Author: Anu Pekkonen and Manjunath Sadashiva, CIVICUS
Just as a financial audit verifies how money is being spent, a social
audit verifies how programs and services are being carried out, with
the goal of making them better and more reflective of social,
environmental, and community objectives. A social audit involves a
systematic evaluation of public records and user feedback. It is
intended to help users understand and assess the strengths and
weaknesses, successes and failures of a programme or service, with an
aim to make improvements. Social auditing is a way of increasing
community participation, strengthening links with government and/or
service providers, promoting transparency and public accountability,
and instilling a sense of responsibility among all those involved.
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What is it?
The social audit is a process through which all stakeholders, both
service providers and users, systematically examine the impact of the
project or service, comparing in particular the real benefits that have
been achieved with the planned benefits, while also looking at
unexpected impacts, both beneficial and non-beneficial. The findings of
the social audit are shared with all stakeholders, and where problems
are identified, the process for implementing changes is initiated.
audits can take different forms and cover a range of actors and
practices. They can be undertaken individually or jointly by
government, civil society and/or community-level actors. They often
start as civil society initiatives and sometimes evolve into
collaborative efforts as the government sees the benefits of the
approach. In the context of state institutions, social audits
supplement conventional financial audits to help government departments
and public agencies compare their overall performance, as perceived by
the public, with their stated core values and objectives.
upon available resources, social audits can be of varying size and
scope, ranging from comprehensive national audits to localised
community audits. Social audits are sometimes undertaken as a one-off
event but are usually more effective when planned as an ongoing
process, undertaken at regular intervals. Social audits use
participatory techniques to involve all relevant stakeholders
(especially traditionally marginalized or underserved groups) in
collecting and analysing evidence, providing feedback, and recommending
changes where necessary.
When a community undertakes a social
audit, especially for the first time, it frequently benefits from the
assistance, of an intermediary organisation such as an NGO, which can
provide training on the social audit process; help access the
information required to conduct the social audit: assist in collating
and disseminating information to the community; document the social
audit findings, and; follow up with public officials regarding proposed
changes or remedial actions.
Increasingly, companies and
international NGOs are recognizing that transparency and demonstrations
of good faith contribute significantly to the success of a project. As
a result, they too are using social audits as a means to assess and
improve their programme activities and overall performance.
the social audit process is: inclusive, participatory, thorough,
verifiable, transparent, and dedicated to making the project or service
How is it done?
Social audit practices are shaped by the program or service under
review and so can use various techniques and methodologies. The
following is a simplified summary outline of key steps.
1. Preparatory groundwork
the scope of the audit, (e.g. the specific service, organisation,
programme, project, component or activity is will examine).
- Form a committee or working group to implement and oversee the social audit.
key stakeholders (intended users/beneficiaries, community members,
local CSOs, service providers, responsible government officials,
employees, contractors, volunteers, donors, etc.).
- Develop a clear understanding of relevant administrative structures and pinpoint key responsible agencies/actors.
- Develop a clear understanding of the vision and objectives of the service/project in question;
- Develop performance indicators (through stakeholder consultation).
a public awareness campaign about the aims and benefits of the social
audit, using media, public forums, door-to-door visits, etc.
2. Information gathering and analysis
relevant public documents (such as accounting records, cash books, wage
rolls, bills and technical project reports and managerial records). Aim
to obtain original documents rather than second-hand reports which may
not be accurate.
- Gather data from relevant stakeholders about
their perceptions and experiences of the service/project in question
(e.g. using surveys, focus group discussions, community meetings, etc.).
the process of information-gathering can also serve to inform key
stakeholders and community members about the issues at hand and to
mobilise public pressure and action for change.
- Analyse collected data (this may require some specialised assistance).
3. Public disclosure and evidence-based dialogue
a communication strategy to disseminate findings and outcomes (using,
for example, the media, public meetings and postings).
- Convene meetings with community members to discuss findings and formulate proposed changes/solutions.
public dialogue meeting(s) to allow community members to discuss the
evidence with authorities/service providers, and to plan and implement
necessary, use findings to undertake advocacy to address specific
instances of mismanagement and corruption, as well as broader policy
- Train and support community members and service-providers to undertake future social audits.
- Aim to ultimately have social audits institutionalised within governance processes or repeated regularly.
- Raises public awareness and knowledge.
- Promotes citizen
empowerment and strengthens community voice by allowing community
members to provide feedback, gather evidence, interpret findings and
- Promotes local democracy and collective decision-making.
- Enhances policy-makers’ understanding of stakeholder concerns and encourages them to take steps to address these.
- Can result in improved design and delivery of programs and services.
institutionalised, social audits allow for regular monitoring of public
institutions; enhance the legitimacy of state actors, and foster
greater trust between civil society groups and government.
auditing can also contribute to enhanced transparency by creating
demand for information and helping to establish the right to
information in service delivery planning and implementation.
Challenges and Lessons
- Particularly when initiated by community or civil society
actors, the implementation of a social audit can require substantial
technical support, especially in obtaining and analysing data. External
funding may also be required.
- Access to public records is
crucial for a social auditing process. Obtaining records may often
depend on the intervention of sympathetic officials. In the longer
term, overcoming this obstacle may involve lobbying the government to
introduce legislation granting citizen access to public records.
some cases, the non-existence of accurate public records is a problem.
In such cases, social audits can focus on user feedback and advocate
for improved record-keeping over time.
- Service providers and
policy makers may feel threatened by the social audit process. If
possible, it is useful to engage them constructively from the outset
and to attempt to direct criticism at institutions rather than
- Social audits, if not handled sensitively, can
inflame emotions and can potentially lead to conflict or retribution
from those who are “exposed”. It is prudent to foresee the potential
need for conflict management and to remind all participants that the
primary goal is not to assign blame but to bring about improvements.
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) India
CSO-led social audit: MKSS, a peasant and workers’ union in the
Indian state of Rajasthan, is a pioneer of social audits. It conducts
public hearings where official reports and financial statements are
presented to community members and local government officials. During
these social audits, community members verify accounting records and
other records on public works programs and identify instances of fraud.
The MKSS has been successful in lobbying the government to
institutionalise the process.
Social Audits and Devolution in Pakistan
In 2001, the government of Pakistan introduced regular and ongoing
social audits as a means of fine-tuning devolution reforms and
monitoring their effects. http://www.ciet.org/en/documents/projects/200621012547.asp
Participatory Social Auditing in Zimbabwe
This brief write-up by Di Auret explains how Participatory Social
Auditing in Zimbabwe proved essential to evaluating a company’s social
Code compliance? Participatory social auditing in Zimbabwe (http://www.id21.org/insights/insights36/insights-iss36-art04.html)
Challenging corruption through social audit in Andhra Pradesh, India
In Andhra Pradesh, social audit has proved an effective tool for
evaluating and fighting corruption in the implementation of the
government’s employment guarantee scheme.
Challenging Corruption through Social Audits
A number of examples of social audits conducted or supported by CIET International can be accessed here: