From supply to comply: Gauging the effects of social accountability on services, governance, and empowerment
Social accountability interventions have demonstrated some positive examples of successful citizen engagement with state actors to enforce accountability for service delivery, but the extent to which project-based replication will lead to sustained transformation of state-citizen relations and to better service delivery and governance is open to question. We argue that the success of such interventions depends on more than the importation and faithful implementation of the social accountability toolkit. Underemphasized in most treatments are the variety of purposes for demand-driven accountability, the agency of citizens beyond mobilization for accountability actions, and the extent to which both citizens and state actors change and learn as a function of accountability interactions. To compare outcomes and explanatory factors, we review four donor-funded projects with social accountability mechanisms that aimed to improve service delivery, enhance democratic governance, or empower citizens. The most consistent effect of social accountability interventions across our four cases was a contribution to improved governance, relative to service delivery and empowerment effects. Two main implications arise from the comparisons. The first concerns the degree of alignment between the supply- and demand-side factors, which can help to counter the effects of the dominance of upward accountability and can result in mutual reinforcement for social accountability. The second implication is the time factor: sustainable social accountability mechanisms and processes emerge from extended interactions that support both learning and capacity building.