Service delivery (old)


User involvement and accountability

There is a general consensus that improving user involvement and increasing the accountability of service providers to their clients is a good way to improve service delivery outcomes. But what is the best way to involve users in the design, monitoring and evaluation of services? What are the barriers to participation, particularly amongst the poorest?

Page contents:

User involvement and voice

Recent research argues that community participation in service delivery significantly enhances the responsiveness and accountability of service providers to users. However, communities should not be thought of as homogenous, as power hierarchies exist in all communities, meaning that some groups do not have the ability to voice their views. How can service provision be designed and delivered in a way that ensures the opinions of the users, socially excluded groups and the voices of the poor are heard and represented? Client voice is affected by various factors, including social status, education and geographical position. Citizens need to be more involved in service delivery, but getting their voices heard can be constrained by low awareness of rights, government resistance, poor access to information and complex laws and procedures for involvement in local decision-making. It is important to recognise that the poor face particular barriers to participation, for example, illiteracy, lack of time and an inability to travel long distances.

The resources below call for user involvement to move beyond mere consultation to ongoing influence in policy development.

UNDESA, 2010, 'Promoting Citizen-Centric Public Service Delivery in Post-Conflict Situations', in Reconstructing Public Administration after Conflict: Challenges, Practices and Lessons Learned - World Public Sector Report 2010', United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), New York, pp.105-122
What challenges and strategies are involved in rebuilding public service delivery after conflict? This chapter considers the benefits of a multi-stakeholder approach and the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Effective delivery of public services contributes to peace and stability, which in turn facilitates economic development. Post-conflict situations offer opportunities as well as challenges in public administration. Any framework aimed at restoring public services must derive legitimacy from national ownership and local involvement.
Access full text: available online

The IDL Group, 2008, ‘Accountability and Voice for Service Delivery at the Local Level’, A background paper for the UNDP regional training event: Developing Capacities for Accountability and Voice’, Sofia, Bulgaria, October 1-2, 2008
How can service providers and governments become more accountable to citizens? This background paper, published by UNDP and the IDL Group, examines the crucial role of accountability and voice (A&V) and methods for implementing A&V mechanisms. The issue is two-fold: bolstering the responsiveness of service providers and local government, while also enabling poor people to demand promised poverty reduction results. Capacity development should not proceed in an overly technocratic fashion, but should take account of the environment's complex political realities.
Access full text: available online

Commins, S., 2007, ‘Community Participation in Service Delivery and Accountability, OECD-DAC, Paris
How can citizens affect service delivery and accountability? This paper provides an overview of issues and experiences with diverse forms of community participation in the provision of services. Service provision arrangements linked to various forms of community participation may improve MDG-related outcomes. Community participation also affects public sector accountability at local, regional and national levels.
Access full text: available online

Mechanisms for user involvement

There are various mechanisms designed to improve participation and accountability of services, for example user groups and committees. But what makes a mechanism successful? What are the incentives to encourage a user to engage? Often these mechanisms suffer from poor credibility and elite capture.  Research has revealed that despite their aims, they can become politicised, with undemocratic and non-inclusive practices and limited powers. In some instances, efforts to improve accountability may increase inequalities between organised groups from better off areas and the urban poor.

Hossain, N., 2009, ‘Rude Accountability in the Unreformed State: Informal Pressures on Frontline Bureaucrats in Bangladesh’, Working Paper 319, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
How successful are the informal pressures that poor citizens exert on officials to provide services in Bangladesh? This paper examines how poor people experience safety nets, schools and health services. Local political and social pressures provide responsiveness to demands for service through shame and the threat of violence. The gains from ‘rude’ accountability are often short-lived, however, and may backfire. It is important to bridge the informal and official mechanisms of accountability.
Access full text: available online

An updated version of this paper is available in Development and Change

Chambers, R., 2009, ‘Going to Scale with Community-Led Total Sanitation: Reflections on Experience, Issues and Ways Forward’, IDS Practice Paper, Volume 2009, Number 1, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
How can Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) be scaled up to address open defecation (OD) and its resulting health problems? This paper draws on cases from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Kenya to highlight learning points. A crucial component in bringing this revolutionary, participatory approach to more of the 2 billion people living with OD involves finding, supporting and multiplying champions.
Access full text: available online

