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Important tools for social accountability and policy advocacy

How can civil society actors improve the implementation of existing programmes on community level? And how can we effectively advocate for better policies and programming related to ending hunger and poverty? For organisations such as Welthungerhilfe, those two questions are central to developing programmes that can really make a change to the life of underprivileged people.

How do we define advocacy and social accountability?

Policy advocacy is defined as a process to influence policymaking (developing new and existing policies) as well as influencing the implementation of policies.

Social accountability refers to the extent and capacity of citizens to hold the state and service providers accountable and make them responsive to the needs of citizens and beneficiaries (Worldbank).

The two are not mutually exclusive categories. In a country context, we will have both, actions that look more at policy advocacy in order to improve the policy framework as well as social accountability action focusing on bottom-up processes that can improve the implementation of services and the responsiveness of the service providers. The larger goal is better governance as well as the acceptance and implementation of human rights in the respective countries.

Conceptual Framework

As a conceptual framework, we refer to the Worlds Development Report 2004 on “Making services work for the poor”. The report marked a change in the strategy implemented by international donors. After international agencies have supported and sometimes imposed myriads of “good governance projects” in developing countries in the 1990’s - with mixed outcomes - it was realized that working through the state system was not enough. Bottom-up processes were needed to improve the link between citizens and service providers on the ground and make the services more accountable at the locations where they are actually provided.

Conceptual framework

In the World Development Report, the direct link between citizen and service providers is called the “short route” to improving service delivery. Actions are direct and can instantly improve service delivery. To improve the short route, community-based tools have been promoted and supported by the World Bank as well as increasingly by civil society actors. In Ethiopia, for instance, in 2017 the Worldbank supports 42 national NGOs in 25% of all districts to implement social accountability measures, where groups use community scorecards and citizen report cards to improve the local governance of critical services.

However, community tools can only improve existing services. For organizations like Welthungerhilfe, it is also important to support processes and national organizations to influence and help to improve the overall policy framework related to the Right to Food and other human rights. This indirect and lengthier way is referred to as the “long route” in the World Development Report. Through Campaigning, evidence-based advocacy, and where possible through capacity development of state actors, we aim to influence the state and in turn improving policies and service delivery.

What will you find in our toolbox?

The toolbox has been developed to match the needs of development actors that work on rights and state obligations related to the Right to Food. It is gradually developed by Welthungerhilfe and the Civil Society Academy, with the support of partners such as the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability or the Keep your Promise Campaign (Wada Na Todo Abhiyaan) in India.

Planning tools and concepts can be used to develop a framework for your action, create stakeholder awareness on the right to food and the right to information in your context and may considerably improve the planning and implementation of your actions. Those tools and concepts include:

  1. An Analysis framework on the Right to Food provides you with a rights-based framework for categorizing and analyzing state obligations, services, and programs in your context.

  2. The Advocacy Canvas is a comprehensive analysis and planning tool for advocacy campaigns, that enables you to develop campaigns in a clear, collaborative, and effective manner.

  3. Multi-Actor Partnerships propose and describe the advocacy process in which partners from civil society, the private sector, and the state progress together towards an advocacy goal.

  4. Applying the Right to Information looks at how citizens and development actors can demand and utilize information on state programs and move towards a more pro-active application of the Right to information by states. In many countries, the RTI is one of the most important framework legislation to improve the implementation of existing state services and programs.

Campaign tools, which are used to address policymakers – the long route in the governance triangle - and influence policymaking and the implementation of policies. Among the many campaign tools, we selected two processes, which become more and more relevant in our work.

  1. Online advocacy in the form of slacktivism, or pay forward have become more and more powerful in mobilizing people and influencing policymakers. Here, we offer some options that can be used to design effective online advocacy campaigns in relation to hunger and poverty.

  2. Lobbying processes towards decision-makers are a more traditional campaign tool.

Evidence-based advocacy tools are advocacy processes that are built around a survey or analysis on how services or state programs perform, with the objective of influencing the implementation of state policies.

  1. Shadow reports assess the performance of states or governments vis-à-vis their promises or plans. Corresponding bottom-up assessment processes, as well as publications and dissemination events, make shadow reports part of powerful advocacy campaigns.

  2. Citizen Report Cards are user surveys of user perception of services such as water supply, health, or mother and child development programs.

  3. Budget Tracking exercises, which are vital surveys that analyze how state budgets are planned, allocated, transferred and utilized in-state programs on various levels, and whether the funds actually reach the target group.

  4. Facility Audits are surveys that use an audit methodology to look at the reality of state facilities such as health centers or nutrition rehabilitation centers if compared to the “should be” described in government standards.

Community-based tools are bottom-up processes that look at monitoring the performance of state programs and services or at community-led planning and implementation of programs. They look at the short-route of the governance triangle and can directly improve the delivery of services and programs.

  1. Social Audits are powerful community monitoring processes that are often used to look at the utilization of resources in public works programs, employment schemes of state support towards vulnerable groups.

  2. Community Score Card is an effective community monitoring and planning process that looks at the perception and performance of state services such as health, mother and child development, or water supply.

  3. Participatory budgeting offers a bottom-up approach for financial planning and management that can be used by citizens in cooperation with community-based organizations or local governments.

  4. Community-led planning and implementation is a process in which certain authorities in planning and implementing projects are delegated to the community to empower citizens as well as improve ownership and effectiveness of the interventions.


About the Author:

Joachim Schwarz started his career with the UN before shifting to Civil Society. In Welthungerhilfe, he worked in leadership positions in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka, and as Regional Director for South Asia. Joachim is passionate about Civil Society and has been a main engine of the Civil Society Academy since its inception in 2014.


If you want to give feedback, or you are interested in our courses or our support?

Please contact me: Joachim Schwarz

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