09 December 2010

A “Formula” to Describe Social Accountability

By Gladys Honey Selosa

SOMETIMES THE BETTER way of explaining a difficult concept is to frame it as a pseudo mathematical formula—a metaphorical equation, if you like, that breaks down the core elements of the concept and shows how they relate with each other.

I thought I would try this with social accountability through the following formula:

SAc Formula


G       =       Quality of Governance (G>1, good governance, low or no corruption; G<1=bad governance, high corruption)

T       =       Transparency

A       =       Accountability

P       =       Participation

SAc   =       Social Accountability

C       =       Corruption (corruption ≥ 1)

Unpacking the formula:

Quality of Governance (G) varies. In this formula, G depends mainly on the value or level of Corruption (C). More concretely, the formula is written this way to represent that there is an inverse relationship between quality of Governance and level of Corruption (C).

Transparency (T), Accountability (A), and Participation (P) are indispensable factors or ‘variables’ that influence the conditions that either promote or hinder the temptation to commit acts of Corruption (C) within government.

T, A, and P are deliberately presented in a multiplication relationship, to emphasize that all three are indispensable and should be present. This is because if any one factor is a ‘zero’—meaning absent—then all three are reduced to zero.

Now, the ability of T, A, and P to influence the conditions of Corruption (C) increases considerably if there is Social Accountability (SAc).

SAc provides four enabling pillars to bring about Transparency, Accountability, and Participation. These pillars are: (1) organized and capable citizens groups; (2) an enabling environment, with government champions who are willing to engage; (3) cultural appropriateness; and, (4) access to information.

In the equation, Social Accountability (SAc) is a “multiplier” of Transparency (T), Accountability (A), and Participation (P).

Using SAc as an exponent (meaning a “to the power of” value) is a good metaphor because it can be interpreted to mean that the power of SAc to amplify the effectiveness of (T*A*P) is considerable.

And, finally, let’s return to the formula or equation:

SAc Formula

In this equation, the value of Governance (G) really depends on whether the value of (T*A*P)SAc is enough to counteract Corruption (C). If (T*A*P)SAc is zero or less than C, then G will be low.  But if (T*A*P)SAc is greater than C, then G's value increases as well.

This could be one way to explain the inverse relationship between quality of Governance (G) and level of Corruption (C) as represented in this formula.

Some final thoughts:

Obviously, the main thing to keep in mind—and maybe to always point out—is that this is a metaphorical formula, in much the same way that Klitgaard’s corruption formula (C = M + D – A) or the UNDP’s C=(M+D)-(A+I+T) are also metaphorical. My proposed formula works best at the metaphorical level. It works as a good metaphor by describing the relationship between good governance, corruption, and social accountability.

As it is, the formula is rather difficult. This is not necessarily a bad thing: its very complexity could lend itself well as a tool to provoke discussion and for situation analysis.

Of course, what we should totally guard against is inadvertently representing the formula as a calculation tool of some sort to arrive at an empirical or numerical index of the quality of governance. I think the equation would break down completely, if we tried to assign any kind of number to the variables on the right-side expression.

Finally: I’d like to reiterate that this is a metaphorical formulation with potential as a learning and analysis tool.

# # #

Other “formulas’ describing corruption and good governance:

Klitgaard:          C = M + D – A

Corruption (C) equals monopoly power (M) plus discretion by officials (D) minus accountability (A). If someone has monopoly power over a good or service, has the discretion to decide whether someone gets that good or service or how much they get, and there is no accountability whereby others can see what that person is deciding, then we will tend to find corruption, whether we are in the public sector or the private, whether we are in a poor country or a rich one.

United Nations Development Programme:  C=(M+D)-(A+I+T)

UNDP modified Klitgaard’s formula by adding other dimensions: integrity and transparency. This creates the formula C=(M+D)-(A+I+T), where C is corruption, M is monopoly, D is discretion, A is accountability, I is integrity and T is transparency. This suggests that the absence of AIT (primarily as a consequence of weak governance) in addition to monopoly and discretion, results in corruption. This formula strengthens the theory that corruption is primarily a failure in governance.

U.S. Agency for International Development: TAPEE

T = Transparency A = Accountability P = Prevention E=Enforcement E=Education

Transparency. The ability of citizens, public officials, and civil society to obtain the material information that they need to make informed decisions and hold public sector agents accountable.

Accountability. Mechanisms intended to ensure that governing institutions and personnel faithfully perform the duties they owe to citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders.

Prevention. The structuring of institutions and organizations so as to decrease opportunities for corruption.

Enforcement. Incentives for compliance with the accountability rules.

Education. Dimensions of awareness, advocacy, and ethical values that can be promoted through government and the private sector.

The writer is Finance and Administrative Officer of the ANSA-EAP Operations Team.

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