Chakrabati, P., 2008, ‘Inclusion or Exclusion? Emerging Effects of Middle-Class Citizen Participation on Delhi's Urban Poor, IDS Bulletin, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp. 96-104.
What are the implications for Delhi's urban poor of increased middle-class participation in formal politics? The Bhagidari programme sought to institutionalise citizen participation in governance by involving Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) in local level decision-making. It was restricted to middle-class areas. This Institute of Development Studies (IDS) paper explores Bhagidari's impacts on channels of political representation for the poor. It finds that RWAs pursue their own interests, but in the process their activities are often directed against the poor.
Access full text: via document delivery. Please see document summary

Understanding rights and entitlements

Often, people who do not have access to basic services are not able to demand better service from providers. This can be as a direct result of their lack of services, for example because they are illiterate, under-educated or unwell. Providing information is the first step to improving accountability amongst excluded groups – information helps people to understand the services they are entitled to, and the mechanisms available to them to demand this level of service. 

For a fuller discussion of rights-based approaches to service delivery, please see relevant sections of the GSDRC Topic Guide on Human Rights.

Banerjee, A., et al., 2006, 'Can Information Campaigns Spark Local Participation and Improve Outcomes? A Study of Primary Education in Uttar Pradesh, India', World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3967, World Bank, Washington D.C.
What role can local community participation in basic service delivery play in promoting development outcomes? This World Bank working paper considers the participation of Village Education Committees (VECs) in improving primary education services in Uttar Pradesh, India. It reports findings from a survey of public schools, households and VEC members on the state of education services and the extent of community participation in delivering such services. Findings suggest that local participation might be constrained by lack of information regarding VECs and that substantial apathy exists towards education as an area for public action.
Access full text: available online

Further details on information and social accountability are available in the GSDRC’s topic guide on communications and governance.


Accountability failures are a key cause of weak service delivery. Accountability is needed between policy-makers, service providers and service users, with the key relationship being direct accountability between providers and users. In developing countries this accountability relationship is often missing. Traditionally accountability mechanisms have been divided into ‘vertical’, where external systems are used by non-state actors to hold the state to account, or ‘horizontal’, where internal checks and balances are in operation. New types of accountability are now emerging which tend to be more informal and utilise new sites of engagement, for example online complaints forums. 

Joshi, A., 2008, 'Producing Social Accountability? The Impact of Service Delivery Reforms', IDS Bulletin, Volume 38, Number 6, pp. 10-17
Which types of state reform improve public services and citizen engagement? How can accountability mechanisms improve service delivery? This paper draws on the polity approach, which suggests that the organisation of state institutions influences who engages in collective action and around what issues. Collective action is essential for the poor if direct accountability is to work. Successful cases of social accountability are often the result of alliances that cut across class and public-private divides.
Access full text: via document delivery. Please see document summary

Gonzales de Asis, M., Ljung, P. and O’Leary, D., 2009, ‘Improving Transparency, Integrity, and Accountability in Water Supply and Sanitation: Action, Learning, Experiences’, World Bank
What can individual professionals do to address corruption in the water and sanitation sector? Module 3 of this World Bank book outlines 'Tools for Addressing Corruption in the Water and Sanitation Sector', including how to select appropriate tools for different situations. It focuses on cases from Honduras and Nicaragua. Strategies to improve transparency in decision making, enhance accountability and improve the information available to citizens can help prevent corruption and its negative impacts on service delivery. Diagnosis is essential before planning any anti-corruption actions and actions must be monitored. Strategies must be adapted to each country.
Access full text: available online

Sundet, G., 2008, ‘Following the Money: Do Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys Matter?’, Chr. Michelsen Institute, U4 Issue, No. 8
Expenditure tracking, or ‘follow the money’, has become a byword in development circles for interventions that look into whether the money gets to where it is supposed to be going. The best known ‘follow the money’ initiative is the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) methodology that was developed in Uganda in the 1990s. The Uganda PETS found that 80% of the funds intended for primary schools were diverted on the way. This large ‘leakage’ was subsequently cut to only 20%, an improvement that was attributed to a public information campaign that was initiated after the publication of the first PETS. This U4 Issues Paper reviews the evidence concerning the efficacy of expenditure tracking, recommending closer attention to the political context of the various methods of expenditure tracking and budget monitoring.
Access full text: available online