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Social Accountability in Ethiopia – learning by doing

Tomorrow, we are hosting a meeting with over 100 Executive Directors of NGOs in Ethiopia. The NGOs are grantees and their sub-partners of the Ethiopia Social Accountability Programme 2 (World Bank multi donor trust fund of about 25 million USD). The Executive Directors’ Day (EDD) will discuss Social Accountability now and in the future. I had hoped to relax today to be fresh for tomorrow’s facilitation, but then I stumbled upon a  digital presentation: Social Accountability – What does the evidence really say? (Jonathan Fox) by the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), and I couldn’t resist the urge to read it. (Picture: meeting with a Social Accountability Committee at the office of a District Administrator in Tigray Region of Ethiopia)

The conclusion of the presentation raises key issues for further research and learning by doing, some of which I use here for my reflection.

  1. Evidence shows that:
  • Information is not enough – ESAP2 grantees facilitate direct interactions between citizens and front line service providers. Citizens access information about service standards, plans and budgets. Citizens and service providers use a variety of Social Accountability tools to identify service gaps. The findings are shared at an interface meeting, where citizens present their findings and service providers discuss these findings. The aim of the interface meeting is to develop a reform agenda, also known as joint action plan, where both service providers and citizens agree on what needs to be done to improve the service. 

An example: In a district in Tigray Region, about 50 kms from the regional capital Mekele, the Tigray Youth Association has enabled citizens to assess the conditions of their rural roads using a community score card tool. Citizens discovered that the roads are too narrow compared to the standard and very poorly maintained. They also learned about their entitlement to an all-weather road that links their ‘tabia’ (sub-district) with the district capital. During the interface meeting at sub-district level, the district administrator was invited. When he saw the commitment of citizens to contribute labour and other resources as long as the standards would be met and the entitlement realised, he immediately agreed to send an engineer to redesign damaged parts of the rural roads. Meanwhile, he has checked his budget from the Universal Rural Access Program. Resources have now been reallocated, because the local government realises it can do a lot more if it works in coordination with citizens to satisfy their needs.

  • Strategic Social Accountability bolsters enabling environment for collective action, scale up and brings government response in – ESAP2 has recently linked-up with the Financial Transparency and Accountability programme (FTA) that enables local governments to display budgets and make other local government information available to citizens. Together with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) a consultation was hosted with all ESAP2 project staff of 49 grantees and their sub-partners, as well as 3 officials from each of the 11 regional bureaus of MoFED. Over 350 participants reflected on possibilities for linkages, based on the four step Social Accountability process that ESAP2 promotes. This event strengthened and forged new relationships between the government and civil society. A proposal for policy guidance to local governments has been submitted for MoFED approval shortly after the event.

This practice fits with the suggestion in the GPSA presentation that SA interventions should seek to bridge state-society relationships for synergy. ESAP2 brings supply – the provision of services, and demand – the call for accountability, together. The bridge is not just at the citizen – service provider interface at the level of sub-district and district local government, but also at higher – programme and government – levels, e.g. through the link with FTA and PSNP (see below), as well as horizontal (e.g. the district council is also a member of the SA Committee).


The GPSA presentation raises two issues that are closely related to our EDD agenda tomorrow:

  • How does the political economy of cross-sectoral coalition building work? – This is a thick, long term question for Social Accountability in Ethiopia. ESAP2 is building evidence at scale that Social Accountability works to improve the quality of basic services in 5 sectors (education, health, agriculture, water and sanitation, and rural roads). Projects typically start in one sector that is prone to complaints or that is otherwise a priority for citizens. The assumption is that SA committees, which learn to work with at least two SA tools, can gradually spread out to other sectors, but it is not clear yet if and how this will work in practice. ESAP2 works closely with MoFED, but is only starting to engage with sector line ministries. For instance, very recently, the Ministry of Agriculture and MoFED have requested ESAP2 to link with the Productive Safety Nets Program (PSNP), for which many local governments have significant budget. The aim of the linkage it to learn for Social Accountability up-scaling in the next phase of PSNP.
  • What investments in bridging social capital/interlocutors pay off? – ESAP2 is an investment in capacity development projects. ESAP2 provides training and capacity development support to 49 Social Accountability Implementing Partners (SAIPs) which mobilise citizens through existing groups and social structures, develop local capacity to hold government to account for basic service delivery, and facilitate the interface interactions. SAIPs (grantees) are currently working in 223 districts of the country, across all 11 regions, which is just over 25% of all districts in Ethiopia. One of the questions for the EDD is around sustaining this Social Accountability expertise over time. This requires leadership from civil society, as well as a funding logic.

Related to this last point, the GPSA presentation suggests that capacity development counts, but how long does it take? It is suggested to trigger virtuous circles, were citizens can increase voice that affects reforms which increases voice again.

The ESAP2 projects have a 2 year life span, but this is likely not going to be enough to sustain behavioural change among citizens as well as service providers. We are working with SAIPs to develop strategies to bring SA beyond their project area. There are two initiatives that are worth mentioning in this context:

  • SAIPs (ESAP2 grantees) have been helped to reflect on dissemination of SA messages (e.g. citizens have entitlements and should organise to check that their local government is doing what it is supposed to do) beyond their direct project intervention areas. The focus is on working with existing organisations and structures that are members of the district SA committee

An example: In the case of Women's Association Tigray, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a member of the SA Committee, and it has committed to speak about SA and FTA in all its churches.

  • ESAP2 has an active social media strategy with: 
  1. Website including e-subscription quarterly Newsletter
  2. FaceBook page that has grown from 50 to 1850 fans in the past 4 months (43% Ethiopian women between 25 and 35)
  3. YouTube channel with participatory videos by SAIPs that have been trained by ESAP2. Participatory videos are used to support service dialogues, and to document project experience.

I look forward to the live streaming of the presentation on April 1st (internet conditions permitting).

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