Date: August 2018
Authors: Samir Garg and Suchi Pande
Publication type: Accountability Note
Published by: Accountability Research Center
Can community health workers (CHWs) act as agents of change in enhancing the public accountability of government, despite being state-funded actors themselves?
CHW programs worldwide face challenges in achieving public accountability. They face a tension between upward accountability (to higher officials within the health system) and public accountability (to the people who access and use public health services), especially with respect to their potential to play a role as agents of public accountability (Schaaf et al. 2018).
This Accountability Note illustrates how the CHW program of the Chhattisgarh state government in central India— known as Mitanin—has, over time, developed a learning strategy that permits CHWs (Mitanins) to enable sustained action on public accountability, whilst simultaneously providing health services and education, and linking communities with government healthcare services.
The main proposition of this note is that this evolving learning strategy enabled state and civil society actors to design institutions and processes appropriate for accountability. Our focus is on understanding how learning has lent the program the ability to evolve ways for continuously managing the essential tensions inherent in its design, and how this has been key to developing sustainable accountability strategies.
We discuss examples of how the Mitanins’ evolving learning strategy has contributed to their efforts to ensure public accountability of the health system to people who use public health services. These examples are grouped under five propositions about the roles CHWs can play in sustainable public accountability:
1. Community health workers can simultaneously act as service providers and agents of public accountability.
2. Community health workers can set agendas for advocacy on issues of accountability by building virtuous cycles of action and learning.
3. Community health workers can build countervailing power at multiple levels.
4. Community health workers can demand both rights for communities, and better working conditions for themselves.
5. ‘Action-strategists’ can create an appropriate state-civil society organization to facilitate community health workers’ action.
This note offers insights from the Mitanin experience on these five ways that CHWs can build and sustain accountability, and illustrates how the program has taken a movement-building approach to public health, and thus avoided becoming a narrow technocratic intervention.