Four Ways in Which Social Accountability and Open Government Interventions Bridge the State and Society

Posted: 1 Sep 2015 Last revised: 16 Sep 2016

See all articles by Florencia Guerzovich

Florencia Guerzovich


Paula Chies Schommer

Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (UDESC)

Date Written: August 31, 2015


Social accountability and open government approaches to improve the provision of public goods and services increasingly prioritize collaboration, constructive engagement, and co-production between state, civil society and, at times, market actors. This explosion does not come in a one-size fits all model of collaborative engagement. Yet, we know little about the conditions under which different forms of collaboration evolve and bring about change. This paper seeks to contribute to the literature and practice of collaborative engagement by presenting a typology of state-society bridges through social accountability and open government interventions.

It identifies four types of collaborative engagement - inclusive, targeted, restrictive and detached - as a result of a theoretical-empirical exercise that focuses on the interaction between context, strategy and organization as three interrelated variables that jointly have greater potential to account for results than each one of them separately. To operationalize the variables, the paper identifies four key dimensions in the literatures and practices of social accountability, open governance, and co-production of public services and control. These are: (i) capacities of the partnership; (ii) harness the context; (iii) complexity of strategy; (iv) adaptability for learning The paper then illustrates the types and the potential of this heuristic device for understanding when, how and why different forms of collaboration could shape change on the ground, by looking into a series of local social accountability and open governance interventions in select Brazilian cities. Our initial focus is research conducted in 2015 and 2016 about initiatives across Brazil that bring together citizens and CSOs (including professional and business associations) - use the expertise of local citizens/professionals to help (working with) public agents to reduce corruption and the waste of public resources, the lack of qualification and the discontinuity in public policies, projects and services. We then extend the analysis to other Brazilian interventions, including state-led ones.

The Brazilian experience suggests that, in the implementation of collaborative open government and social accountability strategies, the actions (as opposed to static plans or structures) serve as bridges between components of the state and elements of the societies to which they belong. Different types of bridges can help make inroads in understanding the potential and limits of state-society engagement to tackle public policy and governance problems. It is important to consider that the diverse local political contexts in which action happens shapes and, over time, can be shaped by their organizational structures and strategies that make up different forms of engagement. Yet, progress is neither automatic nor guaranteed, strategies can revert in less promising directions. In fact, state-society collaboration fits with context, strategy and organization and delivers after cycles of experimentation and learning rather than as one-shot instances of engagement.

Keywords: social accountability; open government; co-production of control; governance in Brazilian municipalities

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Guerzovich, Maria F. and Chies Schommer, Paula, Four Ways in Which Social Accountability and Open Government Interventions Bridge the State and Society (August 31, 2015). Available at SSRN:

Paula Chies Schommer

Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (UDESC) ( email )


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