Social accountability in frontline service delivery: Citizen empowerment and state response in four Indonesian districts
Frontline public services are the point at which service providers and citizens interact. Social accountability (SA) tools engage citizens in identifying shortcomings to improve frontline service delivery. Such tools have been criticized as mere widgets; decontextualized technical interventions that do little to transform the system of service provision or state-society relations. However, there has been increasing effort to understand the contexts and political processes through which accountability is negotiated to find the best fit between SA tools and local circumstances.
To identify factors associated with continued commitment to SA, we examined the Kinerja program’s implementation of SA tools in Indonesia, drawing on sixty interviews with providers, clients, and local officials at fifteen primary health centers in four districts. Kinerja works in twenty districts to improve services through a complaints survey, a multi-stakeholder forum, and a service charter negotiated between citizens and providers.
We found that healthcare providers and local governments demonstrated responsiveness to citizens not only in contexts that we characterize as conducive, but also in less favorable contexts. However, providers’ commitments to SA were often weaker than citizens’. Further, state actors showed varying emphasis in their commitments to SA. Some saw citizens as ongoing partners in improving service delivery, while others used SA to identify priorities for improvement without further active citizen engagement. While both models resulted in service enhancements and replication of SA approaches, longer-term sustainability will be undermined without citizen engagement and where providers’ and citizen’s expectations for SA are not aligned.
Bureaucratic reforms and the Village Law could facilitate continued commitment to SA in Indonesia, but there have also been signs of reduced support for SA tools and of new limitations on democratic processes. This policy context puts Indonesia at a pivotal juncture, with risks of falling back into old patterns and losing the hard-won momentum for service improvements through SA.