Participatory Oversight Institutions

Governments have created a wide range of official oversight institutions that involve citizen engagement to improve public sector performance. These channels for participatory oversight include social audits and citizen input into official audits, as well as grievance redress and feedback mechanisms.


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 oversight institutions – in contrast 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 and to learn from efforts to activate them. Because of widespread implementation gaps, the actual functioning of most national citizen oversight reforms is often highly uneven in practice, with variation 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, with a focus so far in Colombia, India and the Philippines, as well as additional work in Nigeria and Mexico. ARC also studies the role of oversight institutions in international development agencies, including monitoring civic engagement in development aid commitments and practices. 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 attached to social services and social protection programs. ARC’s expert on social audits Dr. Suchi Pande has led several collaborations in India focused on learning about these large scale approaches — including unique research with FACTLY to seek and analyze the perspective of social auditors regarding 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)

Repurposing Everyday Discourse on Social Accountability: A Precise and Strategic Agenda from Dalit Activists in India (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.

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)

Contraloría social (Felipe Hevia 2021)

Setting the Stage for Increased Accountability: The White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria Campaign to Improve Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health in Niger State (Rachel Sullivan Robinson 2019)

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, also convenor-director of G-Watch has produced rich analysis from the Philippines in particular.

Pitfalls of Aiming to Empower the Bottom from the Top: The Case of Philippine Participatory Budgeting (Joy Aceron 2019)

How Participatory Reforms Can Enable Voice but Fall Short of Transformation – published by International Budget Partnership (Joy Aceron 2019)

Citizen Experiences and Challenges in Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Local Governments in Southern Mexico (Carlos García Jiménez 2019)

Experiencias y desafíos ciudadanos para instituir la transparencia y la rendición de cuentas en gobiernos locales del sur de México (Carlos García Jiménez 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 World Bank Staff Perceive the Institutional Environment for Building Citizen Engagement into Projects? (Rachel Nadelman 2021)

Contested Terrain: International Development Projects and Countervailing Power for the Excluded (Jonathan Fox 2020)

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)

How a Community-Led Response to Sexual Exploitation in Uganda Led to Systemic World Bank Reform (Elana Berger 2018)