State of Governance Bangladesh 2018: Social Accountability and Deliberative Democracy in Bangladesh: Current Dynamics and Future Pathways

Social accountability-related policies and institutions have been introduced in Bangladesh only in recent decades. But how effective these policies and institutions are in promoting social accountability and deliberative democracy, remains a critical question. In our tenth annual flagship report of its kind, the “State of Governance 2018: State of Social Accountability and Deliberative Democracy in Bangladesh: Current Dynamics and Future Pathways,” we provided an in-depth answer to that question by studying different social accountability-related institutions. It was found that the various institutions created by the government to promote social accountably are largely dysfunctional.

Researchers: Dr Mirza Hassan; Maheen Sultan; Bayazid Hasan; Erina Mahmud; Farhana RazzaqueMiskat JahanSahida Islam; Susmita Acharjee

Partners: International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Timeline: 2018-2019

Status: Completed

Contact: Dr Mirza M. Hassan


Report: State of Governance 2018 – State of Social Accountability and Deliberative Democracy in Bangladesh: Current Dynamics and Future Pathways


Social accountability is an approach to building accountability that relies on civic engagement. Various forums and institutions, such as Ward Committee (WC), Ward Shava (WS), Scheme Supervision Committee (SSC), Open Budget Meeting (OBM), School Management Committee (SMC), etc. have been created with an implicit objective to make development and service delivery processes more efficient, equitable, and participatory. These social accountability institutions allow citizens to rationally deliberate and provide direct inputs into development policies. And, therefore, they can also be recognised as deliberative democratic spaces, in which citizens have the opportunity for face-to-face, open, reiterative, and interactive communication to reach a rational consensus. But to what extent have these institutions enhanced ordinary citizens’ capacity to monitor and provide inputs into decisions about public service delivery, if at all?


The objective of this study was to explore the prevailing nature of accountability between the state and the citizens and how it is promoted by existing social accountability institutions. Our hypothesis was that non-government organisations (NGOs) tend to play a critical role in making Union Parishad (UP)-based social accountability institutions functional and without NGO support and nurture, these spaces usually remain dysfunctional.


We studied, in-depth, four types of social accountability forums/institutions: SMC at primary and secondary schools from urban and rural settings; UP-level deliberative committees—WC and SSC; deliberative forums at the UP level—WS and OBM; and pilot forum of social protection (SP) for monitoring UP-level social protection programs. For this study, we conducted key informant interviews (KIIs) with 206 individuals (e.g. social accountability forum members, government officials, UP leaders, committee members, general citizens, guardians, teachers, civil society representatives, NGO representatives) and 16 focus group discussions (FGDs) with citizen participants of WSs and OBMs. We also reviewed relevant government documents and academic literature.

Findings and Recommendations

Our findings show that the available social accountability forums/institutions tend to remain largely dysfunctional unless they are activated and nurtured by NGOs. But we also found that when these spaces are functioning, citizens of different classes and genders are eager to aggressively seize the opportunities to voice their demands. The key reason for the dysfunctionality of these institutions is the strong incentives of the elected leaders of the local government to avoid accountability for their own interests. To fulfil those interests and manipulate the forums, they often select their favoured people as committee members. Another major reason appears to be resource constraints. Even though the government has established these institutions, it has not allocated central funding for their operations. Sometimes, UP Chairpersons use their own resources to organise social accountability forums, especially OBMs.

The strong incentive to keep OBMs operational is, however, personal. For instance, it allows them to mobilise votes, nurture elite and other support bases, and build a national political career. Political interference, we found, is not the only dominant cause of dysfunctionality. Often norms and beliefs related to social and economic hierarchy, gender, etc. result in citizen disempowerment. Many marginal citizen members, for example, believe that the role of the committees is not to demand accountability from the UP leaders but to work jointly with them. Oftentimes, citizens’ lack of awareness regarding social accountability institutions contributes to the dysfunctionality of such institutions. Nevertheless, NGO funding of these forums, facilitation of forum activities, we found, can actually improve the social accountability and deliberative democratic practices of these institutions by creating a positive-sum outcome for all actors involved.

However, we think that a sustainable solution lies not in donor-funded short-term NGO projects, but in permanent arrangement leading to a synergy of state-NGO-community collaboration, in which the NGOs will nurture the citizen engagement process.