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The role of collaboration in social accountability mechanisms

Written by Planact, the seventh paper in the 2017 State of Local Governance publication discusses the role of collaboration in social accountability mechanisms using a case study on a social audit conducted in Emalahleni Local Municipality.

After 20 years of democracy the state continues to face difficulties in the delivery of basic municipal services as low-income communities, such as the pilot project that Planact is working on with the Springvalley community illustrates. The community remains marginalised in the existing local municipal development processes. Due to the unsatisfactory service delivery by local municipalities, citizens have participated in protests to exert pressure on their local governments to provide basic services. In spite of the South African government being seen as one of the democracies with a progressive constitution, there are many occurrences of unacceptable and slow-paced service delivery, which prompts local communities to engage in protest actions as a way of venting their frustrations (Reddy, 2010). Social accountability has emerged as a recent, alternative approach, with social audits being used as a particular method of engagement. Communities in South Africa are starting to learn more about, and use, social audits as a recourse to hold government accountable, with the support of non-government organisations (NGOs).

According to the framework of the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), social auditing is a process through which project information is gathered, analysed and publicly shared and discussed (Dawson, 2014). Enabling a community to contribute to the development of their neighbourhoods through social audits, empowers them greatly. HRSC (2017) emphasises the positive outcomes of this saying that through meaningful participation in the social audit process, communities develop an understanding of the issue, learn how to measure the problem, verify evidence and find ways to communicate the findings. Importantly, in this research process, community members are not passive recipients of evidence, but generators of evidence as well as advocates attempting to address the problem.

In the case of the Springvalley community, the community opted to exercise their constitutional rights by usingsocial audit methodology to engage with the municipality around water service delivery. Springvalley is an informal settlement located at eMalahleni Local Municipality. Conducting a social audit by the Springvalley community brought about the need for the local municipality to answer any irregularities that were cited, which contributed to local municipal accountability.

The paper has two objectives: firstly, to explore the origin of social audits and to examine the challenges encountered during the social audit process in relation to social accountability. Secondly, the paper demonstrates how social audits can contribute to increased social accountability in service delivery. The paper concludes that collaboration between civil society and municipalities is an essential element of effective social accountability in service delivery. This paper uses social accountability as a conceptual framework and draws on data collected using qualitative and quantitative research. The paper intends to make an important contribution to policy discourse on South African local governance and social accountability.

Written by: Nomcebo Dlamini

A copy of Paper 7 can be downloaded below. 


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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.