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Social Accountability Consultations

Objectives     Models and Methods    Vulnerabilities   Stakeholders, their Functions and Compulsions

Conclusions  Presentations  Agenda

 

A workshop on social accountability was hosted by the World Bank on May 23, 2008 to discuss the various definitions and methods of social accountability (SA) and to get some ideas on how the World Bank can promote the SA philosophy and practice.

 

Objectives and Outcomes

 

There appeared to be broad agreement among the participants that the objectives of Social Accountability include, most importantly, the empowerment of the people. A starting point is the promotion of transparency, essentially by sharing with the public information related to government or other institutional activities and programmes in a timely, effective and comprehensive manner. Such transparency often provokes public interest and participation on its own. In other cases a certain amount of mobilisation and organisation is necessary to get people to react to such information.

 

Very often, the initial focus is on monitoring and evaluating ongoing and completed activities, especially in terms of the benefits that were supposed to flow to the people directly or indirectly. Such assessments usually generate an interest in being involved (having a say) in the selection and planning of future programs and activities.

 

Outcomes of such transparency-induced participation and empowerment (and of social accountability) include the minimisation of leakage and waste of public resources, the making of activities and programmes more efficient and more appropriate to local needs and conditions. This also promotes public ownership of these activities and programmes.

 

Models and Methods

 

Five organizations that have promoted SA in one form or another shared their experiences. Following their presentations, it became clear that there are many different methods of promoting social accountability.

 

At one end of the spectrum is bare compliance with the Right to Information Act (2005) i.e. proactively publicizing information and responding to requests as required under the law (complying with a “duty to publish” index). Here, the expectation is that the mere publicizing of information and providing access to it would in itself invoke public interest, thereby catalyzing a process of SA. Also, the fact that such information was being proactively published or publicly accessible under the RTI act should act as a deterrent to wrong doing, resulting in “regulation through disclosure”.

 

At the other end of the spectrum are the community based social audits, where the affected people in rural or urban areas are mobilized to demand information by using the RTI Act. They then form themselves into groups that publicly verify the veracity of this information. Subsequently, public meetings (or, sometimes, hearings) are held where the findings of such verification are publicly discussed among the affected people, hopefully in the presence of the concerned officials and functionaries (the Rajasthan model).

 

There are variations on this model of social audit. In one variation (the Andhra Pradesh NREGA model) the government has been the prime motivator of social audits, mandating the conduct of social audits in gram panchayats and in groups of villages (mandals). In another model, the government engages an institution to conduct SA on their behalf with the help of a network of local and state level NGOs (the National Institute of Rural Development contracted by the Government of Orissa, for evaluating the implementation of NREGS in the state).

 

There are intermediate models (some being techno-managerial in nature) where NGOs or other civil society groups help proactively disseminate information to the public,   leaving them to take it forward on their own (like the public black-boards of the Naandi Foundation). In this model, groups working with local communities devise methods by which information relevant to the monitoring of programs and schemes, or to the functioning of relevant functionaries, is made public, often without comment, and a platform created where the public can begin to notice and discuss such information. There are also other models where people-based monitoring committees are formed, but with the strong presence and support of local officials and panchayat functionaries (the CARE model). Other models involve the creation of citizen’s report cards (Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore).

 

Vulnerabilities

 

There was agreement that each of these models had different strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, each could be the best model under certain specific conditions. SA initiatives are inherently vulnerable to many forces and factors. Some of these include the risk of collusion among the concerned functionaries, often leading to fraudulent or “ghost” SA exercises. The efficacy of SA methods are compromised if there is inadequate or inappropriate transparency, inadequate time to properly conduct an SA exercise, lack of preparation and training, and the unwillingness of the public to participate due to fear, cynicism, or sometimes due to a conspiracy of silence.  

 

SA efforts, especially some of the more actively participatory ones (like public meetings and hearings) are vulnerable to disruption by vested interests. In recent times there have also been many cases of violence related to the SA process and people have even been killed allegedly because of their participation in this process.

 

Disinterest or hostility by governments can also seriously compromise the efficacy of the SA process, as can over-enthusiasm and cooption by the government. A critical vulnerability is the cynicism and disinterest that sets in among the people if governments and other authorities refuse to act quickly and transparently on the findings of SA exercises.

