Social Accountability and CLD in Covid-19 Response

By Gunjan Veda and Rowlands Kaotcha

Published June 29, 2020 by Global Partnership for Social Accountability.

Shortly after the WHO declared Covid19 a global pandemic, community leaders in Bangladesh realized the need to organize to limit its spread and ensure social protection for the most vulnerable. They began enrolling volunteers to form Village Development Teams for taking action, including sewing masks, making hand sanitizers and distributing flyers with information about COVID-19. Where government-supported safety net programs exist, these local leaders ensure that the aid reaches the right people. Similarly, in Indiaduring the first five days of the national lockdown, The Hunger Project reached out to each of the 8000 elected women it works with to ensure they had the information they needed to protect their communities and connect eligible people with support. Today these women are overseeing the distribution of government schemes, supporting migrant workers coming back to their communities, and advocating for better delivery of services where it is lacking.

In Tembaro Woreda, Ethiopia, communities mobilized to implement prevention and control measures through constructive engagement between multiple stakeholders – government officials, religious leaders, community groups. While the local government established a quarantine center at the district’s only hospital, youth volunteers stepped up to spread information and awareness. On market days, these volunteers ensure that people wash their hands before they enter the open market. They also help people maintain physical distance as they wait in line. To ensure effective and equitable distribution of water, they manage the water tankers provided by the government and WEEMA International. 

In these instances, and many more, we have seen how in communities where organizations have been carrying out community-led development (CLD) programming, people were able to mobilize rapidly to respond to the pandemic. And they did this alongside their local governments, partnering to ensure greater efficiency, inclusion and an equitable distribution of limited personal protective equipment (PPEs), rations and other essential supplies. These examples demonstrate the interactions between Social Accountability (SA) and Community-led Development (CLD) and how the two can work together to not just enhance their own practice but strengthen social safety nets.

Social Accountability refers to the range of actions or strategies, beyond voting, that societal actors, namely citizens, employ to hold government accountable. [1] SA interventions involve motivated individuals, citizen action groups, and civil society organizations in activities that seek to highlight gaps in the performance of government and improve public sector responsiveness through collective action and advocacy. Two forces drive SA: citizen groups, for whom public services are designed, and government, which provides the space for citizen participation in governance. 

At its core, CLD is about mobilizing communities for self-reliant actions by inspiring individuals to move from “I can’t” to “I can” and eventually, “We can.” For many people living in hunger, their future is an extension of the past. CLD’s work is to interrupt that thinking; to enable people to create a community-held vision for a new future and generate commitment and action at the individual and community levels to achieve that vision. It puts people in the driving seat, helping them step into their agency and build their voice.

Here, we look at the 3 Ps of SA and CLD – Principles, Processes and Products – based on our current (and evolving) [2] understanding of these approaches to explore their intersectionality. 

Principles: In February 2019, the Movement for Community-led Development, a group of 70 INGOs and hundreds of local civil society organizations (CSOs) from Africa, Asia and Latin America, started a collaborative research to understand the impact of CLD. They began by identifying the key principles of CLD. These included Accountability, Inclusion and Participation, Community Assets, Transformative Capacity, Continuous Learning and Collaboration (within and among communities and with governments). There is no doubt that inclusion, continuous learning and constructive engagement between government and communities (through CSOs) are at the heart of social accountability. Public services need to be accessible and available for everyone, but particularly for the most vulnerable. Thus, any process that seeks to ensure the proper functioning of these services needs to be built on the principles of inclusion and participation.

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Processes: Both CLD and SA rely heavily on social mobilization, facilitation, relationships (between various stakeholders and between community members) and participatory processes. Common tools used in the two approaches include participatory planning, participatory budgeting, community-based monitoring (through community scorecards, public hearings and citizen report cards etc) and co-production. [3]

Products (impacts): Both seek to improve governance and ensure quality public services and effective program implementation for a just and equitable society. 

Clearly there is strong overlap between the two fields. SA grew out of two parallel streams: the failure of top down governance programming by major donors and a clear need to address the lack of demand for governance, as well as social movements in India and Latin America. For SA practitioners, CLD is often a means to an end- the end being improved governance. CLD practitioners, on the other hand, see SA as just one component of their work. CLD, they argue, puts a premium on decentralization and that is about much more than enabling and closing feedback loops over government services. Moreover, not all CLD work happens with the government. Often, CLD practitioners overlook the need for government and urban based allies, while SA practitioners forget that for all their good intentions, they are outsiders who need dynamic agents from the community to ensure that the billions being spent on social safety nets reach the right people, in the right way, and at the right time. While their origins are to some extent distinct, we argue that the two fields of practice are not just synergistic but mutually reinforcing and symbiotic. 

A closer look at the diagram above, reveals that accountability which is the product of social accountability processes is a key principle of CLD. Similarly, Social Accountability is based on the principles of Voice and Agency. People exercise their voice or speak up only when they believe that they have a right to do so, their opinion matters, and they will be heard. This is the direct result of CLD processes. During the last few months, we have seen this in communities from Burkina Faso to Uganda, where people came together to demand information, PPEs, essential supplies from their governments and to work with them for effective distribution and solutions-finding. The question for CLD and SA practitioners therefore is not how to work together despite our differences, but why are we not working together despite our similarities and interdependence? 

[1] Simon C. O’Meally. 2013. Mapping Context for Social Accountability: A Resource Paper. World Bank

[2] Our approach to CLD and SA has been evolving with time and there continue to be rich debates around what the current practice does and should look like in these fields. The suggested framework is a starting point based on our emerging understanding and we welcome inputs from SA and CLD practitioners. 

[3] Elinar Ostrom defines co-production as the process through which inputs used to produce a good or service are contributed by individuals who are not “in” the same organization. See Elinar Ostrom, “Crossing the Great Divide: Coproduction, Synergy, and Development,” in State-Society Synergy: Government and Social Capital in Development, ed. Peter Evans (Berkeley: University of California, 1997): 86.” Cited in Tsai, Lily and Maria F. Guerzovich. 2015. “Global Partnership for Social Accountability Results Framework”. Global Partnership for Social Accountability. Washington, DC.

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