Effects of a social accountability approach, CARE's Community Score Card, on reproductive health-related outcomes in Malawi: A cluster-randomized controlled evaluation

PLoS One. 2017 Feb 10;12(2):e0171316. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171316. eCollection 2017.


Background: Social accountability approaches, which emphasize mutual responsibility and accountability by community members, health care workers, and local health officials for improving health outcomes in the community, are increasingly being employed in low-resource settings. We evaluated the effects of a social accountability approach, CARE's Community Score Card (CSC), on reproductive health outcomes in Ntcheu district, Malawi using a cluster-randomized control design.

Methods: We matched 10 pairs of communities, randomly assigning one from each pair to intervention and control arms. We conducted two independent cross-sectional surveys of women who had given birth in the last 12 months, at baseline and at two years post-baseline. Using difference-in-difference (DiD) and local average treatment effect (LATE) estimates, we evaluated the effects on outcomes including modern contraceptive use, antenatal and postnatal care service utilization, and service satisfaction. We also evaluated changes in indicators developed by community members and service providers in the intervention areas.

Results: DiD analyses showed significantly greater improvements in the proportion of women receiving a home visit during pregnancy (B = 0.20, P < .01), receiving a postnatal visit (B = 0.06, P = .01), and overall service satisfaction (B = 0.16, P < .001) in intervention compared to control areas. LATE analyses estimated significant effects of the CSC intervention on home visits by health workers (114% higher in intervention compared to control) (B = 1.14, P < .001) and current use of modern contraceptives (57% higher) (B = 0.57, P < .01). All 13 community- and provider-developed indicators improved, with 6 of them showing significant improvements.

Conclusions: By facilitating the relationship between community members, health service providers, and local government officials, the CSC contributed to important improvements in reproductive health-related outcomes. Further, the CSC builds mutual accountability, and ensures that solutions to problems are locally-relevant, locally-supported and feasible to implement.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Government Programs / standards
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Maternal Health Services / standards*
  • Maternal Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy
  • Program Evaluation*
  • Random Allocation
  • Reproductive Health / standards*
  • Reproductive Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Rural Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Responsibility*

Grants and funding

The Sall Family Foundation funded this work through a grant to CARE USA. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The Funder provided support in the form of research materials and salaries for authors SG, CG and TM, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section. Far Harbor, LLC, a public health research firm, was contracted by CARE USA to conduct data analysis and assist in the preparation of the manuscript.