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Enhancing community accountability, empowerment and education outcomes in low and middle-income countries: a realist review

What do we want to know? 

Given the variable results found in previous reviews, we wanted to understand the circumstances in which enhancing community accountability and empowerment improves primary education outcomes, particularly for the poor, in low- and lower-middle-income countries.  The report examined specific community accountability interventions (such as community score cards, citizen report cards), and selected decentralisation, school-based management and community schools initiatives.

What did we find? 

Accountability and empowerment interventions can improve education outcomes in some circumstances. However, more studies found improved immediate and intermediate outcomes than improved learning outcomes. Very few of the interventions which improved student learning outcomes used single strategies. Providing information about rights and entitlements alone was rarely enough to empower communities or to improve accountability. Interventions are affected by national, sectoral, cultural and local factors and may seek to affect various accountability relationships.  We identified 11 mechanisms which generate particular kinds of outcomes and 11 categories of contextual features that seem to affect whether and how interventions work.  We developed 30 specific propositions about the circumstances in which community accountability and empowerment interventions are more likely to generate improved education outcomes.  

What are the implications for policy research and practice?

There is value in considering community-accountability and empowerment interventions in the education domain.  Planning for community accountability interventions needs to address the different types of accountability involved (of whom, to whom, for what, within which power relationships). Planning needs to articulate the theory of change, and interventions need to be adapted to local contexts. Refinement and adaptation should continue throughout implementation.  Research and evaluation should a) identify the mechanisms that are expected to operate and the contextual factors that may affect them; b) explicitly gather and make available data to better understand them; and c) identify and investigate barriers to engagement in accountability interventions and how these might be overcome.

How did we get these results?

We undertook a realist synthesis. We used multiple search strategies which identified over 21,000 documents. Titles and/or abstracts were considered against inclusion and exclusion criteria and 140 documents were included. ‘Core’ documents provided data on intermediate or final education outcomes (30 studies). Other studies provided data about processes of change, mechanisms, or contextual features affecting whether and how interventions ‘worked’ (or did not). We developed an initial rough theory of change, a typology of relevant interventions and a hierarchy of outcomes that applied across intervention types. We extracted data about outcomes at all levels and contextual features that affected whether and how programmes worked. Mechanisms were hypothesised and examples provided. Relationships between context, mechanism and outcome were demonstrated in a CMO table. We refined a theory of empowerment, developed a new theoretical framework linking empowerment and accountability and developed a framework identifying how contextual features affect different aspects of empowerment, and thus affect accountability.  

The EPPI-Centre reference number for this report is 2207.  

The report should be cited as:

Westhorp G, Walker DW, Rogers P, Overbeeke N, Ball D, Brice G (2014) Enhancing community accountability, empowerment and education outcomes in low and middle-income countries: a realist review. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
ISBN: 978-1-907345-72-2

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