In search of the game changers: rethinking social accountability

Fletcher Tembo, Jenny Chapman


This paper speaks to a number of current debates regarding the effectiveness of accountability programmes. Drawing on lessons from the five-year Mwananchi social accountability programme, the authors argue for greater innovation and flexibility from donors, and analyse the need to identify and support project interlocutors with the power to really ‘change the game’. This paper is based on the authors’ reflections on the design and implementation of the Mwananchi Programme, drawing on their roles as programme manager/lead researcher, and evaluator.

When citizens engage with their governments and hold them to account, countries achieve better developmental and democratic outcomes. In most state-society contexts in Africa today, organisations or individuals facilitate this engagement by acting as interlocutors of change. It is therefore important that external support for these organisations or individuals incentivises, rather than undermines, this role. The paper argues that there is a need to identify and support interlocutors of change that are fit for the contexts in question, rather than offering generic support to CSOs, media or other ‘demand-side’ actors. It advocates for an approach to social accountability programming that supports interlocutors to bring together different actors, rather than a single organisation delivering all aspects.

Key Findings:

  • The Mwananchi programme experience in six African countries over five years shows that a more nuanced and iterative approach to context analysis is essential to building successful social accountability development programmes.
  • Social accountability programming requires a multi-actor approach. Incentives to increase diversity of actions and mutual accountability from these actors would go far in supporting collective action that brings about real change to citizens.
  • Crucially, time should be invested in identifying and supporting interlocutors with the skills, networks and attributes to really ‘change the game’ in the specific context rather than offering generic support.
  • Successful multi-actor approaches require greater innovation and flexibility from donors. This will involve rethinking all aspects of programme design and delivery, including how we understand the local context, power structures, funding modalities, looking for results and timeframes.


Tembo, F. & Chapman, J. (2014). In search of the game changers: rethinking social accountability. ODI Discussion Paper. London: ODI