What We Do
1. Tracking Government Programs
While there are many factors that create accountability, access to information on the process and outcomes of services is critical. Meaningful, accessible and reliable information can help governments identify capability gaps that result in accountability failures. Access to this information can help link resource allocations to realities on the ground and monitor progress. Moreover, it can help generate evidence on what works and in so doing, encourage innovation. Government apart, better information empowers citizens and enables them to monitor the effectiveness of government programs and demand accountability.
There is surprisingly little regular, reliable and most importantly, accessible information on the implementation of service delivery programs in India today. In recognition of this problem, the Government of India is beginning to take some steps towards building systems to monitor programs and develop data bases. Most Centrally Sponsored Schemes (Government of India sponsored schemes that are the primary vehicle for social sector expenditures in India today) now have Management Information Systems (MIS) that place expenditure data in the public domain. In 2009, the Prime Minister’s Office set up a Delivery Monitoring Unit tasked with regularly monitoring the implementation of key social sector programs. Important as these efforts are, they suffer from two key constraints. First, data is only available up to the district level and not the point where services are actually delivered. Second, information is collected and disseminated in a very complex manner thereby limiting its effectiveness.
PAISA is AI’s flagship project that aims to pilot tools that can enable tracking program implementation in a manner that addresses these constraints. Under PAISA, we develop practical, scalable, people-friendly tools and use these tools to collect data. The focus of data collection is on fund flows and expenditures and implementation processes. The tools development and data collection process is accompanied by a capacity building initiative to empower citizens and government alike to undertake tracking exercises and use data collected to direct and monitor service delivery. PAISA’s current focus is on elementary education. PAISA is being implemented in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Finance Policy and the ASER Center.
In addition to PAISA, AI also undertakes secondary data analysis and develops synthesis reports on different aspects of social sector program implementation. These reports are widely disseminated to stakeholders including policy makers and the media.
2. Research to inform the Accountability debate:
In recent years, India has witnessed the virtual proliferation of accountability efforts fuelled largely by civil society activism. These efforts have aimed at strengthening citizen ‘voice’ by creating platforms for engagement with the state and empowering citizens with information and tools through which they can demand accountability. Some prominent tools include: participatory budgeting, social audits, Right to Information and citizen report cards.
At the same time and partly as a consequence of civil society activism, the Government has begun to take slow and steady steps to increase transparency and create spaces for greater citizen participation in its everyday functioning. The 73rd and 74th amendments, the Right to Information, mandatory social auditing are some examples.
Although the importance of these efforts is well recognized in accountability scholarship, there are many substantive aspects of these new efforts that remain under-researched. For instance we know very little about the processes through which these efforts are being implemented, what works and in what context and perhaps most importantly its effects on the everyday functioning of the state.
All these questions become even more important in light of the fact that the state is undergoing a profound transformation in at least two ways. First, the power of non-elected bodies and regulatory mechanisms has increased enormously. These institutions, like the judiciary for instance, are not amenable to public pressure in the same way as the state is. What accountability challenges do these new institutional forms pose? Second, a whole range of new actors - NGO’s, corporate houses and the Media have become influential in governance. What role do they play in governance? And in what ways does their participation enhance or impede accountability?
Examining these issues is crucial to deepening the accountability debate in India and promoting greater innovation and experimentation for accountability both in government and civil society. AI aims to contribute to this process by developing a credible body of research on the accountability discourse. We recognize the importance of ensuring that research feeds in to practice. Keeping this goal in mind, most of our research work is directed at developing practical, policy recommendations that focus on how to introduce and strengthen accountability and transparency mechanisms in India’s governance structures.