Journal Article


State Reform and Social Accountability

Published on 1 January 2008

This IDS Bulletin focuses on the role of civil society actors in the design of sectoral reforms and the possibilities of social accountability resulting from this role. In addition to large institutional reforms in social assistance and health, the articles cover education reform in India as well. They are compiled from the first year fieldwork findings of the study called ‘Modes of Service Delivery, Collective Action and Social Accountability in Brazil, India, and Mexico’.

Begun in 2005, the study assesses whether sector-wide reforms of public services, involving forms of decentralisation, pluralisation of service providers, or user/citizen participation, could enable greater accountability from below. ‘Critical cases’ focus on the large urban centres of countries where reforms have been extensive and varied: São Paulo, Delhi and Mexico City. They have relatively more active civil societies, a substantial history of service delivery by public agencies, and are focal points for public policy. Here national reforms can be expected to lead to changes in the pattern of state-society interactions. Political processes can increase social accountability, and expand and improve coverage of public services for those in poverty, acknowledging the severe constraints that exist on the agency of poor individuals.

Potential tension between different governance roles defines an important research frontier as knowledge of social accountability advances. These contributions are a first at developing a more nuanced and empirically grounded understanding of the mutually reinforcing or exclusive nature of these civil society governance roles, and of the new governance institutions that attempt to combine these roles in innovative but possibly contradictory ways.

Table of contents

Introduction: Contours of a Research Project and Early Findings (pdf 78 kb) Peter P. Houtzager and Anuradha Joshi

Producing Social Accountability? The Impact of Service Delivery Reforms Anuradha Joshi

Contextual Politics of Service Delivery Reforms: Lessons from Delhi, Mexico City and São Paulo Comparison Adrián Gurza Lavalle

Big Governance Research: Institutional Constraints, the Validity Gap and BIM Peter P. Houtzager and Arnab Archarya

Invisible Agents: Women in Service Delivery Reforms Eleanor MacPherson

The Right to Information and Societal Accountability: The Case of the Delhi PDS Campaign Suchi Pande

The Silent Revolution in Anti-Poverty Programmes: Minimum Income Guarantees in Brazil Peter P. Houtzager

Between Individual and Collective Action: Citizen Participation and Public Oversight in Mexico’s Oportunidades Programme Felipe Hevia de la Jara

Origins of Successful Health Sector Reform: Public Health Professionals and Institutional Opportunities in Brazil Monika Dowbor

Participation in Reproductive Health Policies in the Context of Health System Reform in Mexico Jesica Gómez-Jauregui

“Good Effort, But Must Try Harder”: Civil Society Organisations and Education in Delhi Araddhya Mehtta

Inclusion or Exclusion? Emerging Effects of Middle-Class Citizen Participation on Delhi’s Urban Poor Poulomi Chakrabarti

New Directions in Theorising Social Accountability? Niraja Gopal Jayal


Anuradha Joshi

Research Fellow

Peter P. Houtzager

Research Fellow

Publication details

published by
Houtzager, P. P., Joshi, A. and Gurza Lavalle, A.
Peter Houtzager, Anuradha Joshi and Adrián Gurza Lavalle
IDS Bulletin, volume 38, issue 6


About this publication

Related content

Student Opinion

Support for first-generation learners

Rachna Vyas, IDS student, MA Governance, Development & Public Policy

27 March 2024