By Maurice Nyambe: Zambian Governance Foundation

One thing that communities in Africa are acutely aware of is that there is never enough money. Here the Zambia Governance Foundation discusses its experience in assisting communities to unlock their own potential to generate resources, and how this empowers them to be more demanding of government. Read more…

The concept of “community” is one I have always been interested in, and working with civil society over the last 15 years has regularly provided me with opportunities to understand the dynamics of community from many different angles. One such angle, for which my interest has been growing in the recent past, is community philanthropy. For us at ZGF, community philanthropy is a development approach that places emphasis on the monetary and non-monetary resources and assets that exist in local communities, and how these can be progressively harnessed to advance development prospects at community level. Community philanthropy essentially takes communities from the periphery of development interventions being implemented in their areas, to the epicentre in terms of their involvement in such interventions. In that respect, community philanthropy promotes inclusion and sustainability in the development process. For me as a development practitioner, this is crucial. I have become acquainted with the helplessness that tends to consume local communities when it comes to issues to do with development in general and governance in particular. Generally, local communities have tended to see themselves as a powerless entity in the face of those that wield power and that are responsible for delivery of social services.

At ZGF, our work over the last decade has been dedicated to working with such communities to help them make demands for better service delivery by interacting with policy makers at different levels. We have done this through working directly with CSOs and indirectly with communities to provide tools and support with which citizens can hold their leaders accountable over service delivery and development outcomes. It is that aspect of our work – the focus on developing capacities – that makes a huge difference in the lives of the communities we have worked with. This has been our story since we started out as the new kid on the block back in 2009. But over the years, it became evident to us that there was potentially greater impact to be made by increasing our direct engagement with communities within the broad spectrum of social accountability. Indeed, communities represent an important – perhaps the most important – aspect of the demand side of social accountability, and investing in helping them to unlock the range of resources and assets they have can contribute significantly to social accountability outcomes. And that is what our community philanthropy work essentially seeks to do. We believe that working more directly with communities through their existing structures is a powerful avenue for increasing community voice and, potentially, power. Indeed, a community that is able to organise itself and utilise the range of resources it has is a community that is empowered to not only take a leading role in its own development prospects but will also be more confident in its demands for answers related to governance and service delivery failures affecting it.

We are also alive to the fact that at the centre of social accountability is the notion that citizens should not only have their voices heard during elections, which happen at long intervals. Rather, the voice of citizens should be heard probably more so in the periods between elections as that is essentially when governance and service delivery failures happen. Through our community philanthropy work – which includes awareness raising on rights and active citizenship – we are helping communities to unlock the wealth of assets they have and this will allow them to begin balancing the power dynamics to make them more involved in their own development prospects.

Are we confident that we will achieve this? Absolutely. Our commitment to this cause has never been greater. But we are also aware of the potential pitfalls that can derail this work and the biggest of our fears in that regard has to do with mistrust. Generally speaking, communities in Zambia are suffering from project fatigue, and most of such projects have not had practical sustainability measures put in place beyond what they wrote in their proposals, so that at the end of the projects, communities have been left abandoned and yearning for more. Our fear therefore stems from the mistrust that has been created when it comes to development projects in most communities, and part of our work over the last two years has involved the building of trust. As we have been doing this, the importance of understanding the community you are working with in its entirety is among the key lessons we continue to learn, and we have conducted a community profiling exercise as part of that endeavour.

In many respects, our journey is still in its infancy and we continue to learn as we go along. But we are convinced that working with communities to help them realise their full potential using all assets available at their disposal will elevate them to a stronger position from which they can realise their rights and therefore advance social accountability outcomes that will enhance their development prospects. We know this will not happen overnight, but we are in this for the long haul.

If you want to leave your comments about the article, follow the link


By Pepukai Chivore: Parliament Budget Office- Zimbabwe

“…And they say we have no teeth!” This blog discusses a collaboration between Parliament and the Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust in Zimbabwe to institutionalise more meaningful and accountable reporting to Parliamentary Committees from government institutions. Read more…

Realising information opacity from Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs), the Parliament Budget Office (PBO) in Zimbabwe designed a reporting template which has been adopted and institutionalised by Parliament. Bang!! If you don’t report, or don’t provide enough information as required on the template, we name and shame! Parliament of Zimbabwe is mandated by Sections 119(3) and 299 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) to monitor and oversee all state institutions in order to ensure that all revenue is accounted for and all expenditure has been properly incurred and recorded. This is further buttressed by provisions in the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA, 2009) which compels MDAs to submit monthly and quarterly financial and accompanying reports to their respective portfolio committees.