 

Stakeholders, their Functions and Compulsions

 

The primary stakeholder is the affected community, which is ordinarily supportive, but can be afraid, cynical or sometimes even complicit. It needs to demand social accountability, participate in the process and insist on follow up. The implementing agency, whose activities, functionaries, or programs are being assessed, is the one usually in the firing line, and therefore ordinarily wary of SA. However, the participation of the implementing agency in the SA process is very important for its success. The supervisory agency, which oversees the implementing agency, often welcomes the public vigilance that SA results in, but has to deal with complaints and unrest among staff, and huge conflicting pressures. Usually they would prefer to sort out the problems that the SA process throws up, in a discreet, in-house, manner. However, most SA processes require transparency both in the process of identifying wrongdoing and in the government’s response to such wrongdoing.

 

The government has the critical function of providing (preferably mandating) a safe and reactive forum for the conduct of SA exercises. Otherwise, as already discussed, fear and/or cynicism might kill the initiative.

 

NGOs, people’s groups and movements usually act as facilitators and watchdogs, but can sometimes become illegitimate centers of power, or get co-opted. Their role in motivating, mobilizing, training and organising the community is critical to most SA processes, and they are also essential where there is need to put pressure on governments.

 

Adversely affected vested interests, including those local bureaucrats, politicians, contractors, land lords etc. who are threatened by exposure and loss, will often try and disrupt SA processes and even resort to violence.

 

Donor agencies often welcome SA but shy away from the sensitivities it sometimes involves. In order to have the moral authority to support and propagate the SA process, they need themselves to become transparent and socially accountable, in letter and spirit.

 

Conclusions

 

While recognizing the desirability and efficacy of SA, it was generally accepted that one has to pick the opponent carefully and only take on those forces that one can handle. If, at the initial stage, very powerful interests are challenged, it might be difficult to establish SA procedures and processes.

 

It was also thought that there need to be corresponding institutional and systemic changes to give a legal and procedural basis for local communities to demand direct answerability from local institutions and functionaries, thereby establishing participatory democracy at least at the local levels.

 

There was a concern that as long as the SA process is externally driven, it would be difficult to immunize it from disruptive and violent elements. Also, the process would not be owned by the local people. However, it was recognized that often at the start the process needs an external catalyst and these externally motivated SA processes have a demonstration effect, inspiring local communities to start their own processes. Such processes also help build up local capacity, which helps in ensuring that the process is locally sustainable and not forever NGO dependent.

 

The antagonistic nature of many of the prevailing SA models was a matter of concern. Though it was recognized that initially, perhaps, antagonism is inevitable as deep rooted and longstanding vested interests would not easily allow their functioning to be publicly questioned, one objective of the SA process must be to bring about systemic changes (administrative reforms) rather than to continue to antagonistically confront the government and other service providers. There was a serious concern that SA was pitting communities against governments and trying to set up a parallel system of monitoring and accountability. A strong message from the group was that service providers should not forever be treated as vendors, but thought of as partners. Even where there is wrongdoing, it must be highlighted and packaged in a form that is not unnecessarily insulting or demeaning to the officials and functionaries, and some honorable yet just escape routes should be provided, wherever possible.

 

It was pointed out that the SA process was not only useful to monitor the functioning of governments and other agencies but that communities could use it to monitor their own functioning. It should not only be used to highlight wrongdoings but also to highlight and recognize positive actions.

 

The thinking was that the SA process was not adequately integrated into the larger government system of auditing and accountability. It was essential to do this so that their strengths and weaknesses could balance out and they could supplement each other. It was also essential that the SA process be applied to all segments of the government and not to just a few programs, like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and other such. Selective coverage of SA, apart from diluting its effectiveness, also made it seem discriminatory against those who were subjected to it.

 

There was a note of caution, that though we must make haste in spreading the SA process, we must make haste slowly, for otherwise it would not be properly assimilated and would not sustain. Therefore, our expectations from the SA process must be realistic, especially given the fact that it is a very recent initiative.

 

An important recommendation that emerged was that, for the SA process to be effective and to seem fair, it must be linked to some clear and measurable goals, like those required to be set out in a citizen’s charter.

  

An area of concern was what was described as the “SA divide”. There was a real danger, as the power of the SA process was more widely recognized, that though the delivery of services would improve where the communities were able to adopt SA strategies, they would correspondingly deteriorate where, for one reason or another, people were not able to launch SA initiatives. This must be guarded against.

 

There was a note of caution that, wherever possible, the SA process and its role in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of a program or activity must be introduced to the community right at the start, for it becomes much more difficult to set up an SA process once the program has started.

 

It was recognized that though there was a lot of discussion of using the SA process for programs and activities, it could be just as effectively used to make the formulation of policy and plans more participatory, transparent, and accountable to the public.

