An online meeting on social accountability and delivery of public services in the Open Government Partnership Action Plans for the Western Balkan Member States was held on 26 November, starting at 11 am.
The purpose of the event was to share information on the priorities of partners and civil society organizations for the delivery of public services, as well as experience with their monitoring through social accountability approaches; identifying potential areas of common interest that can be promoted through the social accountability approach; participation in facilitated discussions for each country separately, exchanging priorities for work and co-creating a potential OGP commitment.
Partners from the region were invited to the meeting: offices of the EU Delegations, GiZ, UNDP, World Bank, Integrity Action, Save the Children, World Vision, together with local CSOs from each of the OGP member states in the region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia). As representatives of RNM, participated: UNDP Office in RNM and members of the CSO Network for OGP – ECOZVON, Global Association, ESE Association, IMPETUS Association, Kindness Association, Association Thought, National Roma Center, Association of Roma Business Information Center ZRDICM and Foundation Open Society – Macedonia in the role of facilitator of the group.
Our group discussed on the most important problems in the field of providing public services in the country, what are the possible ways to solve them, whether the act of social accountability can contribute to solving them and what are the stakeholders that could actively engage in co-creating a potential OGP commitment to social accountability. After the discussion, we detected that in the areas of health, education and employment there are particularly pressing issues that need to be addressed, such as the importance of budget planning and monitoring at the local level and the importance and need to include social accountability as part of state policies for which the state would also provide a budget. As an approach, social accountability is currently provided only by civil society organizations in our country.
Social accountability aims to strengthen the voice of citizens to demand greater accountability and responsibility directly from public authorities and service providers. It is a key tool for opening up the authorities, as it creates pressure on the accountability of service providers and strives to improve the quality and access to public services.
Social accountability has become even more pronounced in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. First, recourse to extraordinary authorizations and financial resources to deal with the health crisis and its economic impact emphasizes the importance of accountability and transparency in strengthening trust in public institutions. Second, and specifically for public service delivery, COVID-19 results in much more limited delivery, closure of many offices, and almost complete elimination of physical service delivery, especially in countries with limited digital connectivity. At the same time, digital delivery of public services is transforming into a new normal in many countries during and after the crisis. While there are opportunities for efficiency, it risks deepening inequality of access to public services for already marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Social accountability initiatives among OGP members from the Western Balkans
Almost all OGP Member States have committed to public services such as water, health, education and infrastructure in their Action Plans. These commitments generally focused on transparency with the expectation that information disclosure would result in an improved opportunity. OGP analysis shows that this rarely happens, and instead, successful OGP commitments include components of transparency and accountability.
Although there are many examples of social accountability work in countries across the region, this is still in its infancy in terms of Action Plans. Albania and North Macedonia have included several commitments to education and health, respectively. Bosnia and Herzegovina have included an education commitment in their first Action Plan. There was little or no commitment to water access, for example.
To explore the possibilities of using OGP Action Plans in the region to increase or pilot projects that improve service delivery through social accountability, the OGP Support Unit organized a meeting of technical partners, sharing information on the projects they implement in other regions, in order to generate ideas and reflections on what kind of initiatives can be envisaged for the future and local civil society organizations involved or interested in getting involved in the domestic OGP process.
—————————————————4 December 2020