Citizen action can help improve social protection programmes, finds review

Social accountability initiatives, such as spending audits that involve citizens, can help tackle corruption and improve social protection programmes, a review of the evidence has found.

We find some evidence of positive effects of social audits in India.

We find some evidence of positive effects of social audits in India. Image: International Budget Partnership.

The evidence on social accountability tools for social protection, which also include grievance mechanisms and committees of beneficiaries, is so far very limited. Development Pathways has carried out research with support from DfID to start filling the knowledge gaps.

Through a comprehensive literature review and four case studies, our research seeks to uncover when and how social accountability initiatives can contribute to better service delivery in social protection programmes and the strengthening of state-society relations.

In our review of the literature, published today, we reveal how social accountability mechanisms are currently used in social protection programmes.  While most social protection programmes have some form of grievance mechanism, at least on paper, these are often more successful at collecting grievances than at resolving them. State action to improve social accountability is often missing.

Social Audits: Positive Effects

We find some evidence of positive effects of ‘social audits’ of social protection spending from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the only cases where these have been used at scale in a social protection programme. A subsequent case study of the use of social audits in India reviews the evidence in more depth.

A key lesson from the literature on social accountability initiatives in other sectors is that social accountability is not simply about applying a particular tool. It is, rather, a deeply political process that needs to consider how accountability can be strengthened within a wider system.

However, we found that social accountability initiatives in social protection programmes are rarely conceptualised as part of a wider system – and complementarities with other citizen participation or wider governance initiatives are not commonly spelt out. It is also rare for NGOs, who often play important roles in mobilising local communities, to link local mobilisation with national advocacy.

Our review points to some potential for social accountability mechanisms to contribute to improving social protection programme delivery and state-society relations. However, one of the main findings is that the evidence is so far very limited. Three important areas are particularly under-researched: state response to citizen voice; variations by social protection function and design feature; and inclusion of marginalised citizens.

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State response weakest link

State response seems to be one of the weakest links in the social accountability chain, and the reasons for this are hugely under-researched.  There is also limited evidence on how the effectiveness of social accountability mechanisms vary according to social protection programme function and different programme design features – most social accountability mechanisms are not considered in relation to specific programme functions. And the literature on social accountability in social protection includes very little analysis of differences between groups of citizens.

The literature review is available for download by clicking on the front cover to the right. In the beginning of 2018, we will publish four case studies, looking at these questions in specific social protection programmes in Ethiopia, South Africa, Nepal and India. These will be followed by a final research report, a technical guidance note and a How To note. We will organise a range of dissemination events in January and February 2018. To register an interest, email

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