Social auditing: A tool in strengthening rural development programmes | Daily News

Social auditing: A tool in strengthening rural development programmes

Discussion  at a rural  development programme.
Discussion at a rural development programme.

The UN definition of rural development is a process of change by which the efforts of people themselves are united to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of their communities and to enable them to contribute fully to the national development.

The definition though lofty in meaning, will not happen on its own. Thus, the UN also has recommended the following approaches to achieve what is needed.

Rural development approaches

According to the UN, there are five types of development approaches:

i. State-led development approach − after World War II and decolonisation, the state took a proactive role in planning and development and they were mostly welfare-oriented.

ii. Market-driven development approach − with globalisation and the advent of liberalisation policies, the market became the driving force for development. Goods and services were measured in terms of ability to pay a price.

iii. Community-driven development approach − as people were excluded from decision- making, they were led to mass movements and the rise of civil society organisations, protests, petitions, and judicial interventions.

iv. Participatory development approach – this created an enabling environment for civic society participation and interventions such as participatory budgeting, social programme evaluation, and social accountability mechanisms were included.

v. Rights-based development approach – this emerged due to failure of the state in protecting citizen’s rights such as food, water, and shelter and this views development as a right rather than charity. In this approach, people pressurise the state for effective implementation of welfare programmes and demand that transparency, accountability, equity and non-discrimination be maintained in implementation.

Rural development process

Whatever development approach adopted, its effectiveness, efficiency and economy should be considered for the maximum benefit. ‘Effectiveness’ checks whether the objectives are achieved. If the unit is working hard but not delivering the internal requests or the demand, then it is not effective. The best way to asses effectiveness is to set out the objectives before the project kicks-off or activities are initiated and see if they were achieved under the standards set at the beginning. Efficiency includes the concepts ‘don’t work hard, work smart’, ‘less is more’ and usage of optimal resources and effort to achieve a given task. Economy relates to the cost.

On the other hand, equitable development should be the target of any rural development programme. There are four essential components necessary for equitable development:

i. Participation – people need to be involved in programmes or schemes which aim to address the difficult situations they are in.

ii. Inclusion – the poor, women and children, and disadvantaged communities should be included in the programmes.

iii. Accountability – authorities have to explain why certain decisions were taken or not taken and then have to face the consequences, as well. Further, accountability is the obligation of power-holders to take responsibility for their actions. For example, citizens grant powers to their government to tax, to spend and to enact and enforce laws and policies. In return, citizens expect the government to explain and justify its use of power and to take corrective measures when needed.

iv. Transparency – transparency is necessary to enforce accountability and also help with participation.

These four essential components can enhance development outcomes and progress towards the achievement of human development by strengthening links between implementers and beneficiaries, which, in most rural development programmes in Sri Lanka, are the government and citizens respectively. If participation, inclusion, accountability and transparency can be ensured in rural development programmes, the following results and impacts would not be difficult: improving the focus of public service delivery; monitoring government performance and fostering responsive governance;emphasising the needs of vulnerable groups in policy formulation and implementation; demanding transparency and exposing government failure and corruption; facilitating effective links between citizens and local governments in the context of de-centralisation; and empowering marginalised and vulnerable groups traditionally excluded from policy processes.

However, ensuring these four essential components in a programme is a significant challenge. Therefore, effective monitoring and evaluation which are integral tools for managing and assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of investments are vital for tracking and measuring results and throwing light on the impact of development interventions. At the same time, monitoring and evaluation of programme or project performances, outcomes and impacts has been also a significant challenge. In this context, the social audit is one of the social accountability tools that promotes all of the above.

Social auditing

Social audit is a process that is conducted by the people, especially by those people who are affected by or are the intended beneficiaries of the programme or scheme being audited and facilitated by the government or the implementers. Further, social auditing is a tool that can be employed to identify and measure the progress and challenges to stakeholders who are increasingly demanding transparency and accountability in commitments and performances.

In the social auditing process, official records are compared against ground realities by the primary stakeholders and the findings are presented at a public platform. At the same time, social auditing does not merely consist in examining costs and finance. The central concern of a social audit is how resources are used for social objectives.

Therefore, seven main objectives can be identified in social auditing:

i. educating people or beneficiaries about objectives of the programme or scheme and about their rights and responsibilities;

ii. proactive disclosure of information;

iii. promoting public participation in all stages such as planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation;

iv. facilitating an accountable administration;

v. minimising corruption;

vi. providing a platform for people to collectively articulate their views and grievances; and

vii. providing valuable feedback about the status of implementation.

Further, there are seven main steps in conducting a social audit:

i. collecting information;

ii. processing the information so that it is simple to understand;

iii. sharing and verifying the information with the ground reality and collect grievances, if any;

iv. public disclosure with the participation of the public, government officials, and representatives from the implimenting party on the findings of the audit;

v. action by appropriate authorities based on the social audit findings;

vi. informing stakeholders about the actions taken; and

vii. using the findings to make relevant policy or programme changes if any, acording to the demands of the community or beneficiries.

At the same time, though it is desirable to conduct social audits in development programmes, it is necessary to institutionalise social auditing to make it a reality. The two main aspects in institutionalising are facilitation and funding.

Social audits are widely conducted in India and the following section presents how they have institutionalised the conducting of social audits. Details of some of their programmes which have social audits are also presented.

Lessons from India

In the Indian context, the following actions have been taken to ensure the conduct of social audits in their development programmes. The state government has established an independent organisation called ‘Social Audit Unit’ to facilitate social audits and resource persons recruited by the Social Audit Unit facilitate social audits with identified beneficiaries. These social audit facilitators are trained to empower the poor, vulnerable and socially excluded communities or beneficiaries and they should be sensitive to those issues.

Further, they ensure that the social audit process is independent of other processes and make sure that the implementing agency does not interfere with the conduct of the social audit, other than providing information. At the same time, the resource persons deployed for facilitating the social audit are not the residents of the same village or city. In addition, there is a financial allocation from the administrative cost of the respective programme or scheme to meet the cost of conducting social audits.

Further, some of the programmes or schemes implemented in India have legally mandated social audits in their programmes and following are proof of such programmes:

i. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act passed in 2005 was the first Act to make social audit mandatory, to be done by the Gram Sabha.

ii. Every local authority or any other authority or body as may be authorised by the state government shall conduct or cause to be conducted periodic social audits on the functioning of fair price shops, Targeted Public Distribution System and other welfare schemes and publicise its findings and take necessary actions in such manner as may be prescribed by the state government.

iii. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (2016) stated that the appropriate government shall undertake social audit of all general schemes and programmes involving persons with disabilities to ensure that the scheme and programmes do not have an adverse impact upon the persons with disabilities and that the programmes meet the requirements and concerns of persons with disabilities.

As discussed, social audits can be done for any scheme or programme. However, it is particularly practised in the context of poverty alleviation programmes and is a tool that empowers and gives voice to the poor, vulnerable and socially excluded communities.

In this context, it is desirable to include a component on ‘Social Audit’ in rural development programmes. Therefore, the aim of this article is to create awareness among programme or project designers and implementers and even the public on the concept of ‘social auditing’ and its importance in achieving the intended benefits of the development projects or programmes.


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