The annual GPSA Global Partners Forum was launched in 2014 as a way to bring together a unique gathering of those in the social accountability field from around the world. During this two-day event, practitioners and network CSOs, governments, accountability institutions, academics, the private sector and donors can share ideas and build on each other’s knowledge, as well as convene and engage within their own group for a more informed social accountability practice.

The Forum was designed to offer a space for the Global Partners to network, discuss current trends and challenges, and learn from each other. It also allows participants to share experiences of impact and reflect on ways of pushing the frontiers of the social accountability agenda.

Learn about the previous Global Partner Forums: 
What works in Social Accountability? [2014]
Social Accountability for Citizen-Centric Governance: A Changing Paradigm [2015]

2016 Global Partners Forum: Social Accountability for Development Impact

Social accountability has gained increasing importance in the development sector over the past two decades. Development partners—including governments, private sector and citizens—recognize the critical role of citizen voice, transparency and participation in improving governance. In turn, this can create more sustainable development outcomes and contribute to growth and poverty reduction. 

At last year’s Forum, World Bank President Kim called for social accountability to ‘spread and scale’ and meet the potential for bigger impact. GPSA partner CSOs are already moving in this direction. However, the field faces some key challenges that will influence its ability to scale-up and sustain social accountability work.  First, while the aim is to take advantage of more opportunities for constructive state-society engagement, in many areas the space for civil society’s work is shrinking. Second, there is a need for more and better coordinated action across diverse civil society groups and donors. Third, the field faces capacity-related challenges for adopting new ways of working, learning and adapting across the civil society and government divide that must be overcome to achieve better impact. Finally, many in the field are faced with the challenge of financial sustainability that allows them to deliver better and longer-term services and have lasting impact on society. 

The GPSA believes it is timely to have a field-wide conversation about these trends, opportunities, and challenges for transforming individual successes into more systematic wins. This was the inspiration behind this year’s theme, ‘Social Accountability for Development Impact.’ 

Forum Focus

As the practice of social accountability continues to expand and develop, it is important to foster a better understanding of some of the recent trends in the field and how they are contributing to growing the impact of social accountability:

1. Inclusive, transparent and accountable institutions.
There has been an increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater and more regular say in public decision-making. This is reflected in the field as many institutions –governments, development organizations, and donor agencies- have been working to systematically include citizen views and feedback in their operations as a way to increase their responsiveness to people’s needs. One key development in this trend was the World Bank’s commitment in 2013 to achieving beneficiary feedback in 100% of all World Bank Group operations with clearly identifiable beneficiaries by 2018. 

Experience has taught us that not only does civil society need support in order to be heard,  governments and diverse organizations also need the capacity to build institutional systems that include citizen voices, including those of traditionally marginalized groups, in decision-making processes. For governance to become truly inclusive, citizens and governments must work together to co-design and co-create programs.

2. State-society collaboration for social accountability: From engagement to co-production.
There is a growing number of citizen-led efforts to improve government openness, representation, voice and accountability. These initiatives seek to engage constructively with state institutions and to find sustainable and scalable solutions. GPSA grantees across most of the world’s regions are examples of these efforts.  Furthermore, many civil society groups are working with their governments at both the national and the local level, and many accountability institutions are learning that co-producing control with civil society groups pays off.

Clearly, there are contexts and problems for which constructive social accountability approaches may not be available to drive desired social change, leaving citizens to resort to more adversarial forms of engagement. Yet, for shifts to occur around goals with ambitious aims, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, multiple resources and capacities need to align, with innovation, to reach a large-scale impact.   

Beyond tools and mechanisms, collaborative problem-solving is often turning into a process of collective learning based on a willingness to experiment, adapt and compromise.  The process often nudges them to go beyond raising their voice to express preferences and exchange information, towards bargaining, joint decision-making, execution, and evaluation of policies, projects, programs, and services.

3. Learning for Adaptive Management.
There is an increasing focus on learning and adaptation for improved long-term results. Adaptation emerges from cyclical action and learning from experience. Having access to timely and relevant information with opportunities for participation and feedback are vital for this process. This is particularly important when it comes to complex problem-solving in the face of uncertainty, where success depends on multiple actors at different levels, as is the case in any social accountability interventions.

These enabling conditions for actors to learn from their own experience and from the experience of others, coupled with timely responsive systems, will determine the ability to act collectively and achieve results. In fact, while some would argue for the use of evidence to determine in advance what works before rolling a development initiative out, in social accountability, the notion of combining or complementing increasingly open governance processes for participation and data generation with cyclical citizen-driven knowledge is exciting. There is a lot to learn from existing initiatives on ways to navigate the difficulties that come with transforming standard operating procedures and building new capacities.  A better understanding of such dynamics should help to inform how to advance strategic social accountability processes, using learning-oriented adaptation.