Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

4. Training module on social audit

Basis of social audit

Social audit as a term was used as far back as the 1950s. There has been a flurry of activity and interest in the last seven to eight years in India and neighboring countries. Voluntary development organizations are also actively concerned.

Social audit is based on the principle that democratic local governance should be carried out, as far as possible, with the consent and understanding of all concerned. It is thus a process and not an event.

What is a social audit?

A social audit is a way of measuring, understanding, reporting and ultimately improving an organization’s social and ethical performance. A social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality, between efficiency and effectiveness. It is a technique to understand, measure, verify, report on and to improve the social performance of the organization.

Social auditing creates an impact upon governance. It values the voice of stakeholders, including marginalized/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard. Social auditing is taken up for the purpose of enhancing local governance, particularly for strengthening accountability and transparency in local bodies.

The key difference between development and social audit is that a social audit focuses on the neglected issue of social impacts, while a development audit has a broader focus including environment and economic issues, such as the efficiency of a project or programme.

Objectives of social audit

  1. Assessing the physical and financial gaps between needs and resources available for local development.
  2. Creating awareness among beneficiaries and providers of local social and productive services.
  3. Increasing efficacy and effectiveness of local development programmes.
  4. Scrutiny of various policy decisions, keeping in view stakeholder interests and priorities, particularly of rural poor.
  5. Estimation of the opportunity cost for stakeholders of not getting timely access to public services.

Advantages of social audit

(a) Trains the community on participatory local planning.
(b) Encourages local democracy.
(c) Encourages community participation.
(d) Benefits disadvantaged groups.
(e) Promotes collective decision making and sharing responsibilities.
(f) Develops human resources and social capital

To be effective, the social auditor must have the right to:

  1. seek clarifications from the implementing agency about any decision-making, activity, scheme, income and expenditure incurred by the agency;
  2. consider and scrutinize existing schemes and local activities of the agency; and
  3. access registers and documents relating to all development activities undertaken by the implementing agency or by any other government department.

This requires transparency in the decision-making and activities of the implementing agencies. In a way, social audit includes measures for enhancing transparency by enforcing the right to information in the planning and implementation of local development activities.

Box 6.1 Public documents for social audit

(a) All budget allocations, beneficiary lists, muster rolls, bills, vouchers, accounts, etc. must be available for public scrutiny.

(b) All applications for licenses/permits and certificates issued by local self-government institutions must have a serial number. Registers indicating date of application and date of clearance in each case should be available for reference by any applicant. If possible, copies should be publicly displayed.

(c) Public assessment of tax, exemptions, grants, etc., to ensure there are no complaints of undue preferential treatment.

Several states have declared all Gram Panchayat plan documents related to beneficiary selection, budget cost estimates, etc. to be public documents. A daily notice to be posted at the site of all development works, lists names of workers, wages paid, cost and quantities of material, transport charges, etc.

However, social audit arrangements have mostly been ineffective because there is no legal provision for punitive action. States should enact legislation to facilitate social audit by the Gram Sabha.

Appropriate institutional level for social audit

The most appropriate institutional level for social audit is the Gram Sabha, which has been given ‘watchdog’ powers and responsibilities by the Panchayati Raj Acts in most States to supervise and monitor the functioning of panchayat elected representatives and government functionaries, and examine the annual statement of accounts and audit reports. These are implied powers indirectly empowering Gram Sabhas to carry out social audits in addition to other functions. Members of the Gram Sabha and the village panchayat, intermediate panchayat and district panchayat through their representatives, can raise issues of social concern and public interest and demand an explanation.

Box 6.2 Right to information for members of Gram Sabha

Some States have already passed Right to Information Acts. Notwithstanding some weaknesses, the Acts have opened the way for transparency in administration from the State to the panchayat level.

The Right to Information Acts specify the modalities for obtaining information and provide penalties or failing to furnish or supplying false information. The Acts facilitate social legislation such as on minimum wages and gender rights and, more importantly, pave the way for public debate on government development projects.

