Millions of people remain excluded from water resources and services. How can social accountability be applied across different country realities and programs towards attaining Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6? At this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm, the Global Partnership for Social Accountability – represented by its NGO partner HELVETAS, WaterAid, Water Witness International and the World Bank’s Water Global Practice convened a session on what different actors can do to scale up social accountability. The session built on learnings from a session at World Water Week in 2016 and the Europe & Central Asia (ECA) Regional Forum on social accountability in the water sector.

Maitreyi Bordia Das, global lead for social inclusion at the World Bank, framed the discussion: There are many examples of good small-scale efforts to empower local communities and civil society organizations to help governments to be more accountable, and there are examples of how governments and service providers can develop effective accountability mechanisms. But how can social accountability become part of the institutional structures in a country?

Speakers outlined how local organizations can make a difference in institutionalizing social accountability. Monica Chundama, director of Action for Water in Zambia, described how communities can understand and activate the law, and how to connect them to responsible public authorities and legal processes. Alice Chabi Guiya, who leads the water and sanitation sector at HELVETAS Benin, reported on how social accountability structures – such as a public procurement process, a stronger role for civil society and public audits – make the system for managing water service transparent. The result: fee collection rates increased by 30%.  Bethlehem Mengistu, WaterAid’s country director in Ethiopia, shared the experience of working in 20 small towns in Ethiopia where the British Utility Yorkshire Water is helping to strengthen the performance of water utilities, in partnership with the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity. WaterAid helped establish  customer/citizen forums to increase feedback loops and accountability, thereby increasing the quality of service.

The audience broke into groups to discuss three questions: (1) How can key stakeholders support better social accountability? (2) How can civil society actors best represent citizens and influence state actors to deliver transformative change? (3) What can donors do to nurture and support transformative social accountability practice in the water sector?

Recommendations from the discussions include creating an enabling policy environment and independent regulatory body, the incorporation of social accountability components in proposals and program design right from the start, as well as a rights-based approach. Session participants identified the need for more coordination among donors and for more financial support to strengthen institutions. Donors should invest more time in understanding and strengthening existing social accountability systems and avoid creating parallel systems. Social accountability must be a cornerstone of intervention design and not an afterthought.

To learn more about social accountability in the water sector, read Six things you need to know about social accountability and WASH and watch this webinar, Collaboration and Momentum from the World Water Week at Stockholm