Social accountability is defined as an approach toward building accountability that relies on civic engagement, i.e., in which it is ordinary citizens and/or civil society organizations that participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability. In a public sector context, social accountability refers to a broad range of actions and mechanisms that citizens, communities, independent media and civil society organizations can use to hold public officials and public servants accountable. These include, among others, participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, monitoring of public service delivery,investigative journalism, public commissions and citizen advisory boards. These citizen-driven accountability measures complement and reinforce conventional mechanisms of accountability such as political checks and balances, accounting and auditing systems, administrative rules and legal procedures. Evidence suggests that social accountability mechanisms can contribute to improved governance, increased development effectiveness through better service delivery, and empowerment. While the range of social accountability mechanisms is wide and diverse, key common building blocks include obtaining, analyzing and disseminating information, mobilizing public support, and advocating and negotiating change. Critical factors of success include: access to and effective use of information, civil society and state capacities and synergy between the two. Ultimately, the effectiveness and sustainability of social accountability mechanisms is improved when they are “institutionalized” and when the state’s own “internal” mechanisms of accountability are rendered more transparent and open to civic engagement. Social accountability mechanisms to be effective on the long run need to be institutionalized and linked to existing governance structures and service delivery systems.
Modern forms of social accounting first produced widespread interest in the 1970s. Its concepts received serious consideration from professional and academic accounting bodies, e.g. the Accounting Standards Board's predecessor, the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.Business-representative bodies, e.g. the Confederation of British Industry, likewise approached the issue. In 1981 Freer Spreckley produced a short book entitled 'Social Audit - A Management Tool for Co-operative Working' designed as an internal organizational social accounting and audit model specifically for social enterprises who wished to measure their social, environmental and financial performance. This was the basis for the Co-operative Bank and Shell Corporation's social performance reports in the UK and subsequently many other private sector companies social responsibility reporting. Abt Associates, the American consultancy firm, is one of the most cited early examples of businesses that experimented with social accounting. In the 1970s Abt Associates conducted a series of social audits incorporated into its annual reports. The social concerns addressed included "productivity, contribution to knowledge, employment security, fairness of employment opportunities, health, education and self-development, physical security, transportation, recreation, and environment". The social audits expressed Abt Associates performance in this areas in financial terms and thus aspired to determine the company's net social impact in balance sheet form.Other examples of early applications include Laventhol and Horwath, then a reputable accounting firm, and the First National Bank of Minneapolis (now U.S. Ban corp). Yet social accounting practices were only rarely codified in legislation; notable exceptions include the French bilan social and the British 2006 Companies Act. Interest in social accounting cooled off in the 1980s and was only resurrected in the mid-1990s, partly nurtured by growing ecological and...
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