Public accountability has re-emerged as a top priority for health systems all over the world, and particularly in developing countries where governments have often failed to provide adequate public sector services for their citizens. One approach to strengthening public accountability is through direct involvement of clients, users or the general public in health delivery, here termed 'community accountability'. The potential benefits of community accountability, both as an end in itself and as a means of improving health services, have led to significant resources being invested by governments and non-governmental organizations. Data are now needed on the implementation and impact of these initiatives on the ground. A search of PubMed using a systematic approach, supplemented by a hand search of key websites, identified 21 papers from low- or middle-income countries describing at least one measure to enhance community accountability that was linked with peripheral facilities. Mechanisms covered included committees and groups (n = 19), public report cards (n = 1) and patients' rights charters (n = 1). In this paper we summarize the data presented in these papers, including impact, and factors influencing impact, and conclude by commenting on the methods used, and the issues they raise. We highlight that the international interest in community accountability mechanisms linked to peripheral facilities has not been matched by empirical data, and present a conceptual framework and a set of ideas that might contribute to future studies.