Studying social accountability in the context of health system strengthening: innovations and considerations for future work

Health Res Policy Syst. 2019 Mar 29;17(1):34. doi: 10.1186/s12961-019-0438-x.


There is a growing body of research on the role of social accountability in bringing about more accessible and better-quality healthcare. Here, we refer to social accountability as "citizens' efforts at ongoing meaningful collective engagement with public institutions for accountability in the provision of public goods" (Joshi, World Dev 99:160-172, 2017). These processes have multiple interrelated components and sub-processes and engage a range of actors in community-driven, often unpredictable and context-dependent actions, which pose many methodological challenges for researchers. In June 2017, scientists and implementers working in this area came together to share experiences, discuss approaches, identify research gaps and consider directions for future studies. This paper shares learnings from this discussion.In particular, participants considered (1) how best to define and measure the complex processual nature of social accountability; (2) the study of social accountability as an inherently political process; and (3) the challenges of generalising unpredictable, community-driven and context-dependent processes. Key among a range of consensus areas was the need for researchers to capture a broader range of outcomes and better understand the nuances of implementation processes in order to effectively test theories and assumptions. Furthermore, power relationships are inherent in social accountability and the research process itself. In presenting details on these deliberations, we hope to prompt a wider discussion on the study of social accountability in health programming.

Keywords: Social accountability; maternal health; methodology; sexual and reproductive health; study design.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Community Participation*
  • Community-Institutional Relations*
  • Humans
  • Politics
  • Power, Psychological
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Research Design*
  • Research Personnel
  • Social Responsibility*