Doreen Nico Kyando
Discussion paper 2022.03


Poor public service delivery is pervasive in Sub-Saharan Africa. Weak institutions, ineffective monitoring systems, and weak accountability relationships between actors involved in the service delivery chain have exacerbated the problem. Social accountability has emerged as an innovative strategy that aims to improve public sector performance by engaging ordinary citizens in exacting accountability as well as bolstering state/providers’ responsiveness. How do information interventions social accountability initiatives impact public service delivery? This study conducts a systematic literature review of the impact of these interventions and identifies common facilitating or limiting factors that mediate the impact. Relevant articles published between 2000 and 2021 were searched from the Web of Science and Scopus database and, the final list covered in this review included articles published between 2005 and 2021. A total of twenty-two (22) peer-reviewed articles, published in the English language, gauging social accountability interventions in twelve (12) countries of Sub-Saharan Africa were eligible for inclusion. Both quantitative and qualitative study designs were included. The findings from twenty-seven (27) social accountability interventions identified in twenty-two (22) studies provide mixed evidence of impact on access to and quality of public services delivery, particularly in health and education service. The results further suggest that provision of actionable information, overcoming elite capture and collective action problems, collaborative engagement of multi-stakeholders, the existence of structures promoting state-society interactions, the institutionalization of social accountability within state structures, the history of citizen-state engagement, the willingness of political and traditional leaders, and sandwiching of bottom-up and top-down accountability approaches are crucial for factors for success. Contrarily, inappropriately designed social accountability mechanisms, conflicts between actors, cultural heterogeneity, exclusion of supply-side actors, and poor program implementation undermined the success of social accountability initiatives in improving service delivery. Hence, in the presence of weak institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, social accountability initiatives can potentially improve public service delivery when contextual, intervention design, and implementation factors mediating its effectiveness and impact are carefully considered along the causal chain. More research that builds a more rigorous theory of change studying the impact of social accountability in various sectors and contexts while using diverse mechanisms is essential to allow a strong and generalizable conclusion of the findings. Also, to enable unpacking the black box of impact, more research examining impact while adopting the mixed-methods approach is crucial.