Op-Ed: Empowering the grassroots in Asia through 
effective public service delivery

As a development and human rights practitioner, I have realised that the translation of global goals and human rights treaties are only possible when there is meaningful engagement of vulnerable communities in dialogue around service failures on their rights entitlement versus government commitments. This should include service user feedback with an aim of bringing solution inclusive public service delivery.

As we enter into the dialogue on promoting inclusive and accountable service, is it vital to understand some of the problems and factors preventing it. We recognize that it is the core responsibility of the government to deliver public services. However, there are challenges with this notion and I have witnessed this while working in communities where there are service failures, depriving the most vulnerable of access to quality education, health care services or systems to protect them. Quite often, governments put in place good policies, and sign up multiple global treaties and conventions, but the reality of implementation falls short of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable.

Social accountability approaches have grown over the past decade and have gained increasing importance and relevance in light of the Agenda 2030 and its pre-conditions of shared responsibility, mutual accountability, and engagement by all. Meaningful involvement of ordinary citizens, particularly the often marginalised including women, children and young people, in process of priority setting, implementation, monitoring and accountability for the Agenda 2030, is central to the success of the framework, its goals and targets. Indicator 16.6.2 speaks to the heart of the matter.

After all, who best to tell us if the goals are working than those for whom the goals are intended, particularly the ones often left behind?

World Vision International has been working with a social accountability approach that we called “Citizen Voice and Action - CVA - a simple, well-defined approach that equips citizens to engage in constructive dialogue with government.  The beauty of CVA is that it empowers communities in a non-confrontational manner and promotes collective action. First, communities learn about basic human rights, and how these rights are articulated under local law (Information).  Next, communities work collaboratively with government and service providers to compare the reality against the commitments made by the government. 

Communities also have the opportunity to rate the performance of the government against subjective criteria that is generated by them. 

Then findings are brought together in a town hall style set-up, the interface meeting, where all key stakeholders engage in constructive dialogue based on the information gathered, and then culminating into an action plan to improve the services monitored (Dialogue). Finally, communities work with other stakeholders to influence decision-makers to improve services, using a simple set of advocacy tools (Accountability).  Successful implementation of this approach has resulted in transforming public service delivery in many communities in Asia and Pacific, also around the world. There are 630 such programmes being implemented in 48 countries around the world. Some examples of successful implementation pertaining the initiative can be found in the following Asian countries:

India: Numerous examples of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and communities have testified about tasks that were unachievable for years were achieved within the three years of CVA. There are a number of stories in which people with disabilities are accessing better services, information and privileges in the areas of health and education (International, 2016)

Nepal:  Through the implementation of CVA in Doti and Kailali in Nepal, malnutrition has reduced from 8 per cent to 5.8 per cent among children under 3 years of age. Skilled birth attendants are supporting more and more pregnant mothers, with an increase from 35.2 per cent to 66 per cent of births. Mothers attending four Ante Natal Check-up (ANC) visits have consistently increased from 45 per cent to 55 per cent, and Post Natal Check-up (PNC) visits also trended upward from 59 per cent to 63 per cent. 

Indonesia: Through CVA, clear patterns of outcomes have emerged on service access and quality improvements as well as community participation and empowerment. Statistically significant increases in community knowledge of service availability and decreases in the proportion of respondents having difficulty accessing maternal and child health services, due to money, have been reported. This project was implemented in 3 districts of Nusa Tenggara Timur province by Wahana Visi Indonesia with the funds from the World Bank Global Partnership on Social Accountability.

To further strengthen accountability in promoting inclusive service delivery, social accountability approached such as citizen voice in action need to be:

  1. 1)      Mainstreamed in government national plans
  2. 2)      Establishment of platforms at national and regional levels and
  3. 3)      Intentional targeting of the most vulnerable:

Mainstreamed in the development and technical assistance for countries: Development planning and National Plans of the government should ensure greater emphasis on social accountability and civic education. This should be a strong component of national government plans and should be embedded to decentralised governance for public service delivery. I believe we can make great contributions towards the effective implementation of policies, ending hunger, improving education and promoting good governance, if partners, including the Asian Development Bank, World Bank etc. intentionally integrate social accountability in development and technical assistance programmes.

Establishment of effective partnership and platforms: World Vision’s experiences with the Open government Partnership (OBP) in Armenia suggests that national platforms can facilitate a more conducive environment for citizen engagement with their governments for improved service delivery. World Vision Armenia engagement with the OGP action planning process saw proposals around transparency in school planning and budgeting processes, making them more participatory. The OGP country action plans are concrete ways for governments, civil society and partners to agree upon clear and actionable commitments around inclusive and accountable public services. It will be great to see these commitments in the next wave of the OGP action plans.

Inclusion of the Most Vulnerable: Global aspiration and sustainable development goals will be truly realized when children and vulnerable groups are included and their needs addressed in rural as well as urban communities. Often they are left out and not given a voice, but in our experience their voice is critical, and social accountability provides a means to enabling their voice being heard.

After all, who better to tell us if the services are reaching and meeting critical needs than those who need them most – the vulnerable and often left behind. Let social accountability help us meet the aspiration of 'leaving no one behind'.

About the author:


Deepesh Thakur is the Director for Advocacy and Justice for Children for South Asia and Pacific Regional Office. He provides strategic leadership in the areas of advocacy and social accountability to the South Asia and Pacific Region and country offices. This includes working with country offices to ensure the availability of technical advice, capacity and support to maximise their strategic policy advocacy and social accountability achievements. He works in collaboration with the broader regional civil society mechanisms to lobby for change of government structures and systems in South Asia and Pacific. Deepesh has worked in Mongolia as Director for Public Engagement responsible to provide leadership in developing and influencing government policies to promote child protection and children’s rights. He has also worked in Nepal in various capacities including leading World Vision Nepal’s’ efforts to influence government policy and practise to provide greater benefit and services to vulnerable children and their families. Deepesh has worked at the grassroots level directly implementing projects for the betterment of services and broader development and also has experiences in policy formulation and implementation at national and regional levels.