Official oversight institutions that involve citizen participation are widely expected to contribute to governance and service provision. Yet there is limited evidence on the practices of these already-existing large-scale official participatory oversight institutions – particularly compared to the robust literature on localized, donor-led, and civil society-led oversight initiatives.
The potential contribution of citizen participation to governance and public services depends on both scale and sustainability. ARC and partners are trying to understand how institutionalized, public oversight processes actually operate in practice, as well as learning from efforts to activate them. Because of widespread implementation gaps, the functioning of most national citizen oversight reforms is often uneven in practice. It varies across territory, sectors, and social groups. The identification of trends, breakthroughs, and bottlenecks has important lessons for practice.
Citizens registering their complaints at a common window in a Gram Panchayat in Rajasthan. Credit: Digvijay Singh
Participatory oversight institutions and related resources
Participatory oversight institutions studied by ARC include social audits, citizen engagement with supreme audit institutions, national grievance redress and feedback mechanisms, public service delivery oversight committees, citizen oversight in local government budgeting, as well as participatory oversight and grievance redress in international aid projects.
ARC works with civil society organizations, researchers, and policymakers to document and understand this diverse array of oversight institutions. So far, the focus has been on Colombia, India, and the Philippines, as well as Nigeria and Mexico. ARC also studies the role of oversight institutions in international development agencies. This includes monitoring commitments and practices around civic engagement in development aid. See below for related ARC resources:
1. Social audits
Social audits are participatory processes combining third-party (citizen or civil society) assessments of access to and quality of public services with public forums for collective discussion of the findings. India has several pioneering social audit programs, such as those attached to social services and social protection programs. ARC’s expert on social audits Dr. Suchi Pande has led several collaborations in India. These have focused on learning about large scale approaches — including unique research with FACTLY on the perspectives of social auditors about the efficacy of the approach. ARC has also supported the creation of a hub for resources on the theory and practice of social audits in India and beyond.
Social Audit Resource Hub (curated by Social Accountability Forum for Action and Research, 2023)
Social Audits in Service Delivery: An Annotated Bibliography (Suchi Pande, co-publication with Open Government Partnership, 2022)
Social Audits in India: Institutionalizing Citizen Oversight (Suchi Pande 2021)
From Peoples’ Struggles to Public Policy: The Institutionalization of the Bhilwara Framework of Social Accountability in India (Rakshita Swamy, with a preface by Aruna Roy 2020)
Citizen Oversight and India’s Right to Work Program: What Do the Social Auditors Say? (Suchi Pande and Rakesh R. Dubbudu 2017)
2. Citizen engagement with supreme audit institutions
National audit agencies, charged with oversight of government spending, increasingly accept the principle that civil society input into their agenda-setting and auditing can contribute to their mission. These resources highlight a range of approaches to engaging citizens in supreme audit institutions across Latin America.
Citizen Participation in Auditing in Latin America: The Future Agenda (Marcos Mendiburu 2021)
Citizen Participation in Latin America’s Supreme Audit Institutions: Progress or Impasse? (Marcos Mendiburu 2021)
Seminario Internacional de Participación Ciudadana y Fiscalización (conference website 2020)
3. National grievance redress and feedback mechanisms
Grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) in the public sector are institutionalized processes that enable people to register complaints and seek redress for service problems. ARC is exploring GRMs in different countries, including how they have emerged, worked and changed over time.
The Politics of Complaint: A Review of the Literature of Grievance Redress Mechanisms in the Global South, journal article (Naomi Hossain, Anuradha Joshi, and Suchi Pande, 2023)
Sharing lessons from Grievance Redress Mechanisms, research and practice, webinar (Annette Fisher, Ludovico Alcorta, Suchi Pande, Fayaz Ahmad, Tom Kirk, 2023)
Grievance Redress Mechanisms in the Public Sector: A Literature Review (Suchi Pande and Naomi Hossain, 2022, co-publication with Open Government Partnership)
Towards Effective and Inclusive Grievance Redress Mechanisms in Education (Suchi Pande 2022)
Public Ouvidorias in Brazil: From Accounting to Multifaceted Accountability (Marcio Cunha Filho 2021)
Open Government, Feedback Loops, and Semantic Extravaganza (Tiago Peixoto 2021)
The Feedback State: Hearing and Responding to Bangladeshi Citizens During the COVID-19 Pandemic (CLEAR research project, Naomi Hossain and colleagues, 2022)
4. Public service delivery oversight committees
These officially-recognized committees allow community representatives to monitor the operations of public services. They are active in clinics, schools, water systems, food programs, and public works. Several resources published by ARC through various partnerships shed light on how such committees function in different countries and sectors.
El control social en Colombia: Un balance sobre las veedurías ciudadanas (Mariana Cepeda Villarreal 2022)
Contraloría Social – or “Social Oversight” (Felipe Hevia 2021)
Educational Accountability or Social Accountability in Education? Similarities, Tensions, and Differences (Felipe Hevia and Samara Vergara-Lope 2019)
¿Accountability Educativo o Accountability Social en educación? Semejanzas, tensiones y diferencias (Felipe Hevia and Samara Vergara-Lope 2019)
Learning to Sustain Change: Mitanin Community Health Workers Promote Public Accountability in India (Samir Garg and Suchi Pande 2018)
First Meeting of Auxiliary Watershed Organizations: Good Practices, Limitations, Lessons, and Prospects (Brenda Rodríguez Hererra, Rebeca Salazar Ramírez and Mariana González Moyo 2018)
Doing Accountability Differently. A Proposal for the Vertical Integration of Civil Society Monitoring and Advocacy (Jonathan Fox, Joy Aceron and Aránzazu Guillán Montero 2016, co-published with U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center)
5. Citizen oversight in local government budgeting
Many local governments include institutional processes for communities to oversee and provide input into decision-making about local public works. Such initiatives have been attempted in several places, so it is important to understand their potential and anticipate unintended consequences. ARC researcher Joy Aceron has produced rich analysis from the Philippines in particular.
How Participatory Reforms Can Enable Voice but Fall Short of Transformation – published by International Budget Partnership (Joy Aceron 2019)
6. Participatory oversight and grievance redress in international aid projects
Some official development agencies have created accountability mechanisms that recognize the standing of people directly affected to exercise voice, oversee projects, and/or register grievances. ARC’s Rachel Nadelman has worked with civil society partners monitoring World Bank citizen engagement at international, national, and sub-national levels to generate several of the resources highlighted here.
How Do Donor-led Empowerment and Accountability Activities Take Scale into Account? Evidence from DFID Programmes in Contexts of Fragility, Conflict and Violence (Colin Anderson, Jonathan Fox and John Gaventa 2020, co-published with IDS)
How Do World Bank Projects Commit to Citizen Engagement? (Rachel Nadelman 2020, published by IDS)
How Does the World Bank Build Citizen Engagement Commitments into Project Design? Results from Pilot Assessments in Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Pakistan (Rachel Nadelman, Ha Le and Anjali Sah 2019, co-published with IDS)