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Citizen Report Card - A powerful social audit tool

The strength of CRC lies in its ability to present credible data collected through a scientific survey. Traditionally, these assessments consisted of a quantitative measure of user feedback but more recently, qualitative studies have been employed (Bauhoff 2016). In any case, the CRC is usually created by gathering and disseminating user feedback in a systematic form. The information gathered from a representative sample can be used to initiate reforms related to public services.

Usually, a survey helps assess the overall performance of a public agency based on users’ perceptions of quality and satisfaction related to specific aspects of services such as access, availability, quality, and reliability, in addition to agency responsiveness and transparency. If applied regularly over periods of time, CRCs can become benchmarks as we see in Rwanda’s case, where the Rwanda Governance Board has created a yearly CRC since 2010. The report card has revealed hidden costs users incur in the form of bribes and corruption when they seek access to or use a service.

The Citizen Report Card was pioneered in the 1990s by Public Affairs Centre located in Bangalore, India. Civil society organizations, governments, and multilateral donor agencies around the world, including in Ukraine, the Philippines, Vietnam, Ghana, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Egypt, and the United States of America have used CRCs.

Purpose of Citizen Report Cards

The CRC goes beyond collecting scientifically credible findings; the aim is for the government to be able to use the report card for adapting and planning public services through its internal management system.

CRC is seen as a tool that aims to introduce market-type incentives to how public services function. Unlike private companies, public services do not face competition and lack the incentive to respond to client needs (Pekkonen).

“Citizen report cards are public accountability mechanisms based on citizen surveys of the performance and quality of government services—by allowing citizens to monitor the state performance,” according to the World Bank.

Some of the key characteristics of the CRC are:

  • A CRC provides scientifically credible (i.e., collected through systematic survey approach) information on public service delivery from the users’ perspective, which can:

  • Aggregate and communicate people’s realities to government officials, decision-makers, and the public.

  • Identify changes and suggest improvements in public service agencies.

  • Help prioritize reform efforts and allocate public resources.

  • Foster citizen voice, discussion, and debate to demand reform.

  • Treat users of public services as clients or customers whose voices matter in the design, delivery, and assessment of public services.

Citizen Report Card in 6 steps
© Illustration by Civil Society Academy

Steps to undertake a CRC:

Step 1. Assessment of local conditions

Evaluate the local conditions as well as existing data on user perception of public services to determine the need and plan how to implement the CRC. Assess the skills and motivation of the individuals who will undertake the CRC.

Step 2. Survey planning and methods

This is an important step in the process as the CRC is a technical exercise requiring competence to deliver a study using scientific methodology. After identifying the scope, purpose, and use of the survey, preliminary plans of implementation including work plan and resource allocation should be developed. This should include plans for the design and delivery of a systematic survey protocol, which would consider and outline the survey design, sampling frame and selection of the sample, design of questionnaire, field testing, data collection and data quality checks, plans for data analysis, and arrangements for report writing. As part of this step, the necessary technical competence to undertake the survey should be used.

Step 3. Conducting the survey

This step is where the actual groundwork takes place. It includes selecting and training survey personnel, who should be well briefed on the purpose of the project and the survey. The survey instruments need to be translated, pre-tested, and modified to ensure consistent, valid results. During data collection, quality checks should take place.

Step 4. Post-survey analysis

In this step the main CRC report is generated, which determines the key findings on availability, usage, and satisfaction with the public service, although the data analysis plan is prepared during the “survey planning and methods” step. The data is first gathered in the form of a database of user feedback, and analysis may involve methods such as cross-tabulations, frequency distribution, hypothesis testing with significance tests for quantitative data, and coding/indexing to identify patterns, themes, constructs, and theories from qualitative data.

Step 5. Dissemination of findings

The findings are disseminated to key stakeholders. The preliminary findings should be shared with the relevant public service provider to allow its response to issues raised. The subsequent mode of public dissemination varies across organizations and contexts. Some examples include press conferences, newspaper and TV coverage, written reports and posters targeted to the audience, and individual presentations to service providers.

Step 6. Improving services

This is the last step where CRC findings are used to help bring about improvements. For this, an interface between the users, the service providers, and other stakeholders may be appropriate to promote dialogue. Thereafter, the efforts from the CRC would ideally be institutionalized, enabling sustained improvements in the internal management of the services through accountability and civic engagement.

The approach can vary across contexts, but a few examples include exchanging, best practices; workshops and meetings among service providers and community; and awareness and dialogue with service providers.

What is needed to undertake an effective Citizen Report Card

To undertake Citizen Report Card, the following are crucial requirements (World Bank):

  • A constructive approach on the part of the undertaking CSOs rather than a confrontational approach.

  • A commitment to gather credible data on user perspectives, and related technical competence to plan and deliver a survey using scientific methodology.

  • A commitment by the public agency to engage in the process and be open to critical analysis of its service delivery and the initiative to make changes based on the findings.

  • Active involvement of mass media to ensure the findings are widely disseminated and debated.

What are the Advantages of Citizen Report Cards?

  • Enhance public awareness on issues related to service quality, empower citizens to proactively demand accessibility, greater accountability, and responsiveness from service providers.

  • Cannot be ignored by service provided, as the knowledge (data) generated is experience-driven, systematic, rigorous, and scientifically analyzed.

