An introduction to social audits

This is the first in a new series of blog posts related to social audits.  These are based on learning from our work with Concern UniversalEstamos and other partners in Mozambique.

An introduction to social audits

Social audits were first developed by Charles Medawar in 1972 as a tool to improve corporate social responsibility (CSR).  The concept of institutional-led social audits (often implemented by businesses, governments and social enterprises) is still common as a tool for assessing the impact of an organisation’s non-financial objectives and the views of it’s stakeholders.  However, since it’s development as a CSR tool, social audits have been adapted to include the concept of citizen-led social audits Note that the term social audit is now also increasingly used in relation to auditing social media presence and strategies, which is un-related to this topic.

Citizen-led social audits are participatory monitoring processes that collect, analyse and publicly share information about a project or projects.  As a tool it has proven effective at improving accountability and transparency. 

When are social audits useful?

The World Bank sites social audits as useful in the following circumstances:

  • A social audit can be conducted at the national or local level, depending on available resources and project objectives.
  • Social audits can be utilized throughout project implementation and also during the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) phase to measure the progress and outcomes of public service delivery.

As a tool they have proven useful for holding local government to account.  For example, a commitment was made to build a school, road or other infrastructure.  Was that delivered?  Was the budget spent reasonable?  Was the end result of good quality?

What happens in a social audit?

Social Audits can be grouped into four broad stages.  The following is adapted from the World Bank Social Accountability E-Guide.

Challenges and considerations with social audits

Following are some issues that are raised by organisations with experience of social audits:

Technical support - Participants can require substantial technical support to run a social audit for the first time.  Training and support is often needed to assist with sourcing and analysing data and then following up with officials on agreed actions. 

Political climate - The process requires access to public records, which may be blocked if the political climate is not supportive.  In the absence of freedom of information legislation buy-in from local politicians is important.

Public records - In some cases public records may simply not exist.  In other cases they may not be accurate.  If this is the case then the social audit committee can focus instead on user feedback as the source of data.

Time consuming - The work involved in conducting a social audit can be significant.  Most implementers recommend recruiting a group of citizens to share the work.

Constructive dialogue - It’s important for all stakeholders to see the social audit as an ongoing and constructive process that aims to improve transparency and accountability over time.

Need for top down reforms - The social audit process works best in contexts where there is leadership or drive for top-down reform and greater accountability and transparency.  Without this the process can become blocked if issues cannot be resolved locally through dialogue.

Dependent on broad citizen participation - Social audits are different from other monitoring tools in that they depend on widespread and active participation from local residents

How can I learn more?

We've reviewed some of the key publications related to this tool.  Each of the links below take you to the full text for download.  We've listed these on a social audit library page on our website for future reference. 

Getting started

Social Accountability E-Guide

This short guide from the World Bank covers the Social Audit citizen monitoring tool. It provides a brief overview of the tool, a summary of the process and links to case studies and tips for implementation.

Social Audits

This web page provides a brief introduction to Social Audits and further links to useful resources.

Participatory Social Audit: A Tool for Social Accountability (Module I)

This PRIA publication introduces the concept of social audit and the varying types in use. It reviews the history of social audits and provides examples of contexts in which it is relevant as a tool.

Case studies

Building Capacities for Empowerment: the Missing Link between Social Protection and Social Justice Case of Social Audits in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India

This paper analyses how social audits have been used in relation to the Government of India Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Turning Challenges into Change: How Social Audits are Improving School Feeding in Sissala East

This report covers the findings of a 2012 baseline survey by SNV in Sissala East District, Ghana. The baseline used social audits, community scorecards and community dialogues to collect data.

Detailed operational guidance

Social Audits as a Budget Monitoring Tool

This report lays out the main elements of social audits in India and consolidates lessons from a horizontal learning exchange that took place between IBP partner organizations from India, Kenya, Mozmabique, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

Social Audit: A Toolkit A Guide for Performance Improvement and Outcome Measurement

This toolkit provides practical guidance and insights for government departments, community organisations and civil society groups on using social audit as a tool to identify, measure, assess and report on the social performance of their organisations.

The CDF Social Audit Guide: A Handbook for Communities

This handbook is intended to be used for the training of groups as well as individuals with an interest in monitoring CDF expenditure in their community. The handbook is designed to assist communities understand the way CDF works, and how they can participate effectively in the various stages of the CDF project cycle.

Research and evaluation

Social Audit in Health Sector Planning and Program Implementation in India

This journal article looks at the use of social audits in the health sector in India. 


Following are examples of advocacy and campaigning based on social audits.

The Social Justice Campaign Uses Social Audit to Clean Up Sanitation Issues in Cape Town 

Do you use social audits in your work?

If you're already using social audits then let us know in the comments.  We'd welcome the chance to learn about your work and possibly feature it in a future blog post.