However, none of the Acts have defined the right to information to include inspection of works and documents, and the taking of notes and extracts. This is needed to make the social audit by the Gram Sabha more effective.

The Gram Sabha should have the mandate to: inspect all public documents related to budget allocations, list of beneficiaries, assistance under each scheme, muster rolls, bills, vouchers, accounts, etc., for scrutiny; examine annual statements of accounts and audit reports; discuss the report on the local administration of the preceding year; review local development for the year or any new activity programme; establish accountability of functionaries found guilty of violating established norms/rules; suggest measures for promoting transparency in identifying, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating relevant local development programmes; and ensure opportunity for rural poor to voice their concerns while participating in social audit meetings.

Social audit committees

Social audit can also be used for auditing the performance of all three PRI tiers with a social audit committee at each level. These committees should not be permanent, but can be set up depending on the nature of programmes/schemes to be audited.

Social audit committee members can be drawn from among programme stakeholders. It is advisable to use the services of retired functionaries of different organizations, teachers or persons of impeccable integrity living in the Zilla Panchayat/Block Panchayat/Gram Panchayat jurisdiction. Both facilitators and social audit committee members can be trained by social audit experts.

Steps in social audit in local bodies

  1. Clarity of purpose and goal of the local elected body.

  2. Identify stakeholders with a focus on their specific roles and duties. Social auditing aims to ensure a say for all stakeholders. It is particularly important that marginalized social groups, which are normally excluded, have a say on local development issues and activities and have their views on the actual performance of local elected bodies.

  3. Definition of performance indicators which must be understood and accepted by all. Indicator data must be collected by stakeholders on a regular basis.

  4. Regular meetings to review and discuss data/information on performance indicators.

  5. Follow-up of social audit meeting with the panchayat body reviewing stakeholders’ actions, activities and viewpoints, making commitments on changes and agreeing on future action as recommended by the stakeholders.

  6. Establishment of a group of trusted local people including elderly people, teachers and others who are committed and independent, to be involved in the verification and to judge if the decisions based upon social audit have been implemented.

  7. The findings of the social audit should be shared with all local stakeholders. This encourages transparency and accountability. A report of the social audit meeting should be distributed for Gram Panchayat auditing. In addition, key decisions should be written on walls and boards and communicated orally.

Key factors for successful social audit

How to enhance local capacities for social audit

Social development monitoring (SDM): a social audit process

SDM is a periodic observation activity by socially disadvantaged groups as local citizens who are project participants or target beneficiaries. It could also take the form of action intended to enhance participation, ensure inclusiveness, articulation of accountability, responsiveness and transparency by implementing agencies or local institutions, with a declared purpose of making an impact on their socio-economic status.


To sum up, the following proposals can be made to make social audit a regular and effective institution to promote the culture of transparency and accountability through the Gram Sabha.

  1. States should enhance Gram Sabha powers to make them effective instruments of participatory decision-making and ensuring accountability of PRIs in local development planning.
  2. An agency like the Ombudsman can be set up to look into complaints of local maladministration.
  3. Development functionaries found guilty of violating established norms for local development planning should be punished.
  4. It is important to ensure that rural poor are given due protection when they wish to stand up to speak against any misconduct.


Examples of social audit

1. Social audit in Jharnipalli Panchayat, Agaipur block, Bolangir district, Orissa

In October 2001, the gram sabha members of Jharnipalli Panchayat conducted a one-day social audit of development works carried out in the panchayat over the preceding three years. This audit took place with the active participation of many individuals and agencies, including block and district administration officials, MKSS [Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan], NCPRI [National Campaign for People’s Right to Information] and Action Aid India.

The audit found that:

2. Micro-development planning as part of social audit

A voluntary development organization Samarthan and PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) collaborated in a participatory micro-planning exercise with local officials, panchayat members, members of different castes, etc. The process was a way to bring resources to the local community and to increase its involvement in Gram Sabha meetings which took place four times a year.

