Roundup: Social accountability in times of COVID-19

Isabelle Kermeen

Communications Manager, Integrity Action

Does social distancing mean that we can no longer collect and demand responses to feedback in a meaningful way? The short answer is no. This roundup is a collection of some of the initiatives that have been established as part of the COVID-19 response.

Does social distancing have to mean that communities demanding accountability are silenced? 

Many social accountability efforts rely on face to face contact, and community monitoring usually requires people to leave their homes. Citizens who would normally be using feedback to demand accountability of the institutions that serve them are restricted in what they can do: staying at home, practising social distancing and even in places where restrictions are not so stringent, people may not feel safe to continue monitoring. 

And how about barriers on the duty bearers’ side? Can civil servants address issues flagged by social accountability initiatives as they would normally? We’ve had reports from community monitors in our programmes that it’s harder to get issues which are reported through monitoring resolved by duty bearers right now. It’s difficult to reach them on the phone and is proving impossible to pin them down, because community members cannot turn up on their doorstep as they usually would. 

For Integrity Action's part, we are looking at how our existing programmes can be adapted in the various contexts in which we work. In some places this is harder than others, with widespread school closures making our SHINE project particularly difficult to adapt. A small level of citizen monitoring is continuing in Kenya, specifically for projects which are possible to observe safely and away from other people.

But does social distancing mean that we can no longer collect and demand responses to feedback in a meaningful way? The short answer is no. 

We’ve collected a few examples of innovative ways different actors are engaging communities to  ensure their voices are heard and accountability is demanded which have been established since the pandemic started. We’re keen to add to the list - let us know if you come across other examples! 

1. Health facility monitoring and awareness programme in Afghanistan. In order to enhance the preparedness of health facilities to tackle the virus, our partner organisation Integrity Watch Afghanistan is monitoring and collecting information through a new mobile app which is uploaded to www.covid19.af. The initiative is initially being implemented across 1,000 health centres in five provinces and is also disseminating key information on COVID-19 to civil society, local communities and government and international policy makers. Volunteer monitors are given and trained to use PPE and observe strict social distancing and hygiene standards during monitoring activities.

2. COVID-19 advocacy in informal settlements in South Africa. Across a hundred informal settlements in South Africa, IBP South Africa is collecting community feedback on hygiene and basic services and collating this data into simple infographics. The posters are available online and are also distributed and displayed in eight local languages, with a traffic light system alerting the reader to areas of serious concern. National, provincial and city governments are endorsing and reprinting the posters as well as asking for their logos to be added. Relevant government authorities respond to the issue flagged and where they cannot, the issues are brought to the attention of the national body responsible for the COVID-19 response. 

3. Citizens holding the COVID-19 response to account in the Philippines. There are a few initiatives in the Philippines, one of which is the COVID-19 dashboard which monitors the progress of government interventions by tracking metrics like bed capacity for critical patients and PPE available. It also captures economic impact, using metrics like SME support. Another citizen accountability initiative is the #COVID19PH Citizens’ Budget Tracker which provides detailed tracking of the government budget for the COVID-19 response. G-Watch has released the COVID19 Citizen Entitlement Map, which lists what citizens are entitled to as the government responds to COVID-19. In addition, Bantay Bayan mobilizes citizen volunteers to rate local government response, checking responsiveness, social and economic services, peace and security and rule of law.

4. The low-tech way to engage citizens in lockdown. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Twaweza is using its mobile phone panel survey platform and its existing national panels of 2000 citizens per country to carry our frequent surveys with a focus on COVID-19. They are collecting data on e.g. how much citizens know about the virus, whether they know how to prevent its spread but also to what extent they are able to follow advice. Where the panels of active citizens to respond to the survey don’t exist, they are working with other institutions to create panels. This data is shared with government officials, enabling them to shape their local responses. 

5. Rapid research on local responses to COVID-19 in Bangladesh. BRAC carried out rapid research in 20 communities across Bangladesh with a focus on local responses to COVID-19, and fed the results back to the government. This initiative was started after a central government department contacted BRAC, asking for support to critically assess the government’s stimulus package. Although it can be difficult to carry out this type of rapid research in the midst of a crisis, the research team was well placed to set the project up quickly as they had all worked together previously, had already worked in these communities before, and took a light touch approach to the research, making it easier for informants to take part. 

6. Phone survey on COVID-19 impact in Senegal. CGD and CRDES piloted a mobile phone survey in Senegal, looking at issues like how people are coping with COVID-19, to what extent they know about the virus and the economic impact it is having. Preliminary results from the survey which reached over 1000 respondents include that over 85% of Senegalese have seen an income reduction, over a third are eating less food, almost all respondents had heard about the virus and the majority reported compliance with mitigation practices. The report was shared with the government with the intention that it will help to shape the policy response. A follow-up survey including more child-focused questions on food and health access is planned.

7. Cross section of open government approaches to COVID-19. OGP is maintaining a growing and comprehensive list of local responses to COVID-19 from over 60 OGP and non-OGP countries, ranging from trust-building initiatives between citizens and governments to citizen-led community responses and also digital platforms or apps. 

There are certainly more social accountability initiatives being established with a COVID-19 response focus, and even donors are using new tools to solicit feedback from grantees and partners. This is by no means an exhaustive list and we’d love to hear about more examples and add them to our living list. Just drop us a line! isabelle.kermeen@integrityaction.org or tweet us @Act4Integrity 

We’ll also be posting further updates here on adaptations to our own social accountability initiatives in times of COVID-19.

Photo: Citizen monitoring waste at health facility / Integrity Watch Afghanistan