  • Facilitate open discussions on the performance of service agencies and lead to reforms to improve the quality of services.

  • Facilitate partnerships between citizens, CSOs, and public service agencies by enhancing social capital and uniting communities around common shared concerns.

What are the Challenges of Citizen Report Cards [1]?

  • CRCs are successful in contexts where policymakers and service agencies are open to civil society/citizen advocacy for bringing in reforms.

  • Crucial to ensure that meetings between citizens and public officials remain constructive and focused and do not turn into a forum for personal attacks.

  • Sustained follow-up must ensure that institutional resistance or the lack of will to act on the findings among public service authorities does not occur.

  • Conducting a large survey might be a highly labor intensive and expensive process.

  • Public needs to be regularly informed and cautioned against expecting too much too soon as it can lead to the citizen disillusionment if there is no improvement in the quality of services. (Pekkonen)


Case Study [2]

Rural Decentralisation and participatory planning for poverty reduction”– a study undertaken by Public Affairs Centre

This study was a joint initiative of the government of the Indian State of Chhattisgarh, United Nations Development Programme, and the Planning Commission of India. The overall objective of the study was to “provide catalytic support and create an enabling environment for decentralization and strengthen endowments of the local government with sufficient autonomy and resources to respond to local needs.”

The specific objectives were:

  • Strengthen the decentralization of decision-making and development planning.

  • Strengthen transparency and accountability of local governance.

  • Support enhanced devolution and autonomy of local institutions by facilitating policymaking for decentralization.

The study, undertaken in two districts, Bastar and Rajnandgaon, assessed the program for the year 2005–2006. This aided in developing micro-plans for each of the villages covered under the study. The study used the Community Report Card as described below:

Step 1. Assessment of local conditions

Stakeholder meetings were held to understand the current service delivery features and issues that were to be assessed, and a detailed profile of the study area was developed.

Step 2. Pre-survey groundwork

In order to implement the survey in a systematic manner, a team of experts reviewed the context and current situation of various services. A survey process and clear strategy was prepared.

a) Sample design:

  • The CRC aimed to gather feedback on public services from primary beneficiaries. Sample household coverage was recommended to understand this citizen’s perception of public service delivery.

b) Developing sample instruments:

  • An interview schedule was developed for the household survey, based on the objectives. A mind mapping exercise was done to prepare the schedule. The interview schedule had open- and close-ended questions.

  • Checklist for Focus Group Discussion: To understand service receiver’s perception Focus Group Discussions were done with various stakeholders.

  • Post-stakeholder meetings, a pilot survey was conducted using a structured interview questionnaire for gathering primary information on mid-day meals; public delivery systems; health; sanitation; drinking water, etc.

Step 3. Conducting the survey

A full-scale CRC survey was undertaken following the pre-survey groundwork to capture aspects of access patterns, service quality, conflict resolution, interactions, corruption, satisfaction, and gathered suggestions for improvements.

Step 4. Post-survey analysis

An analysis was undertaken to assess the usage patterns, quality of service delivered, levels of interaction, corruption, and satisfaction. This was cross-tabulated and frequency distribution tables were generated using statistical tools.

Step 5. Dissemination of findings

  • Focused presentations in addition to reports and documents were shared with local government officials.

  • Brochures and pamphlets on the issues identified were designed and shared with stakeholders.

  • Wall paintings and short videos on the need for micro-planning and the process were also developed and screened in the study areas.

  • Radio programs on bottom-up planning and community participation were developed and broadcast in the local radio channel.

  • Issues related to micro-planning were published on a bi-monthly basis in newspapers and shared at the grassroots levels.

Step 6. Improving services

  • The findings were compiled and developed into micro plans for each village and local level resource persons were identified and oriented towards facilitation.

  • Training of department workers was undertaken to facilitate participatory planning.

  • Planning committees were constituted at the village level.

Citizen Report Card on MNREGA in Jharkhand



[2] Sekhar, S., Nair, M., & K, P. (2008): Public services provided by gram panchayats in Chhattisgarh. Raipur & Bangalore : Samarthan & Public Affairs Centre.



Asian Development Bank and Asian Development Bank Institute. 2007. Improving Local Governance and Service Delivery Citizen Report Card Learning Tool Kit. Print Version of the Learning Toolkit. Asian Development Bank and Asian Development Bank Institute.

Bauhoof, S., O. Tkacheva, L. Rabinovich, and O. Bogdan. 2016. “Developing Citizens Report Cards for Primary Care: Evidence from Qualitative Research in Rural Tajikistan.” Health and Policy Planning, 259–266.

Public Affairs Centre. n.d. Improving Loal Governance and Pro-Poor Service Delivery. Retrieved from Citizen Report Card Learning Toolkit.

Rwanda Governance Board. 2016. Rwanda Citizen Report Card. Rwanda Governance Board. Citizen Report Card.

Sekhar, S., M. Nair, and K. Prabhakar. 2008. Public Services Provided by Gram Panchayats in Chhattisgarh. Raipur & Bangalore: Samarthan & Public Affairs Centre.


About the Author:

Arvind Lakshmisha was associated with the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) and has aided in the development of social accountability tools such as climate change scorecards during his time there.


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