How social accountability ensures functioning democracy

Sarah Lister, director of the UNDP Oslo Governance Center, talks social accountability with Devex associate editor Richard Jones.

Social accountability refers to a range of mechanisms that can help ensure people have more opportunity to influence those in positions of power who make decisions that affect them.

Sarah Lister, director of the U.N. Development Program’s Oslo Governance Center told Devex what this looks like in practice.

The power dynamics that take place in any political context also operate when social accountability mechanisms are being used, she said. “But they do provide one other avenue that can add up with formal horizontal, vertical and other types of accountability mechanisms to ensure democracy is functioning more effectively.”

Accountability is not always a popular mechanism, she added. Integrating accountability touches on power and politics — it is not straightforward process and it is important to be able to understand the incentives under which people operate, and what drives them.

So how can global development practitioners integrate accountability initiatives into their programming?

“Integrating accountability initiatives will be an important part of all of our work as we move to the 2030 agenda, because of the imperative to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” Lister said.

Watch the above video for more from Lister on why accountability is so important and how politically smart programming can aid measurement and assessment efforts.

Democracy Matters is a global conversation hosted by Devex, in partnership with International IDEA, to discuss accountability as a central element of deepening democracy. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #DemocracyMatters.

About the author

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    Helen Morgan

    Helen Morgan is an Associate Editor at Devex. She has a background in human rights, radio and journalism, and has written for a variety of international publications while living and working in Buenos Aires, New York and Shanghai. She is now based in Barcelona and supports editorial content on campaigns and media partnerships at Devex. She is currently studying a master's degree in contemporary migration.