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BRIEF

Social Accountability and Demand for Good Governance

August 15, 2013

Highlights
  • Social accountability refers to the extent and capacity of citizens to hold the state and service providers accountable and make them responsive to needs of citizens and beneficiaries.
  • Citizen engagement is a corporate priority that will help improve development impact for citizens.

Since the Bank adopted its Governance and Anti-Corruption Strategy in 2007, fundamental changes have swept the world. The implications of the 2008 financial crisis continue to play out, with fragile growth in most of the developed world. Beyond those numbers lies a broader set of social changes rooted in longstanding themes in political economy: What is the citizen‘s relationship with the state? How can integrity and accountability be better integrated into public life? How can the state better govern and regulate its affairs, including the governance of the private sector that drives jobs and growth?

The contours of a new social contract are emerging. Citizens are seeking a relationship with their government based on transparency, accountability, and participation. From revolutionary change in the Arab world, to powerful anti-corruption movements in India and Brazil, to the 'Occupy' movement in some western countries, a groundswell of citizens' movements signals frustration with a perceived inability of governments to handle increasingly complex global problems of poverty, joblessness, fiscal crises, and environmental vulnerability.

In many countries, the state is responding to, and in some cases leading, the move to greater openness, transparency, and citizen engagement. While some states are struggling to catch up with the legitimate aspirations of their citizens and enterprises, others are leading the transformation process.

What is Social Accountability?

Worldwide there is increasing recognition that citizen involvement is critical for enhancing democratic governance, improving service delivery, and fostering empowerment. Social accountability refers to the extent and capacity of citizens to hold the state and service providers accountable and make them responsive to needs of citizens and beneficiaries. 

Social accountability encompasses initiatives that focus on citizens as the ultimate stakeholders and is based on the principles of transparency, accountability, and participation. Social accountability approaches and tools also strengthen the capacity of non-governmental organizations, the media, local communities, and the private sector to hold authorities accountable for better development results. Social accountability mechanisms can be initiated and supported by the state, citizens, or both, but very often they are demand-driven and operate from the bottom-up.

Open Quotes

"We need to be fighting poverty in areas where the legal framework for combating corrupt and illicit behavior is imperfect and institutions of public accountability may not function well, or even exist at all." Close Quotes

Jim Yong Kim
World Bank Group President

Evolution of Social Accountability in the World Bank

The concept of accountability has gained increasing importance in the World Bank's discourse in the past two decades. The 1996 "cancer of corruption" speech by former President Jim Wolfensohn was a turning point as it marked the inclusion of government accountability in policy discussions.

Analytical studies and frameworks that have been developed since have contributed greatly to advancing the agenda. For example, the 2001 World Development Report and the World Bank's empowerment framework recognized accountability as an integral component of "empowerment" and hence poverty reduction.

The 2004 World Development Report: Making Services Work for the Poor placed accountability relationships between policy makers, service providers, and clients at the core of development effectiveness. In addition, the Social Development Strategy released in 2005 recognized accountability of institutions as one of the three key conceptual pillars for empowering poor people. The importance of demand-side of governance interventions was also further emphasized in the multi-stakeholder engagement guidance note and Governance and Anti-Corruption (GAC) Strategy.

In 2011, former President Robert Zoelick's "A New Social Contract for Development" speech brought citizen participation and social accountability to the core of the Bank’s role in general and in the Middle East region in particular. This was followed by the 2012 updated GAC Strategy, "Strengthening Governance: Tackling Corruption - The World Bank’s Updated Strategy and Implementation Plan," which placed the new social contract based on social accountability principles – transparency, accountability, and participation – at its heart.

Under President Jim Yong Kim, Citizen engagement is a corporate priority that will help improve development impact for citizens. Citizen engagement activities will be piloted in Middle East and North Africa and in Central Asia. The essence of Citizen engagement is closely intertwined with social accountability as their core values are similar. These important benchmarks pave the way for translating accountability into specific Bank policies and practices to further improve development results.

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