This research project is no longer actively updated or managed.
Research Project

Public Participation and Social Accountability in Kenya

​​​There is a strong consensus amongst governance specialists that citizen engagement is integral to supporting social accountability and more broadly strengthening democracy. However, how to effectively provide for citizen engagement and social accountability is more ambiguous. The impact of the modalities through which citizens make demands on the degree to which citizens feel empowered to trigger recognition and action from government remains an open question. This is especially the case in Kenya. In the eyes of many, the extent to which public participation has effectively led to greater social accountability and improved governance performance under the mandate of the new constitution is highly variable. 

“Social accountability” refers to a form of civic engagement that builds accountability through the collective efforts of citizens and civil society organisations to hold public officials, service providers and governments to account for delivering in a responsive and timely manner. Besides strengthening civic engagement and amplifying citizen voice, social accountability initiatives aim to increase the transparency of governance in many arenas, ranging from local service delivery to national processes of development policy formulation.

In the Kenyan context, citizen engagement and social accountability align to the 2010 Constitution’s provisions on “public participation”. The new constitution brought about an ambitious new system of decentralised governance, predicated on devolving authority to 47 new counties and devolving power towards the citizenry. Public participation is a core element, and the new constitution enshrines public participation as a national value and principle of governance (Constitution of Kenya 2010, Article 10(2))

This pilot study involved implementing and studying an intervention, found in the approach of Africa’s Voices Foundation, a Kenya-based non-profit organisation. This intervention, the ‘Common Social Accountability Platform’ (CSAP for short) proposes to use interactive radio shows to achieve meaningful spaces of mediated public discussion between citizens and authorities that are valued by both and strengthens relations between them, whilst also providing evidence of citizen opinions in a form that supports policy action by authorities. Citizens opinions are collected from the radio discussions and analysed to provide ‘evidence’ of these opinions and how they vary between socio-demographic groups and over time. 

Dr Stephanie Diepeveen and Dr Sharath Srinivasan led this study, which ran in parallel with the AVF intervention in Siaya County in western Kenya. It aimed to contribute empirical evidence about what makes for more effective public participation in Kenya and the effect of intervention design on government responsiveness and citizen-state relations. In doing so it addresses a policy concern in Kenya about how to best meet the aspirations of devolution, and also a lack of empirical evidence in scholarship about how to design effective public participation.  

The intervention itself, plus the study, were guided by two questions:

  1. How do differences in the design of civic engagement interventions affect the quality of public participation, citizen trust and decision-makers’ responsiveness?
  2. How can AVF’s interactive radio method help to meet some of the challenges facing civic engagement in the context of devolution in Kenya, helping to augment counties’ ability to meet constitutional requirements for civic engagement?