Ghana Strengthening Social Accountability Mechanism

“Think about your government right now. Does it feel too divided?”

Think about your government right now. Does it feel too divided? Does it feel like people are so stuck in their own bias that they aren’t focusing on solving the massive problems we all face? I know that’s true for my government. Ghana has found a way to improve that problem. After 4 years working with the Ghana Strengthening Social Accountability Project (GSAM) politicians cut partisan bias in use of public funds in HALF!

I had to double-check the numbers. Cutting partisan bias in spending is a major win, and in my context it hardly seems possible. Ghana found a way to make it possible. It also reduced how much people felt there was ethnic bias in decision making. How did they do it? Putting powerful tools in the hands of communities so they could hold government accountable. They also worked to focus on tangible community goals as a way to guide spending and collaboration so there could be concrete success for everyone.

The GSAM project ran from 2014-2019 with $11.3 million from USAID. It reached 2.4 million people directly and 3.9 million people indirectly. The project worked with thousands of local partner groups, from 245 Civil Society Organizations to more than 10,000 farmers groups.

What changed?

  • Partisan bias in funding fell by half. The Ghana Audit Services monitored government spending, and saw that politicians had cut the partisan manipulation of funds in half.
  • Citizens are holding their government accountable. People are more likely to hold official accountable for running high-quality projects. They are also more likely to ask local officials to help with projects or correct things that are going wrong.
  • Administrators pay more attention to constituents: Officials are 50 percentage points more likely to take action in response to citizen requests. Officials who work with community groups spend 3 more hours a week responding to constituent needs and concerns.
  • Government leaders are getting citizens involved in planning. If they partnered with communities, government officials held more consultations with citizens about planning and executing projects. They are also 60 percentage points more likely to say that citizens will engage with them.
  • People say ethnic favoritism is dropping. People now believe that government officials are less likely to be using ethnic favoritism as a way to make decisions about projects, locations, contractors, and other factors that affect a project and its quality.

How did it happen?

  • Work from the bottom up: The project actually tested 2 approaches—a top-down one where the central government conducted audits and made findings public, and a community-driven one where local groups got involved in social audits, Community Score Cards, and planning jointly with government. In general, the community-driven approaches worked best.
  • Connect to what communities need: Focusing delivering on locally-relevant projects, like schools or public bathrooms, was more effective in getting people engaged than doing training or sharing information about abstract concepts of governance and quality.
  • Make it easy to understand for everyone: The project helped the central audit body find ways to turn long audit reports into simple graphics that people could understand. They also found ways to specifically reach out to women and young people who rarely get access to this information. That was part of more than 1,250 meetings in 50 districts.
  • Get creative: The project developed radio jingles as a way to share the results of audits in a fun and creative way that people could access.
  • Put communities in charge: 245 civil society groups, 10,388 farmers’ associations, and 2,400 savings groups participated in community audits of government services. They also served as community monitors to track progress in government projects.
  • Generate evidence. The project used a Randomized Control Trial to test what worked and be able to consistently compare across two different styles. That evidence will inform projects and advocacy asks for years to come.

What didn’t work?

The project tested some ideas that didn’t pan out. Generally, there was no improvement in government transparency. It also turned out that government procurement systems made it hard to deliver finances and tools quickly and effectively. Finally, the research identified that it’s important to do more to support government officials in their duties, especially helping them build the skills they need to do their jobs well.

Want to learn more?

Check out the evaluation.