Thinking Politically about Social Accountability

There has been some great new work out on social accountability (SA), an increasingly significant area of development funding for governance work.  Many of these new reflections begin to look at SA through a political lens, and indicate what politically informed SA work might look like.

Fletcher Tembo at ODI recently presented some lessons from the Mwananchi SA program in Africa.  The Mwananchi program, a 5-year DFID project in 6 African countries, revealed much about the complexity and political nature of SA.  Fletcher highlighted several key lessons from the initiative:

  • There is a need to understand the complex, and potentially conflicting, incentives that influence citizens and government representatives
  • There is also a need to analyze which actors can affect change, and the incentives that bear on them doing so or not
  • There is a need to navigate complex contextual dynamics, and create flexible and adaptable theories of how change can happen that are informed by political analysis (Mwananchi innovated in this area)

The principal lesson from the Mwananchi experience is that SA is about actors and relationships.  It is not simply a matter of citizens holding public representatives to account, but rather a more complex set of interlinkages between diverse actors in which mutual trust is key to facilitating shared expectations and collective action.  Thus, the local interlocutors, often CSOs, most appropriate to engage in this kind of work are best understood not as ‘project implementers’, but as political entrepreneurs.

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