Social protection is now widely recognized as playing a critical role in addressing poverty and inequality and supporting sustainable development. This is acknowledged in a number of international and regional frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals. It is also evidenced by the dramatic increase in the number of countries working to expand their social protection systems over the last decade.
Considerable progress has been made in extending social protection, but challenges remain in coverage and programme implementation, which undermine its potential impact. Social accountability is one way to improve the delivery of social protection by engaging recipients and broader society in decision-making and accountability. Social accountability includes the steps that governments can take to develop effective complaint and redress mechanisms, and make design choices, which strengthen accountability. It also involves the steps that civil society can take to monitor the delivery of social protection (e.g. at local level), and to advocate for change in policy choices and programme design. Effective collaboration between civil society and governments is key to this approach.
Although the number of social protection schemes has increased, many are still limited in coverage or face considerable implementation challenges. For example, recent monitoring work by HelpAge of social protection schemes in several African countries found cases of delayed payments of up to 5 months, absence of transparency in how social protection recipients are selected, cases of petty fraud and bribery, and situations where frail and vulnerable older people were making journeys of up to 20 kilometers to reach the paypoint. This not only undermines the potential impact of social protection schemes, it also weakens the principles of rights-based social protection in terms of ensuring that schemes are accessible, benefits are predictable, and the dignity of people is respected.
Strengthening social accountability in social protection is one way to improve both the coverage and design of schemes, and the implementation challenges. This involves the steps that civil society can take to hold governments to account for the effective delivery of social protection, both at local level through, for example, community committees and civil society monitoring, and at national level, to advocate for change in policy choices and programme design. But it also involves the steps that governments can take to strengthen accountability mechanisms and the participation of recipients and broader society in social protection schemes, for example through the development of effective and responsive complaint and redress mechanisms, and appropriate information and communication strategies. Independent legal channels are also increasingly being used as a mechanism to hold governments to account for the delivery of social security rights, such as through Ombudsman and Human Rights Commissions.
However, the question of how social accountability can improve social protection has received fairly limited attention until now. There is a growing interest in improving the knowledge base in this area with the recent publication of a DFID-funded study, and a global webinar series hosted by HelpAge International and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth on the www.socialprotection.org platform. Findings of these knowledge initiatives highlighted a number of lessons regarding voice and accountability in social protection, including the importance of embedding citizen voice in a broader accountability strategy, and how government stakeholders need the incentives, authority and capacity to bring about change. An important lesson highlighted was the challenge of engaging the most marginalised citizens including women, people with disabilities, and older people.
These recent knowledge initiatives provide an important foundation for learning, but to date there has been little exchange of ideas or critical reflection directly between the experts and practitioners involved in the country-level initiatives currently taking place in several African countries. This knowledge exchange aims to fill this gap and advance the agenda on how voice and accountability can strengthen the delivery of social protection. It will bring together government officials, representatives of social protection management agencies and civil society organisations, as well as development partners, international organisations, private sector companies and researchers directly involved in delivering, or providing technical assistance on social protection. Participants will include those with strong experience of implementing accountability initiatives in social protection, and organisations committed to strengthen their work in this area.
This conference is bringing together social protection policy makers and practitioners from the East and Southern Africa region representing government, civil society, and development partners. Participants will include those with strong experience of implementing accountability initiatives in social protection, and organisations committed to strengthen their work in this area. Representatives from Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines will join the conference in the spirit of South-South learning.
The conference format will include presentations, panel discussions and case studies by experts and practitioners, as well as sessions for knowledge sharing, debate and discussion. IPE’s Governance Advisor Marko Tomicic will be moderating the session on legal and policy dimensions of social accountability in social protection. The legal underpinning of social protection and access to courts have been important for helping people access social protection programmes. Regional and international frameworks can also be useful tools for governments and civil society to undertake analysis and advocacy. This session will explore the extent that legislation, policies and international frameworks support social accountability in social protection. The session will benefit from presentations on ILO Recommendation 202 as a social accountability tool, the use of rights and laws to increase access to socioeconomic rights in South Africa, as well as legislated structures for social accountability in Uganda.
Other sessions will focus on securing government responsiveness, the role of social accountability in gaining support for financing social protection, as well as development partners’ support to social accountability in social protection.
Participants will take stock of the current state of accountability in the social protection sector, the challenges to achieving accountability and propose ways forward. The knowledge exchange will include presentations, panel discussions and case studies by experts and practitioners, as well as participatory sessions for knowledge sharing, debate and discussion.
The timing of this conference is viewed to be strategic considering the growing commitment to social protection in a number of Eastern and Southern African countries. In addition to large scale productive safety net programmes implemented in a number of countries, in recent years, positive progress has been made in providing universal pension to older men and women. In 2016, the Government of Zanzibar became the first country in the East and Central Africa Region to provide pension to over 26,000 senior citizens while the Government of Kenya has finalised preparation to implement a pension programme to over half a million senior citizens. It was further pleasing to hear of the commitments made by the Government of Malawi who has recently concluded its feasibility study and stated that it will soon embark on developing a universal pension programme. This conference comes at a time, increasing number of governments are showing commitment to strengthen voice and accountability in social protection through Complaints Referral Mechanisms. Whilst participants will mainly be from African countries, a number of spaces will also be made available for a limited number of participants from the Asia region with interest in advancing their knowledge in this important area of social protection work.
Scope of the knowledge exchange
The South-South knowledge exchange will focus on social accountability in the delivery of social protection. Social accountability places beneficiaries and broader society at the centre of accountability processes (in contrast with top down controls). Social accountability refers to the steps that governments can take to improve participation of recipients and broader society in accountability initiatives, and the steps that recipients and broader society can take to hold governments to account for the delivery of their social security rights.
While recognising the need for accountability across the full spectrum of social protection mechanisms, the exchange will focus particularly on non-contributory cash transfers. This will include learning from ongoing accountability work related to social pension schemes in Africa - of particular relevance given the increasing number of countries that are expanding social pensions - as well as experience from other types of non-contributory cash transfers. This will include the practical mechanisms for accountability at local level, the legislation and policy at national level, and the link between these dimensions.
For further information, contact Marko Tomicic, IPE’s Governance Advisor: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Ayliffe T, Aslam G and Schjoedt R, Social accountability in the delivery of social protection: final research report, December 2017