An institutional and relational approach to social accountability: lessons from two Colombian cities

Algarin Castillo, Adriana (2023). An institutional and relational approach to social accountability: lessons from two Colombian cities. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Social accountability is considered a key democratic feature that can help to secure responsiveness, service delivery and control power-holders. The thesis responds to how may social accountability be secured in weak democratic contexts through three sub-questions: First, to what extent do public officials align with the role of 'account-givers' and societal actors that of 'account-holders'? Second, how may societal actors assess the performance of public officials? And third, how may societal actors impose consequences on public officials, and public officials respond? The thesis draws on recent studies analysing social accountability beyond mechanisms and is interested in how context matters for the success of such initiatives and how political history and other structures shape the interactions between state and society. This research contributes to this body of literature by employing a relational and institutional approach, analysing social accountability as an institution. The thesis explores the set of rules, practices and narratives interacting with officials and societal actors and creating regular patterns of (un)accountable behaviour such as monitoring, access to information, justifications, deliberation and possibly imposing sanctions, rewards and call or provision of redress. The research is based on a case study focusing on two Colombian cities where social accountability is expected to emerge given traditional accountability deficits, corruption, and insufficient provision of services. The findings are drawn from 40 semi-structured interviews, documentary analysis and observation of public hearings. The study suggests that a dyadic relational approach may overlook civil society organisations as intermediaries between public officials and citizens and the significance of such a role in social accountability institutionalisation. The thesis also uncovers the tensions between institutional stability and weakening and argues they can be explained by the interaction with other institutions, such as exclusionary bipartisanism, clientelism and decentralisation. While exclusionary bipartisanism and clientelism create incentives for ‘window dressing’, decentralisation within cities can complement social accountability arrangements. These institutional dynamics underpin gaps between institutional arrangements hindering social accountability and further reinforcing power asymmetries between public officials or political elite and citizens, especially those facing critical socioeconomic challenges. While rules prescribe ongoing interactions, in practice, social accountability is reduced to specific events where local governments exercise power and control and portray narratives of compliance and responsiveness. Simultaneously, societal actors’ ability to participate and impose consequences is limited but some resist and push forward changes, contributing to understanding the importance of analysing multiple actors’ behaviours and how they shape institutions.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Institute of Local Government Studies
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Colombian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
J Political Science > JS Local government Municipal government


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