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Strengthening Accountability Networks Among Civil Society

Our governments work better when citizens and civil society groups hold them to account, ensuring fairness and transparency in decisions that affect us all.

In democracies, dedicated oversight institutions help keep governments in check. But what if those checks and balances are not performing as they should? In many countries, anti-corruption laws are not fully enforced, policy- and decision-making processes are too deeply entwined with business interests, and ordinary citizens find they have little space to raise concerns. A new Transparency International project connects citizen groups across 21 countries, to build momentum for more responsive governments and stronger institutions to oversee them.

We are working to advance democratic accountability worldwide.

A person holding a sign that reads 'this is what democracy looks like'. They are standing in a crowd.

Image: Soong Kim Huei / Shutterstock

What's at stake

We place our collective trust in governments to make decisions and allocate funds in the public interest. That trust demands accountability.

Democracies are healthier and fairer when ordinary citizens are consulted about policies and budgets that affect them, and when oversight institutions provide effective checks and balances on power.

Independent bodies like audit institutions, ombudspersons, anti-corruption agencies and parliaments are tasked with rooting out corruption, bias and special interests. When working right, these institutions can be formidable tools to protect us all from corruption and abuses of power.

But too often, important government decisions are made in secrecy. The lines between private interests and government offices are blurred. Policies and budgets are developed without public input. Oversight institutions are weak or ineffective and laws are not enforced.

Corruption flourishes in these circumstances. Whether it is public money stolen from health services during a pandemic, or courts acting in the interests of powerful individuals, the results affect us all. That’s why we’re equipping ordinary citizens to demand more transparent and responsive governments.

What we're doing about it

Strengthening Accountability Networks Among Civil Society – or SANCUS – is an ambitious new project is empowering citizens to demand systemic change.

With regional hubs in Chile, Kenya, Palestine and Sri Lanka, the project spans 21 countries around the world – from small island nations to some of the fastest-growing economic powerhouses.

While highly diverse, the 21 countries involved in the project share a set of challenges. Public resources frequently risk being diverted away from public services. Powerful vested interests and weak checks and balances mean the corrupt often go unpunished. And citizens – especially from marginalised groups – usually find themselves shut out of decision-making processes.

But these countries also enjoy relative freedom of expression and basic political rights, creating an opportunity for meaningful change.

That’s why we are building peer-to-peer networks of civil society groups working on accountability, enabling them to pool their expertise, knowledge and skills across national borders. These groups will deploy powerful new digital tools like GlobaLeaks to:

  • monitor how well important oversight bodies are doing their jobs
  • scrutinise how public funds are being allocated
  • publish important policy decisions track whether important policy commitments are met
  • collect clear evidence about what needs to change
  • identify wrongdoing through whistleblowing channels and complaints mechanisms
  • facilitate meaningful public participation in policy and budget processes
  • demand more openness and public consultation from elected representatives.

Collectively, these actions will help curb corruption and lay the groundwork for more responsive, inclusive and accountable governments.

Our approach

Civil society groups are the most effective means of holding the powerful to account – especially when acting in concert.

The SANCUS project is designed to generate a groundswell of citizen engagement, demanding accountability from both governments (vertical accountability) and the institutions responsible for overseeing them (horizontal accountability). Each participating civil society group is focusing on the most pressing areas for action in their country. This might be checking that judges are acting impartially, monitoring public tenders for irregularities, publishing scorecards that measure citizen participation – particularly of disadvantaged or excluded groups – in national planning processes, or helping whistleblowers safely report corruption in public services.

In each case, democratic pressure will be applied to public officials from multiple directions. Oversight institutions will be supported and incentivised to more effectively investigate and sanction wrongdoing and to maintain their independence from executive interference. Citizens will be encouraged to create direct pressure on government officials through advocacy campaigns, media reports, participatory budgeting, report cards, public hearings, and citizen juries.

Embedded in all these actions is a special emphasis on underrepresented groups, including women, rural populations, poor households, and young people, who are disproportionately affected by corruption. Working together as a network, civil society groups will help one another build sustained public pressure for change.