One could argue that citizens are more aware of local problems than are public officials. However, active citizenry that takes party in decision making on both locally concerning and national issues requires an enabling environment that empowers and incentivizes people. The very aspect of initiatives on local democracy or social accountability should be empowering enough to provide incentive to create an enabling environment for active citizenry. CSO’s are in a unique position to emphasize the use of practical tools to mobilize communities’ influence on social accountability in addition to theorizing and conceptualizing the definition of such.
As part of a series on social accountability by Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) from the World Bank Group, Almudena Ocejo, Executive Director of the Center for Social Control and Democratic Construction at CCS-CIESAS, shared some practical tools that her organization is using to facilitate social accountability in two communities in Mexico. Her presentation focused on how to close the gap between citizens and government in decision making processes. Recommendations included:
- Increasing technical capacity, or political skill of citizens
- Partnership with grassroots/indigenous organizations
- Community organizing
- Participatory planning process
- Organizing and mobilizing different groups around common interests (i.e. university students, teachers, civil servants)
In conjunction with these tools that focus on the demand side (citizens), there should also be mechanisms to convince the supply-side (government) for social accountability to be realized. To this end, Almudena recommended the following:
- Negotiations with government bodies
- Already existing but neglected accountability legislations and government offices
- Peaceful public demonstrations and campaigns
- Media (mainstream and online)
It should also be noted that there is always the risk of creating artificial social accountability through initiatives that are not carried out with due awareness of local problems. To avoid this, social accountability initiatives should [always] be tied to existing community initiatives and organizations. Another recommendation, which concerns traction: building coalitions between communities around specific and similar social problems, rather than individual issues with individual communities, creates an opportunity to scale up initiatives.
Results-focused initiatives are the key to ensuring public participation. Yet the practicality of a social accountability plan, as it regards input, expectation, time and scope, also determines outcome. Thus, it is best to create understanding among public officials that social accountability initiatives are not a threat, but a constructive support that will yield long-lasting results and local governments that fulfill sustainable development.