Despite significant progress in a range of public services over the past two decades, in many developing countries the average citizen continues to suffer from gaps in provision and poor performance of even the most basic services. For example, staff absenteeism and medicine stock-outs are severe problems in many countries, and poor relations between health workers and service users are a persistent barrier to effective health care. Over-burdened networks and poor maintenance limit access to safe, clean drinking water, resulting in citizens having to travel long distances or use riskier sources. How best to address these problems, and improve the performance of services, is one the major challenges facing citizens and governments across the developing world.
Crucially, performance in service delivery depends not only on resources and the capacity of service providers but also on their relationships with users (i.e. citizens) and different levels of government – what demands providers face and how they are monitored and supported. There is rising interest in the potential of social accountability to shape these relationships and improve the delivery of public services.
The idea that services are distinct seems obvious, but often the implications for accountability are not clearly understood. This briefing note aims to provide some practical guidance on how different services can offer differing opportunities and challenges for improving service performance through increased accountability and, especially, citizen engagement.