5.1 What is social accountability?

Accountability was defined in Study Session 1 as the duty of an organisation or individual to account for their actions and accept responsibility for them. Different aspects of accountability apply to organisations and individuals. Personal accountability is the duty of the individual to take responsibility for his or her actions. Every individual is socially, morally and legally accountable to the community or organisation that they belong to. Defining what this means for each member of a team is often a critical part of a community or organisation leader’s job. Encouraging team members to be personal accountable can have the following results:

  • It can ensure that community members and organisational employees are held accountable to local agreements and bylaws.
  • The leader’s willingness to promote personal accountability in others and in themselves helps to create a positive focus in which great things can be achieved.

Organisations, including all levels of government, should also be accountable. Social accountability means that public officials, politicians and service providers are held accountable to the public and service users for their conduct and performance. A fundamental principle of democracy is that citizens have a right to demand a governance system that ensures accountability of power holders and public actors. In a democratic society, public actors such as elected officials and civil servants are obliged to be accountable for their conduct and performance (ANSA-EAP, 2010). Citizens get a better service when officials respect the public and follow the principles of social accountability. The relationship between democracy and social accountability is therefore important in ensuring that government officials and community representatives respect the wider community.

Social accountability is about involving citizens and communities in the processes of governance so that decisions and actions of the people and organisations 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 mechanisms for involving the community can be applied in (ANSA-EAP, 2010; World Bank n.d.):

  • planning and development
  • setting budgets
  • tracking expenditure
  • monitoring the performance of projects.

An essential part of social accountability is open and effective communication with communities so that they are informed and can participate in these areas of project development and service delivery. Figure 5.1 shows an example where a community is participating in discussion about plans for new WASH facilities at the local school.

Figure 5.1 Communicating with the community is part of social accountability.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 5

5.1.1 Enabling environment for social accountability