Social Accountability Research Workshop Summary


Prof. Jonathan Fox (American University), Roby Senderowitsch (GPSA) and Prof. John Gaventa (IDS)

Read a detailed report of the discussions (pdf)

The Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) in partnership with Making All Voices Count (MAVC) and Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TA/I) held a day-long Social Accountability Research Workshop in Washington, DC on January 23, 2015.


The workshop was organized to convene social accountability academics and researchers on their current and upcoming research themes and initiatives. The primary goal of the workshop was to further the discussion on strategic social accountability by exploring key propositions and themes for future research, and especially to begin the process of defining future collaborative research agenda.


The workshop was attended by academics from around the world. Lily Tsai from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jonathan Fox from American University, Margaret Keck from Johns Hopkins University, Lynn Freedman from Columbia University and Stefan Toepler from George Mason University represented academia from around the United States. John Gaventa from Institute of Development Studies, Fletcher Thembo and Joseph Wales from Overseas Development Institute, Thamy Pogrebinschi from the Berlin Social Science Centre, Gabriel Berger from Universidad de San Andres, Enrique Peruzzotti from Torcuato Di Tella University and Guillermo Cejudo from CIDE in Mexico represented academic institutions from Europe and Latin America.


In addition, senior executives from a number of different think tanks, international NGOs, and donor organizations attended the workshop including from the Inter-American

Workshop participants debate ideas and strategies for future research on social accountability.

Dialogue, World Vision, Inter-American Development Bank, Ford Foundation, Carnegie Endowment, World Resource Institute, CARE international, UNICEF, and DFID. World Bank staff from different departments including the Open and Accountable Governance Practice within the Governance Global Practice and DEC also participated.


Robert Hunja, Director of Public Integrity and Openness in Governance Global Practice at the World Bank opened the workshop by underscoring the importance of such meetings in encouraging productive collaboration that is necessary for making advances in the social accountability field. Since social accountability encompasses several disciplines, opportunities for exchange of ideas and collaboration do not happen naturally. He congratulated the GPSA in initiating such a dialogue across disciplines. Jeff Thindwa, Manager of the Governance Global Practice strongly endorsed Hunja's appreciation of the GPSA and importance of such venues.


Roby Senderowitsch, Manager of the GPSA at the World Bank, then started the discussion on current status of research in the social accountability field. He stressed the need to move beyond a tools approach to social accountability to a more strategic approach. Rosie McGee from IDS/MAVC also stressed the significance of getting researchers from different fields together to agree on a common agenda of research as she stated that collaboration is the way of moving forward the research agenda. Brendan Halloran from TAI - a co-organizer of the workshop - also noted the importance of coming together to define a common research agenda.


These remarks were followed by short introductions by all participants of their current research work on social accountability. It was inspiring to note that research in social accountability field has come far in the last few years to encompass complicated issues such as the relationship among various actors in accountability ecosystems, to understanding the pre-conditions or enabling environment for social accountability.  As an example, a few years ago the role of politics in social accountability was acknowledged but not properly understood. At the workshop, many researchers explained how their research is unpacking the role of politics and also learning how to incorporate this understanding on the ground. After the introductions John Gaventa provided an overview of participants' research.


This was followed by Jonathan Fox's presentation who identified five research questions in his presentation that, according to his opinion, needed to be answered to further the research agenda in social accountability. These include:


  • How does the feedback loop really close to ensure that state responds to the voice?
  • How to really bring the state back in and understand its motivation to respond?
  • What kind of accountability we are looking for ? preventative or reactive?
  • How to identify the relevance of scale for social accountability both vertically and horizontally?
  • How to bring vertical accountability back in?


Prof. John Gaventa (IDS) sums up the inputs from participants.

After the discussion, participants broke into smaller groups to deliberate on the relevance of these questions for future social accountability research and later reported the results of their discussion to the plenary. The outlined research themes resonated with the participants as significant for the field, while the discussion added further granularity to these areas of research. They also put forward more questions to the table. For example, they discussed the sectoral approach to social accountability, i.e. the need to understand if sectors differ in salience and if there are common characteristics of sectors as they pertain to social accountability.


Participants also suggested themes that they thought were most relevant for social accountability out of the themes that had come up in the earlier discussion. The most popular themes were then discussed in the breakout sessions later in the afternoon.


Joel Hellman, Chief Institutional Economist at the World Bank joined the participants over lunchtime and discussed how GPSA's work is related to other strategic areas of the World Bank such as Citizen Engagement strategy. He underscored the importance of social accountability as an important pillar of development agenda and the relevance of gatherings like the research workshop to advance this important pillar.


Next, participants discussed four themes in breakout groups. These themes included a) the role of the state, b) sectoral approaches to social accountability, c) the systems approach including vertical accountability, and the enabling environment and pre-conditions for social accountability. The groups later reported back to the plenary about their in-depth discussions and further deepened the discussion on these themes. In some cases they suggested specific research questions within the theme and in others they suggested how the theme could be further refined.


The day closed with final remarks from Jonathan Fox and John Gaventa who reflected on the day's proceedings. They were inspired by how far the discussion on social

Participants in the Social Accountability Research Workshop organized by GPSA, MAVC and TAI

accountability has come in the last few years and hoped that the participants would continue to collaborate with each other to further this agenda. One of the main take-aways from the experience at the workshop was that there is a collective incentive to think of social accountability as an essential part of an overall accountability agenda and that further research must ensure that social accountability approach is well integrated within the countriesÍ accountability systems.


Read a detailed report of the discussions (pdf)