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Social Accountability: What Does the Evidence Really Say?

Date: March 2015
Authors: Jonathan Fox
Publication type: Scholarly Journal Article
Published by: World Development

Empirical evidence of tangible impacts of social accountability is mixed. This meta-analysis reinterprets evaluations through a new lens: the distinction between tactical and strategic approaches to the promotion of citizen voice to contribute to improved public sector performance. Field experiments study bounded, tactical interventions based on optimistic assumptions about the power of information alone, both to motivate collective action and to influence the state. Enabling environments for collective action combined with bolstered state capacity to respond to citizen voice are more promising. Sandwhich strategies can help ‘voice’ and ‘teeth’ to become mutually empowering, through state-society synergy.

“Voice needs teeth to have bite – but teeth may not bite without voice.”

Jonathan Fox Jonathan Fox is a professor in the School of International Service at American University. He studies the relationships between accountability, transparency and citizen participation. He directs the new AU Accountability Research Center, an action-research incubator. His most recent publications include articles in World Development and the IDS Bulletin, and reports published by Making All Voices Count, U4: Anti-Corruption Resource Center and the Transparency and Accountability Initiative. His books include Accountability Politics: Power and Voice in Rural Mexico (Oxford 2007) and Mexico’s Right-to-Know Reforms: Civil Society Perspectives (co-editor, Fundar/Wilson Center 2007). He was a founding member of the International Expert Panel of the Independent Reporting Mechanism of the Open Government Partnership and currently serves on the boards of directors of Fundar (Mexico) and the Bank Information Center (DC). For online publications, see