Social Accountability Frameworks and Their Implications for Medical Education and Program Evaluation: A Narrative Review

Acad Med. 2020 Sep 8. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003731. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Medical schools face growing pressures to produce stronger evidence of their social accountability, but measuring social accountability remains a global challenge. This narrative review aimed to identify and document common themes and indicators across large-scale social accountability frameworks to facilitate development of initial operational constructs to evaluate social accountability in medical education.

Method: The authors searched 5 electronic databases and platforms and the World Wide Web to identify social accountability frameworks applicable to medical education, with a focus on medical schools. English-language, peer-reviewed documents published between 1990-March 2019 were eligible for inclusion. Primary source social accountability frameworks that represented foundational values, principles, and parameters and were cited in subsequent papers to conceptualize social accountability were included in the analysis. Thematic synthesis was used to describe common elements across included frameworks. Descriptive themes were characterized using the context-input-process-product (CIPP) program evaluation model as an organizational framework.

Results: From the initial sample of 33 documents, 4 key social accountability frameworks were selected and analyzed. Six themes (with subthemes) emerged across frameworks, including shared values (core social values of relevance, quality, effectiveness, and equity; professionalism; academic freedom and clinical autonomy) and 5 indicators related to the CIPP model: context (mission statements, community partnerships, active contributions to health care policy); inputs (diversity/equity in recruitment/selection, community population health profiles); processes (curricular activities, community-based clinical training opportunities and learning exposures); products (physician resource planning, quality assurance, program evaluation and accreditation); and impacts (overall improvement in community health outcomes, reduction/prevention of health risks and morbidity/mortality of community diseases).

Conclusions: As more emphasis is placed on social accountability of medical schools, it is imperative to shift focus from educational inputs and processes to educational products and impacts. A way to begin to establish links between inputs, products, and impacts is by using the CIPP program evaluation model.