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Holding the State to Account: Lessons of Bangalore’s Citizen Report Cards

By: Samuel Paul

Failure of the state to effectively monitor the outcomes of public expenditure is a major reason for corruption and the low level of accountability in most countries. There are genuine problems of observation, measurement and incentives behind this failure. In respect of public services, it is possible to substantially compensate for this failure by seeking “user feedback” on services. This paper presents the findings and lessons of a civil society initiative in Bangalore that produced “citizen report cards” on the city’s services based on user feedback and stimulated public agencies over a period of a decade to improve service outcomes. While citizen monitoring may be the only option when a government is indifferent to outcomes, there is no reason why the latter should not seek user feedback and benchmark its services when its internal monitoring is weak or incomplete.

The paper begins by explaining the prevailing economic context in India, within which the citizen score cards were first deployed.  Whilst the overwhelming focus has been on macroeconomic development, the author explains the conspicuous lack of attention given to outcomes and accountability and the impact this has had on millions of people.  The paper then goes on to examine the use of Citizen Report Cards (CRCs) within Bangalore, and concludes by analysing both findings from these CRCs, and thus develops recommendations for further improvements in their use.