Sandwich Strategy Research: State-Society Synergy

“Sandwich strategy” describes an effort to make governments more publicly accountable through mutually-reinforcing collaboration between reformers and broad-based citizen action. ARC has studied whether and how this kind of state-society synergy drives pro-accountability institutional change in several countries of the global South.

What is the “sandwich strategy”?

The “sandwich strategy” describes an interactive process in which reformers in government encourage citizen action from below, driving virtuous circles of mutual empowerment between pro-accountability actors in both state and society.

Sandwich strategies relies on state-society synergy, not just initiatives from one or the other arena. The hypothesis is that when reformers in government tangibly reduce the risks/costs of collective action, that process can bolster state-society pro-reform coalitions that collaborate for change. While this process makes intuitive sense, it can follow diverse pathways and encounter many roadblocks. The dynamics, strengths and limitations of sandwich strategies have not been documented and analyzed systematically. The figure below shows a possible pathway of convergence and conflict between actors for and against change in both state and society.

sandwich strategy

A comparative study

This project carried out a comparative study of whether and how sandwich strategy initiatives drive pro-accountability institutional change, both in Nigeria and in the global South more broadly.

To make a broader contribution to understanding of the dynamics of accountability reforms, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s On Nigeria program funded ARC to carry out an ambitious “medium N” comparative study of 20 sandwich strategy cases, from: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, The Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The diverse thematic focus of the cases includes education, health, gender, housing, social protection, electoral reform, and environmental protection.

Pathways Towards Power Shifts: State-Society Synergy, an article in World Development by Jonathan Fox, Rachel Sullivan Robinson, and Naomi Hossain, reports the study findings, encapsulated in this diagram of pathways to power shifts.


Jonathan Fox and Rachel Sullivan Robinson, from the faculty of the American University School of International Service, were the principal investigators on this project. Naomi Hossain gave additional analytical support. ARC partnered with the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria and research consultant Oladeji Olaore.


April 2024

Watch Pathways Towards Power Shifts: State-Society Synergy, a webinar convened by the World Bank’s Governance and Institutions umbrella program – panelists Rachel Sullivan Robinson, Jonathan Fox, Tiago Piexoto, and Francesaca Recanati.


October 2023

Read Governance Reform and Public Service Provision: Institutional Resilience and State-Society Synergy, a short essay in which Jonathan Fox discusses four cases of state-society synergy which show how hybrid, collaborative governance can work in practice—in cases where innovations have already been scaled up.


September 2023

Read Pathways Towards Power Shifts: State-Society Synergy, an article in World Development by Jonathan Fox, Rachel Sullivan Robinson, and Naomi Hossain


July 2023

Read a blog by Rachel Sullivan Robinson and Jonathan Fox, with six propositions for funders distilled from the Sandwich Strategy research.


March 2023

Watch a presentation of the sandwich strategy research by Rachel Sullivan Robinson and Jonathan Fox, part of USAID’s Evidence and Learning seminar series (20-minute presentation, followed by Q&A)


July 2022

Sandwich strategy case studies

The Mixed Legacies of Bolivia’s 1994 Law of Popular Participation and Implications for the Promotion of Indigenous Agency (Robert Albro)

‘Constructive Accountability’: Sandwich Strategy for Textbook Delivery in the Philippines (Joy Aceron)

Pakistan’s National Commission on the Status of Women: A Sandwich Strategy Initiative (Ayesha Khan)

Enabling Powershifts: KALAHI in the Philippines as a Sandwich Strategy Case (Joy Aceron)

Economic Accountability and Pro-Poor Forest Sector Reforms in Mexico (David Bray)

Collaboration and Contestation: State Actors and MST Activists Reforming Rural Education (Rebecca Tarlau)

Enabling Citizens’ Collective Actions towards Improving Transparency and Accountability through the District Health System in Enugu State (Chijioke Kelechi Iwuamadi and Rowland Chukwuma Okoli)

Reforming Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission: A Sandwich Approach to Electoral Accountability 2010–2015 (Okechukwu Ibeanu)

Agents of Change Beyond Healthcare: Lessons from the Mitanin (Community Health Worker) Program in India (Suchi Pande)

State-led Social Audits: Enabling Citizen Oversight in India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Program (Suchi Pande)

Square-rule Paper Engineers: People, Power, and Participation in Sri Lanka’s Million Houses Programme (Asha L. Abeyasekera and Vagisha Gunasekara)

HIV/AIDS Policy in Brazil: State / Society Partnerships in an ‘Island of Excellence’ (Jessica Rich)

Akasa Afaifai: Improving Accountability in the Budget Implementation Process: A Case Study from Kano (Y. Z. Ya’u)

The Sandwich Strategy: Opening from Above Meets Mobilization from Below in Monitoring the Ogun State Home-Grown School Feeding Program (Oladeji Olaore)

Third Party Monitoring of National Social Investment Programs in Nigeria – An Uncommon Opening from Above (Oladeji Olaore)

Jointly Promoting Accountability in Health Care: Strategic Alliances Between Citizen Monitors and the Human Rights Ombuds Office in Southern Peru (Jeannie Samuels and Ariel Frisancho)

La promoción conjunta la rendición de cuentas en salud: Alianzas estratégicas entre monitores ciudadanos y la Defensoría del Pueblo en el sur del Perú (Jeannie Samuels and Ariel Frisancho)

Anti-Domestic Violence Policy in Bangladesh: Did Voice Trigger Teeth? (Sohela Nazneen)

Delivering Collective Afrodescendant Land Rights: Mutual Empowerment in Colombian State-Society Coalitions 1995-2003 (Noah Rosen, Jonathan Fox, Helmer Quiñones); also in Spanish