The PBO’s intervention has assisted in the attainment of the right to social accountability which obliges the state (agent) to justify and explain its public resource management decisions and actions and to take corrective action where weaknesses are observed. This is done through openness and accessibility by the public to information about government activities especially in the use of public resources. Access to information is a fundamental human right which allows people to scrutinize the actions of their government and is the basis for informed debate by Parliament.

Parliament monitors budget implementation by scrutinizing government policies, programmes and expenditure plans in order to ensure that they are in line with legislative intent and are governed by documented policies and procedures. With technical and financial assistance from the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST), we developed, as the PBO, quarterly reporting guidelines for use by MDAs. The guidelines spell out the content expected in budget performance reports with particular emphasis on performance budgeting, which has been the missing component. Information on the guidelines gives Portfolio Committees adequate information and a clearer picture of how each MDA is managing public resources under its jurisdiction. The guidelines were developed after the realization that not all MDAs were complying with reporting requirements to Parliament. Where MDAs complied, the reports were mostly financial in nature with very little or no accompanying information or narratives of the performance matrix vis-à-vis set targets.  This is complemented by a report tracking tool which acts as a dashboard for everyone to see who is reporting and who is obstinate.

The guide borrows heavily from the Public Service Accountability Monitoring (PSAM) rights-based approach on social accountability monitoring framework, which focuses on the entire public resource management system of the State.

The PBO goes further to assist Parliamentary Committees in analysing the reports and providing options to the Committees to ensure transparency, accountability and probity in the utilisation of funds. As a result of this intervention, there has been an increase in reporting compliance by MDAs, from 4 % (5 out of a possible 112 reports) in 2016 to 39% (41 out of a possible 105) in 2018 giving an overall compliance rate of 39%. In 2019, compliance rate stands at 68%( 30 out of a possible 44).

The analysis of reports by the PBO has also enhanced Committees’ capacity in playing their oversight role on the Executive. There has thus been an improvement in the quality and content of reports. The reports are uploaded on the Parliament website for everyone with internet access to see how MDAs are utilising public resources allocated to them. The idea behind sharing these reports is to enhance transparency, out of which an informed citizenry will develop a demand conscience that ultimately puts pressure on government to deliver.

This intervention has entrenched a culture of reporting in MDAs. As the PBO, we are also working with the supply side (MDAs) with a view to improve the quality of reporting through undertaking continuous capacity building of accountants and Finance Directors in the MDAs. We have observed and learnt from our intervention that embedding transparency practices in laws, rules and procedures sets a good framework to guide behaviour. Although this may be contested, we put forward that it is important to legislate for everything rather than leave it to the goodwill of the Executive. We have also learnt that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play a crucial role in oversight through a parallel process of analysing budgets and government policies. Their analysis feeds into Parliament debates as well as them seizing any opportunities for dialogue provides a firm basis for sustained advocacy for increasingly transparent fiscal policies. On the strength of such an intervention, citizens can engage duty bearers on the basis of evidence and participate proactively and effectively in governance processes.

If you want to leave your comments about the article, follow the link


By Imbwanga Mapoko; United Purpose- Mozambique

Social accountability is not for the faint hearted. Here United Purpose in Mozambique shares some of the tacit knowledge it has had to learn in order to build and sustain productive multi-stakeholder relationships. Read more…

I think the best decision we have made so far in the Muni-SAM project was to train civil society, local government officials, and municipal assembly members together at the beginning of a social accountability intervention. When we did this, the conversation in the room changed fundamentally, which highlighted for us the importance of trust and relationship-building for effective social accountability. The conversation shifted from finger-pointing to a common understanding that “This is our municipality, these are our collective problems, so how do we overcome our differences and fix them?” The result of this shift comes out clearly in the digital stories where stakeholders share their experiences of the social accountability engagements that the Muni-SAM project has facilitated over the last 7 years. Some of these can be found here, here, here and here.