 

Recommendations for the World Bank

 

There was general agreement that donor agencies in general, and the World Bank in particular, should promote and practice SA in projects funded by it. Though, it was recognized in deliberations that it will be not-so-easy for the Bank to motivate the governments in integrating SA in their projects. Incidentally, social auditing is increasingly becoming a part of the governments own policy prescription and this window could give donor agencies the legitimacy they need. The Bank must also recognize the transaction costs involved in promoting SA, especially in terms of time. However, to balance these out, there can be huge savings in the long run, in terms of money and in terms of the appropriateness and efficiency of the program. It is highly desirable and needed that the donor agencies themselves become transparent and publicly accountable and they should proactively exemplify this through their work and communication.

 

There was general agreement that donor agencies should make the requirement for integrating and following the SA process, right from the planning stage, mandatory for all its grants and loans (including sector wide approaches). They should also attempt to appropriately retrofit these measures, wherever they are not adequately present, in the ongoing projects.

 

Presentations:

Social Accountability and Social Audits by Shekhar Singh, Consultant, World Bank
Experiences in the Field by Manoj Rai, PRIA
Community Based Monitoring by Care India

AGENDA

 

0930 – 11.00 AM

 

Session 1 :  Perspective Building on Social Accountability

 

Dr. N.B. Rao

 

11.30 – 1.00 PM

 

Session 2 : Sharing of case studies

 

§         Naandi Foundation, Hyderabad

§         CUTS, Jaipur

 

2.00 – 3.30 PM

 

Session 3 :  Sharing of case studies (continued)

 

§         PRIA, New Delhi

§         CARE India, New Delhi

 

3.45 – 5.00 PM

 

Session 4 : Reflections on key learning (from the presentation)

 

§         Information, Awareness and knowledge Building

§         Improving implementation through proactive engagement of the communities and the NGOs/CBOs

§         Grievance Redressal

 

Wrap up : Kumar Amarendra Singh

 

Facilitator : Mr. Shekhar Singh

 

LIST OF PARTICIPANTS

 

1.  Mr. Rohit Mutatkar

     Assistant Professor

     Tata Institute of Social Sciences

     Mumbai

 

2.       Dr. Srimat Roy

     Centre for Youth and Social Development,

     Bhubaneswar

 

3.       Dr. S. Rajakutty

Prof. & Director

Centre for Planning and M&E

National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad

 

4.       Ms. Nasrin Siddiqui

      Director CESJ&HD

      YASHADA

      Pune

 

5.       Dr. R. R. Prasad

   Professor & Head,

   Centre for Equity & Social

   Development,

   National Institute of Rural

   Development (NIRD), Hyderabad

 

6.       Dr. Vinod Vyasulu

Director, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies

Bangalore

 

7.       Mr. Om Prakash Arya

Asstt. Project Coordinator

CUTS, Jaipur

 

8.       Dr. Rajiv Sharma

Director General

Centre for Good Governance

Hyderabad

 

9.       Mr. Mukesh Kumar

            Program Director

            CARE – India

             New Delhi

 

10.     Mr. Alok Srivastava

       Research Director

       Centre for Media Studies,

       New Delhi

 

11.     Mr. Siddartha Kharbanda

       Director

       Advantage India

 

12.     Ms. Rohini Mukherjee

       NAANDI Foundation

       Hyderabad

 

13.     Ms. Alka Tomar

      Centre for Media Studies,

       New Delhi

 

14.  Dr. N. Bhaskar Rao

       Chairman,

       Centre for Media Studies

       New Delhi

 

15.  Mr. Manoj Rai

       National Coordinator – PRI        

       PRIA, New Delhi

 

16.     Mr. Shekhar Singh - Facilitator

Consultant

The World Bank

 

World Bank Staff

 

17.     Ms. Isabel M. Guerrero

             Country Director, India

            The World Bank

            New Delhi

 

 

18.       Mr. Kumar Amarendra Narayan

Singh

        Civil Society Specialist

        The World Bank

 

19.       Mr. Samik Sundar Das

Senior Rural Development Specialist

        The World Bank

 

      20.  Ms. Asmeen Khan

             Senior Rural Development

             Specialist

       The World Bank

 

  1.   Ms. Mridula Singh

            Senior Social Development Specialist

       The World Bank

 

  1.   Mr. B. Venkata Rao

Social Development Specialist

The World Bank

 

  1.   Mr. Damanjit Singh Minhas

        Consultant

The World Bank

 

  1.   Ms. Madhusree Banerjee

       Consultant

             The World Bank



 


Last updated: 2008-10-17




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