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Young leaders from the beautiful Caribbean countries of Barbados, Dominica, St. Kitts & Nevis, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, Montserrat, Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Grenada and Suriname all congregated in Jamaica between September 19-21, 2012 at the Four Seasons Hotel, for a most useful and important training workshop on Social Audit. This workshop was organized by the UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean in keeping with the UN Secretary General’s message on International Youth Day, held on August 12, 2012, where he stated that “working with and for young people is one of our top priorities”.
Social audit is an investigative dialogue technique that allows for citizens to evaluate government’s performance and policy decisions. In general, the social audit process makes organizations, such as government, more accountable for the social objectives that they declare. Having learnt the social audit skill, it is expected that these young leaders will be able to make public institutions more responsive to their citizens’ needs.
Seven key features of a social audit include: 1. Getting the evidence - Hard data from households, schools and communities, as well as from the service-provider itself, are gathered systematically to guide planning and action. 2. Community participation - Communities not only co-produce the data, but, through focus groups and workshops involving community representatives, they also help design local and national solutions. 3. Impartiality - A community-based audit by a neutral third party can help to foster a culture of transparency and strengthen service credibility. 4. Stakeholder buy-in - All those who have a significant stake in service delivery are actively involved throughout the audit, from the initial design stage right through to implementing community-led solutions. 5. No finger-pointing - A social audit is intended to focus on systemic flaws and programme content, rather than on individuals or organisations. Even negative findings can be framed as a starting point for improvement. 6. Repeat audits - Several audit cycles are usually needed to measure impact and progress over time, and to focus planning efforts where they can be most effective. 7. Dissemination of results - A communication strategy, including feedback to communities, mapping and media dissemination is part of every social audit design.
Social audit has provided countries around the world with useful information, from which necessary follow-up action has been taken to achieve positive changes in people’s lives. In Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture were in disbelief that a service delivery survey showed that only 10% of farming households had ever been visited by an agricultural extension worker. However, District officials, who were fully aware of staff cutbacks were less surprised of the finding.
In South Africa, a series of social audits has involved NGOs, government community development workers and the police force seeking ways to deal with sexual violence. Following an earlier survey, which showed that very few reported cases of rape ever culminated in prosecutions, the Johannesburg police took action and a measurable improvement was registered in a follow-up survey that was conducted.
Again in South Africa, a review of a regional economic development programme, uncovered evidence of unauthorised charges for health services in certain parts of the region. Subsequent media coverage of the results and discussions with the provincial health authorities resulted in a follow-up survey being carried out, which concluded that such practices had virtually disappeared.
In Pakistan, a pilot project assessing access to justice for the women of Karachi became the precursor of a much larger 'Social Audit of the Abuse of Women', headed by the federal government. The fieldwork for the latter project has only recently begun, following interviews that have been conducted with some 80 stakeholders from civil society, government and academia. These stakeholders will play a key role in 'socialising' the evidence gathered.
Here in the Caribbean, we see the need to incorporate social audit into the process of helping to improve the lives of the Caribbean’s youth population, as part of a strengthened democratic governance programme. There is great need for the Caribbean’s young leaders in particular, to be able to overcome the critical challenges that are often faced as they represent their constituencies, and try to respond to the varying social and economic needs and demands emanating from these constituencies. Of note, are the cries of unemployed youth demanding jobs.
The training of these young leaders in social audit is in keeping with UNDP’s wider goal of enhancing civic engagement, in order to support the demands for greater accountability; by improving youth participation (as critical actors for change), and promoting evidence-based decision-making and policy development.