Over time, we have learnt that whilst trust is a key prerequisite for the success of social accountability monitoring (SAM) initiatives, bringing people who would not normally talk to each other into a safe conducive space for frank discussion is a significant step towards generating trust. However, nurturing a relationship of trust over the longer term is what will sustain stakeholder engagement to solve an increasing number of increasingly difficult municipal problems. At United Purpose, we are constantly reflecting on how to sustain these relationships so that they can be leveraged to better solve more problems. In nurturing these relationships we have encountered a number of challenges and have had to continuously make adaptations to our core SAM processes. To give you a sense of what I mean, perhaps I should share several of these challenges now.

  1. The digital stories linked to this blog show that members of the SAMComm[1] are elected from neighborhoods. We chose to do things this way because we wanted an inclusive SAMCOmm where the priorities identified would be truly reflective of the diversity within the neighborhood. In establishing SAMComms, each neighborhood was therefore allocated two spaces (one man and one woman) and their composition should include representatives from several marginalized groups.
  2. The first duty of a SAMComm begins during training when the members learn how to engage with municipal documents. Then there is a social audit to verify that what is in the documents is consistent with what can be seen on site. After meeting with council officials to check that there are no gaps in their own understanding that may lead to inaccurate conclusions, the SAMComm convenes a public hearing. Here the findings are presented and relevant officials are invited to respond. Previously, the exercise would end there, with little follow up. We therefore decided to add a step at the end of the public hearing process. Before the hearing is disbanded, commitments that were made during the meeting by council officials, municipal assembly members and the SAMComm are documented and signed by all relevant parties. Progress against this document is then reviewed at the beginning of the next SAM intervention.
  3. We have learnt that relationships are built through a process of ‘give and take’. The Mozambican legislative framework requires that municipalities raise money locally to deliver their mandate and they do not receive the grants that are available to rural district councils. When SAMComms learnt of this, they understood better the importance of mobilizing communities to pay taxes so that municipalities could deliver the services required by communities. Community mobilization on the importance of paying taxes is now a key component of SAMComm activities and is given as much priority as advocating for better services.
  4. We have learnt that political dynamics within municipalities are an important determinant of the success or failure of SAM interventions. For example, what a SAMComm is able to do in an election year is different from what they are able to do in the year following an election. There are opportunities and risks in each case and one has to be mindful of this when planning for SAM interventions. In choosing a local partner it is also important to choose a partner who is well established within the municipality and in tune with the political dynamics at play which may not always be obvious to an outsider. Understanding and managing politics within society and institutions is an essential for a SAMComm not only for the success of its immediate intervention but also for sustainability of the SAMComm itself. Examples of how Muni-SAM continues to address such challenges were discussed in more depth during the Learning Pilot Initiative in which United Purpose participated in 2017.

Our biggest success so far has been that even though we no longer work in some municipalities, all the SAMComms we set up are still operating in our absence. They still analyse municipal documents, conduct social audits and hold public hearings. However, challenges do still exist and will probably continue. One of the biggest challenges that SAM stakeholders have raised is that many of the most pressing needs identified by residents in municipalities do not fall within the mandate of municipal councils and can only be addressed at higher levels of government. Building strong relationships for successful SAM to solve problems spanning across levels of government is far more difficult and resource-intensive. We are still learning how best to do this effectively.

[1] Social Accountability Monitoring Committee.

If you want to leave your comments about the article, follow the link

“WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER.” …the messy business of generating and measuring impact

By Richard Angelo; Policy Forum, Tanzania

We only fail when we fail to learn. In this blog Policy Forum, a network of over 70 Tanzanian CSOs, shares its experience  of having to navigate the messiness of generating and measuring impact through a diverse ecosystem of social accountability actors. Read more…

Policy Forum adopted social accountability monitoring (SAM) in 2008 as one of its strategic approaches to capacitate its members working at the sub-national level in Tanzania to engage in policy processes more meaningfully. Since then, I have seen SAM initiatives contribute to building teacher’s housing at remote schools, the operationalisation of primary health care facilities, and the empowerment of communities to lead participatory forest governance efforts among others. I also had to come to terms with our persistent failure to obtain a sustained shift in behaviour at the eco-system level to sustainably improve the way public resources are managed. Of course, the many factors and actors influencing a change at this level make this an arguably unrealistic objective for a single CSO network. The question was then how to develop a realistic and measurable strategy that keeps us focused on the desired result while providing an appropriate balance between flexibility and rigour.

