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Citizens play a critical role in advocating and helping to make public institutions more transparent, accountable, and effective, and contributing innovative solutions to complex development challenges.

Growing evidence suggests that, under the right conditions, meaningful forms of citizen engagement and social accountability (CESA) can result in better governance, citizen empowerment, more positive and constructive citizen-state relations, strengthened public service delivery, and, ultimately, enhanced development effectiveness and well-being. 

In recent years, global research and practice have placed increased emphasis on how to make citizen engagement and social accountability practices more strategic and effective.  The increasing complexity of policymaking and the failure to find adequate solutions to some of humanity's most serious and pressing problems - such as climate change, health emergencies, growing inequality, conflict, and violence - have prompted governments, development institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs) and citizens to rethink how to engage in dialogue, share decision-making and collective action that is more meaningful and impactful. Increased attention has been paid to understanding and addressing obstacles to effective engagement and analyzing what works and why.

Engaging citizens is especially important in the face of crises like the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic, as the effectiveness of response efforts can often hinge on behavior change at the community or individual level, and building systems for communication coordination from local, national, regional and global levels.  

However, the outcomes of citizen engagement are also context-specific and depend on the government and citizens’ capacity and willingness to engage.  Social, political, economic, environmental, cultural, geographic, and other factors, such as gender dynamics, shape the opportunities and scope for effective citizen engagement. Understanding the context in which CESA practices are undertaken and supporting enabling conditions are key to achieving results. This is particularly important in the current global context of shrinking civic space. 

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2023



Aly Zulficar Rahim

Global Lead

Citizen Engagement & Social Accountability

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Washington, D.C.
Laura Ivers