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More than just ‘demand’: Malawi’s public-service community scorecard

Briefing/policy paper

Written by Leni Wild, Daniel Harris

Briefing/policy paper

Community-based monitoring instruments, such as  scorecards, are used increasingly to complement and reinforce conventional mechanisms to strengthen accountability and performance in public-service delivery. While they have been backed by the international community, there is limited evidence on how they work in practice and what conditions they need to be effective. This Project Briefing seeks to contribute evidence regarding Community-based monitoring instruments, such as  scorecards through political economy analysis of a community scorecard initiative in Malawi.

This research finds that community scorecards demonstrate the potential to result in improved service delivery. Framing such initiatives only as mechanisms to strengthen citizens’ voice and demand, however, can sell them short, underestimating the range of mechanisms through which they can impact on service-delivery performance.

The effectiveness of a scorecards initiative appears to depend on a number of local conditions including the characteristics of implementing civil society organisations and of the local community. The quality of local leadership is also particularly important for the delivery of public goods.

In Malawi, the scorecards initiative seems to work particularly well where it has facilitated collaborative spaces or forms of collective problem-solving by actors across the supply and demand side. The provision of information (to citizens or to service providers) is one element, but more important is the process to identify the key stakeholders and bring them together to devise Joint Action Plans.

Refocusing on options for collaboration may also identify greater entry points to address more systemic change. Initiatives like scorecards can find it challenging to scale up or to address service-delivery problems that require action above the local level (for example, by a sector ministry or the government). It is key to understand where more systemic changes are needed, and identify opportunities to feed into national level processes and work with national actors.

Where the scorecard initiative worked well, it reignited community capacity for self help. In this way, it is an important reminder of the responsibilities and powers of citizens themselves.

Leni Wild and Daniel Harris