them.
While considering the practical application of social accountability mechanisms, a careful understanding of the enabling environment, which looks at the political, administrative, historical and social context, is essential. It is also important to think through the appropriate entry-points which require a responsive government that enables formation of synergy between state and society. Looking at existing and required capacities of civil society groups and the public sector to carry out social accountability initiative is also essential to arrive at the right mix of the social accountability tools. It is equally important to analyze how social accountability concepts link with existing formal accountability mechanisms, institutional arrangements, and incentives in the public sector.
The Affiliated Network on Social Accountability in East Asia Pacific (ANSA-EAP) considers all these elements in formulating its research strategy and delivery of research outputs. Particularly, ANSA-EAP aims to address the following four challenges on Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific:
Understanding Social Accountability in the Region. There is a need for a stronger contextualization of accountability that takes into account the historical, cultural and socio-political sensitivity in the Region. Social Accountability is a relatively new concept that is poorly understood by the general public. In recent years, however, social accountability has moved to the forefront of government’s and donor community’s reform agenda in the Region, particularly those that focus on good governance, poverty reduction, and democratic development. ANSA-EAP aims to capture the evolving meaning and understanding of social accountability.
Limited information on Social Accountability approaches and experiences in the Region. There are already Social Accountability Initiatives happening in East Asia Pacific. However, these are rarely documented. There are also limited channels of access to information on research generated/regenerated on the social accountability initiatives and collective experiences and approaches of stakeholders. Information on SA tools and techniques is crucial to replicate or scale up social accountability experience and initiatives. ANSA-EAP aims to document the successes and learnings from these initiatives to help replicate it in other countries in the Region.
Due to the diversity of countries in the Region, ANSA-EAP recognizes that different stakeholders and role players may still construe social accountability in different ways, based on political, historical, and social context. This is a challenge as these may entail different perceptions on the definition of Social Accountability. Therefore, ANSA-EAP recognizes the need to develop a shared understanding among the stakeholders and role players of the framing of social accountability in East Asia and Pacific and how its goals are achieved based on successful social accountability approaches and initiatives being developed and implemented in selected countries.
In framing social accountability, ANSA-EAP aims to position itself in influencing and reshaping the way social accountabity is understood and practiced given the particular context of the country, the stakeholders, social accountability proponents or intervening parties and most of all the socio-cultural realities that shape governance and the relationship between civil society organizations and government.
ANSA-EAP also conducts research focusing on selected issues. The aim is to identify critical facilitating and inhibiting factors in fostering social accountability (relationships, systems, and mechanisms). ANSA-EAP aims to improve demand side governance in the region by strengthening partnership and monitoring capacities in key sectors. ANSA EAP aims understand how SA could be best advocated and mainstreamed in the following areas: Local Service Delivery focused on Education, Health, and Infrastructure; Environment focused on Extractive Industries and Climate Change; and Women and Children.
The intended outcomes are to improve delivery of public services, particularly for those most in need, and to make government and civil society aware of the costs and benefits of good governance and responsible citizenship. Thus, one area of inquiry and discussion to be undertaken under the Research Programme of ANSA-EAP is how to mainstream Social Accountability as one of the mechanisms to achieve Good Governance specifically focused on the selected sectors and thematic areas.
ANSA-EAP’s model for generating information on existing social accountability initiatives is to gather Tales, Tools, Techniques. This production and distillation of knowledge is focused on the following key things: improving the quality of social accountability resources, especially in articulating whether the enabling conditions for social accountability are present; Deepening the information and knowledge about the situation and the stakeholders; exploring the issues and experiences of practitioners in their social accountability work. The emphasis is on developing a shared understanding of social accountability in East-Asia and the Pacific, given its diversity.
Partly because of its sensitivity to context and culture, ANSA-EAP avoids offering a standardized knowledge solution to its partners. Instead, it assists its partners to capture their information and then develop that information into knowledge products. The knowledge is drawn continuously from partners—and in many cases, delivered to other stakeholders by them. This makes knowledge generation and dissemination more sustainable, even without ANSA-EAP.
From print and online publications to multimedia, ANSA-EAP knowledge products have the flexibility of customization, improvement, adaptation, and appropriation by using the Tales, Tools and Techniques framework in capturing various stories of social accountability.
Tales. Most ANSA-EAP knowledge products are expected to tell the tales of social accountability practices. They tell the stories of these social accountability practices especially the innovative ones, elaborating on the context in which the stories take place, the participants and groups involved, the methods used, and the outcomes achieved. The products capture the issues or presence of conflict and efforts towards change. They tell stories of sacrifice, dilemma, and drama; how citizens are mobilized; and the victories including small wins that indicate extent of outcomes so far achieved through measurable indicators and/or testimonials.
Tools. These knowledge products are likewise expected to present the tools and the instruments used in social accountability practices. They look at whether or not the tools are aligned with laws and policies (whether national or local). The tools are presented on how these promote transparency and access to information, encourage competition or collaboration, and facilitate standardization. It also looks at whether the tools utilize innovations in technology, and are simple and easy enough to understand and to use.
Techniques. Techniques refer to how the tools are formulated and/or used given specific contexts and circumstances. The products look at the extent of participation in the formulation and use of social accountability tools, including stakeholder engagement, provision of observers, and presence and effectiveness of feedback mechanisms. They present the clarity (or lack of it) of objectives and outputs from the perspectives of stakeholders. They investigate how the tools are adapted to local situations, and whether the tools are supported by training and capacity development, and if the tools are translated to the local language.