Social Audits: when the people verify state actions

A social audit is a powerful accountability tool to understand, measure, verify, report on and improve a government’s performance in the implementation of its policies and programmes.

Social Audits involve communities in controlling public investment and have been used for a variety of programmes such as the construction of roads or water supply, for housing programs, as well as social safety net and employment programmes. Just as a financial audit, the social audit verifies how money is being spent. It is the process of reviewing official records and determining whether state reported expenditures reflect the actual monies spent on the ground.

Social Audits were first developed and used in the 1990's by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a grass roots organisation of Rajasthan that has been spearheading the fight against corruption and misappropriation of public funds in the state. As the video demonstrates, public investment and safety net programs had deteriorated to self-service outlets of the powerful at the time. MKSS used the social audit process, which culminates in a 'Jansunwai' or public hearing to uncover the secrecy and corruption of those involved in misappropriations, and were successful in improving the functioning of some state programs.

In order to increase the accountability and transparency of the public services, and programs, MKSS also led a campaign for enacting the Right to Information in India Act (RtI Act, 2005), which mandates the state to actively inform the citizen about the utilization of public funds. Subsequently, the social audit and other processes that increase accountability have become an integral part of state programs in India, for instance in the Employment Guarantee Act of 2005 and the National Food Security Act of 2013.

What is the purpose of the Social Audit?

The social audit is a process through which all stakeholders, both service providers, and users, systematically examine the impact of the project or service, comparing the real benefits that have been achieved with the planned benefits, while also looking at unexpected impacts. The findings of the social audit are shared with all stakeholders.

How can we apply the Social Audit?

The Social Audit Process follows the following sequence (Source?):

1. Preparatory groundwork

  • Define the scope of the audit, (e.g. the specific service, organisation, programme, project, component or activity is will examine)

  • Form a committee or working group to implement and oversee the social audit

  • Identify key stakeholders (intended users, community members, service providers, responsible government officials)

  • Develop a clear understanding of relevant administrative structures and pinpoint key responsible actors

  • Develop a clear understanding of the vision and objectives of the service/project

  • Develop performance indicators through stakeholder consultation

  • Organise a public awareness campaign about the aims and benefits of the social audit, using media, public forums, door-to-door visits, etc.

2. Information gathering and analysis

  • Access relevant public documents (such as accounting records, cash books, wage rolls, bills and technical project reports and managerial records)

  • Gather data from relevant stakeholders about their perceptions and experiences of the project in question (e.g. using surveys, focus group discussions, community meetings, etc.)

  • Importantly, the process of information-gathering can also serve to inform key stakeholders and

  • Community members about the issues at hand and to mobilise public pressure and action for change

  • Analyse the collected data (this may require some specialised assistance)

3. Public disclosure/evidence-based dialogue

  • Develop a communication strategy to disseminate findings and outcomes (using the media, public meetings and postings)

  • Convene meetings with community members to discuss findings and formulate proposed changes/solutions

  • Convene public dialogue meetings to allow community members to discuss the evidence with authorities/service providers, and to plan and implement changes

4. Follow-up

  • Where necessary, use findings to undertake advocacy to address specific instances of mismanagement and corruption, as well as broader policy considerations

  • Train and support community members and service providers to undertake future social audits

  • Aim to ultimately have social audits institutionalised within governance processes or repeat regularly

This tool can be applied to collective action at community level. The main audit is for one to two days but preparatory work involving invitation and analysis of data as well as community interaction takes time, which may vary, as officials need to fix their slots and availability. The preparatory work starts a month before the date and regular follow-ups with officials have to be done to ensure their participation. Also, communication with the community should continue. Several stakeholders should be involved:

  • Service providers like health posts, schools, and other public institutions

  • Users like Village Development Committees

  • An intermediary organisation such as an NGO

What are the advantages?

Social audits can be undertaken individually or jointly by government, civil society and community-level actors. They often start as civil society initiatives and sometimes evolve into collaborative efforts as the government sees the benefits of the approach. Social audits are sometimes undertaken as a one-off event but are usually more effective when planned as an ongoing process, undertaken at regular intervals. Social audits use participatory techniques to involve all relevant stakeholders. Where problems are identified, the process of implementing changes is initiated. Summarizing the advantages of a social audit:

  • Trains the community on participatory local planning

  • Encourages local democracy

  • Encourages community participation

  • Benefits disadvantaged groups

  • Promotes collective decision making and sharing responsibilities

  • Develops human resources and social capital

What are the benefits?

When a community undertakes a social audit, especially for the first time, it frequently benefits from the assistance of an intermediary organisation such as an NGO, which can provide training on the social audit process; help access the information required to conduct the social audit: assist in collating and disseminating information to the community; document the social audit findings, and; follow up with public officials regarding proposed changes or remedial actions.


Social Audit Network South Africa: Experiences in South Africa with short video "Our toilets are dirty" and “A Guide to Conducting Social Audits in South Africa

UNDP (2011): A practical guide to social audit as a participatory tool to strengthen Democratic Governance, Transparency, and Accountability (with examples from Central and South America and Asia).

Centre for Good Governance (2005): Social Audit: A Toolkit for Performance Improvement and Outcome Measurement.

About the Author:

Jeannette Weller is a Senior Advisor for Civil Society for Welthungerhilfe in Bonn, looking at strategies related to civil society and rights-based work. Before moving to Bonn in 2012, Jeannette has been a Regional Director for Welthungerhilfe in South America, where she lived for nearly a decade.

Contact: Jeannette Weller

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

Please contact: Joachim Schwarz

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