A disappointing impact evaluation in 2016 motivated our decision to take part in a Learning Pilot Exercise,  both of which influenced our decision to rethink our strategic approach to SAM. Instead of merely providing formal training to a growing ecosystem of SAM actors and assuming that this would change behaviour at scale, we decided to be deliberate about which capacities to build, for whom, and why. We did this because we wanted to define for ourselves what our impact would be measured against through a fit-for-purpose MEL[1] strategy so that future evaluations contained no surprises. We then redesigned our SAM strategy to reflect our new strategic approach. Our most persistent problem was that of accountability for the implementation of SAM findings at the subnational level. We therefore made a strategic decision to focus on working with Councillors because of their legal power to enforce their recommendations. It therefore made sense for us to focus on improving their capacity to make informed recommendations and to enforce timely, appropriate and meaningful corrective action. We chose to work in four under-performing local government authorities (LGAs)[2] (according to CAG[3] reports) where at least one Policy Forum member was also working. In December 2016, we began to train Councillors on a version of SAM training that has been tailor-made for their oversight role. Since then, 106 Councillors have been trained.

The feedback from both councillors and the local government officials they oversee has been overwhelmingly positive on the impact of training on their ability to implement their role. In fact, we are now getting requests from councillors from other LGAs who have heard from their colleagues about how this capacity building has benefitted them. Earlier this year, our work with councillors was evaluated and the findings recommended that we consider mechanisms to scale up the intervention and ensure its sustainability.

Despite the success we have had, three main things still keep me up at night:

  • Councillors are elected for five-year terms at the end of which they might not return to the role. Even those who have been trained require on-going support to ensure that relevant capacities are built and used. How do we ensure that the capacity to perform effective oversight is retained and improved within Councils even beyond the electoral term?
    • To address this Policy Forum is currently negotiating a partnership with the Local Government Training Institute, a government training institution for public officials at the subnational level, to collaborate to institutionalise the training so that it can become part of their institutionalised capacity building support to LGAs across the country.
  • Capacity is not the only thing that drives the decisions and actions of politicians. How do we ensure that we take this into account in setting goals and developing realistic indicators? Better yet, how do we navigate the other political and non-political incentives in a way that motivates councillors to use their newly acquired capacities to effectively perform their oversight role accountably?
    • This is a difficult one, but we at Policy Forum have begun to invest in our learning more strategically beginning with our new PMEL[4] strategy. In implementing the strategy, we have also begun to set up an electronic management information system to ensure that what we learn individually is available to others within the Policy Forum secretariat and membership, both currently and in future.
  • Our primary goal in training councillors is for them to ensure that LGAs become and remain accountable to their constituents and communities in an informed and inclusive way. How can Policy Forum strengthen the influence of citizens over their councillors in between elections?
    • Here is where the Policy Forum membership is expected to play a key role. Policy Forum also sponsors community radio programmes in the districts where it works. This provides a guaranteed platform for locally based CSOs, CBOs and community members to ensure that their most important issues receive enough publicity to motivate action on the part of their political representatives.

Our biggest lesson over the last five years has been that we can only fail if what we learn fails to change us, so we keep learning, and we keep changing.

[1] MEL = monitoring, evaluation and learning

[2] Kiteto, Kilwa, Mafia, and Mafinga

[3] Controller and Auditor General

[4] Participatory Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning

If you want to leave your comments about the article, follow the link

GPSA Forum: Register now and submit your session proposal

The Global Partners Forum on Social Accountability and the Challenge of Inclusion is coming up soon on November 19-21, 2019.

Registration and call for session proposals are still open. If you haven’t done it yet, register now.

The 6th Global Partners Forum is organized in partnership with the World Bank’s Human Rights and Development Trust Fund, Open Society Foundations and the Public Service Accountability Monitor at Rhodes University.

Attendance to the Forum is free and open to all. A limited number of sponsorships covering travel and accommodation are available for participants from GPSA partner organizations. To apply for this sponsorship, be sure to register by September 1, 2019 and mark ‘yes’ to the respective question on the form.

The Forum is, as in past years, a co-creation between the GPSA and its Global Partners. We invite you to take part in building the Forum agenda and sharing your experience in social accountability. Submit your session or speaker proposals by September 1st.

If you have questions or comments, please reach out to us at For more information on the Forum theme, read the Forum Brief, and for general information, program updates, and logistics, consult the GPSA Forum web page.