What we Know and Don’t Know About Social Accountability Interventions: An Evidence and Gap Map

Meeting with Polli Samaj by UN Women/Snigdha Zaman, made available by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The global economy loses USD 2.6 trillion to corruption each year, while developing country economies lose USD 1.26 trillion annually to corruption, tax evasion and illicit financial flow. These statistics indicate the need for ensuring social accountability across the globe—especially in developing economies—to combat corruption in the public sector.

In theory, social accountability interventions can ensure government’s accountability to citizens through an array of mechanisms that promote good governance. However, how can we pinpoint which social accountability interventions can effectively curb corruption? Which interventions are already implemented, and in which regions? What do we know from existing evidence?

Practitioners and policymakers first need to know and access research that already exists on the impact of various social accountability interventions before considering new ones. An Evidence and Gap Map (EGM) helps make these interventions more accessible. With that in mind, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), in collaboration with Campbell Collaboration, has been developing an EGM on social accountability interventions in low and middle-income countries.

Social accountability interventions, in general, focus on civic engagement to ensure citizen participation in policy processes, responsive services, and transparency. With the growing need for good governance, the necessity of social accountability is thus imperative to improving the public sector. The interventions are tried and tested in different sectors of the society, such as health, education and public services. The evidence base of these interventions is still expanding, and therefore a map of existing evidence is much needed to make them more accessible. Researchers and policymakers, especially of the low and middle-income countries, can access the relevant impact evaluations easily to identify which interventions have already been tested, while a systematic review of social accountability interventions can reveal which of these interventions work best. With the help of the EPPI reviewer, more than 5000 studies were screened, and 53 studies were included at the final stage.

This evidence and gap map visualizes 44 impact evaluations and 9 systematic reviews. The intervention and outcome categories are kept broad to cover all the possible social accountability interventions from different sectors. During the framework development, the team consulted with experts and stakeholders to make sure the framework had a wide scope. It was a difficult and lengthy process to reach a consensus as the concept of social accountability is evolving.

The final map shows that the most common intervention is a community scorecard, a social audit or a citizens’ report card; about 57% of studies have worked with this intervention. Least experimented interventions are social mobilization campaigns, participatory budget analysis and public expenditure tracking surveys.

Half of the experimental studies (51%) most commonly reported efficient service delivery as output, while 40% reported service utilization as output. The least reported outcomes are economic empowerment, budget utilization, policy influence and changes, and answerability.

Lower middle-income countries have the most experimental studies along with systematic reviews (58%), while upper middle-income countries have the least studies (26%). Respectively, 25% and 23% of studies are about women and children, whereas only 1% are about indigenous people and 2% are about people with mental illness and disability.

This map shows that widely implemented interventions are limited in nature. We see that there are not many experimental studies on critical interventions such as grievance redressal mechanism, co-governance, and participatory budget analysis. Policymakers and practitioners can consider designing experiments on these interventions. Additionally, countries from upper middle-income groups can focus more on the experimental studies in their income region.

The purpose of EGMs is to visualize and categorize the existence of an evidence base so that the conversation surrounding what exists and what is further needed can be easier for the practitioners. Despite the challenges the team encountered while developing the framework of the map, the scope of this map is significant as it has encompassed almost all relevant categories of interventions. The full report on this EGM will help the policymakers in discussing social accountability interventions. The gaps that this map has identified can be a starting point for discussing what evidence needs to be studied further and which locations are deprived of the interventions.

Iffat Zahan is a Research Associate in the Research Policy and Governance (RPG) team at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).