This led to the identification of several goals. One was to construct a drain. Inspired by the participatory local planning process, the community contributed half the cost of the drain (Rs 50 000). Those who could not give money offered their labour. The rest of the money came from the district office and was mobilized by the Gram Panchayat and its pro-active woman president, the Sarpanch.

Every member of the Gram Sabha developed a sense of ownership of the project. The Gram Sabha monitors the work. Gram Panchayat representatives also hold regular ward-level meetings. The relationship between people and their local representatives developed quickly into one of mutual support.

3. SDM of schools for ‘rehabilitated’ child workers, Jamtara district, Jharkhand State, India

In 1995, the non-governmental Child Labour Elimination Society (CLES) initiated a project to set up 40 Vidyalayas (schools) in three blocks with a high incidence of child labour in Jamtara district. The funds for the project were provided by the Ministry of Labour, Government of India.

To supervise the schools, three-tier committees were formed at the district, block and panchayat/village levels, with the district-level committee having the Deputy Commissioner as its ex-officio chairperson. At the block level, the circle officer (CO) is the nodal officer entrusted with the responsibility for smooth functioning of the schools. The committee at the panchayat and village level includes members who were active during the mass literacy campaigns in the district. However, most committees at the lowest level are either defunct and not functional or not properly constituted. Visibly, this particular weakness has resulted in the diminution of an important forum of citizen interaction, reflection and action.

Programme activities

  1. A series of block and village level meetings with parents were followed by meetings with local civil society groups/activists and schoolteachers and generated a lot of optimism. Some parents showed keen interest in monitoring the school.

  2. Parents formed a committee of five to eight members, decided on indicators and modalities of monitoring and the role and responsibilities of monitors. Committee membership was kept small to ensure easy consensus and spontaneity. Women showed remarkable interest and had a strong presence on the committee.

  3. After much argument and discussion, the parents finally decided on three indicators for the purpose of monitoring, viz. - the presence or absence of two teachers; serving of midday meals to the children; and routine health checks for children by the local health department.

  4. The committee was entrusted with the task of monitoring the first two indicators four to five days a month and the health check, once a month, usually on the last working day of each month. It was also agreed to devise a suitable format to record data, keeping in view the limited ability of parents in recording detailed observations. Data was to be recorded on simply designed but ingenious worksheets with suitable pictures/drawings depicting the three broad indicators.

  5. An important aspect of the indicator development exercise was the clarity in the minds of parents about the larger objectives of the monitoring i.e. to ensure responsiveness, efficiency and accountability in teachers, doctors and block level government officials. Parents who were initially concerned that monitoring would be seen by other stakeholders as ‘encroaching on their territory’, gradually began to realize that building an atmosphere of trust holds the key to realizing their long-term objective.

  6. The very process of engaging themselves in monitoring the working of the schools not only helped build confidence in the parents, but also imparted the necessary basic skills of negotiating with government officials. Committee members met the medical officer and circle officer armed with reliable data from their monitoring and apprised them of the working of the schools along with their concerns and suggestions. They also held regular discussions with the teachers on school functioning to understand their perspective and problems and suggest remedial measures. The schoolteachers extended complete support to the parents based on a shared perception that the future of the school lies in working closely with other stakeholders.


The parents met the circle officer and apprised him of their findings, concerns and suggestions for improved school functioning, such as slackness on the part of doctors in conducting routine health checks, difficulties in the running of one school due to a vacant teacher’s post, need for roof construction/repair in another school and sports equipment for all schools. The district official accepted some of the demands. This and other such meetings helped citizens to understand the way government business is conducted and the skills of negotiating with officials.

Contributed by K. B. Srivastava, former Professor and Head, Centre for Panchayati Raj, National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad, India & Chandan Datta, PRIA, New Delhi.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page