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Accountability for nutrition – the key role of civil society

  |   Blogs, SUN Civil Society Network

About the Author: Dr Claire Blanchard, SUN Civil Society Network Coordinator writes about how the Civil Society Network needs to lead the way on accountability for nutrition.

Accountability Think Piece_001Civil society has a pivotal role to play in making accountability in nutrition a reality. Accountability in nutrition is about making sure investments and activities actually directly benefit those affected by malnutrition. It is about making sure that when any actor makes a commitment they deliver on it and have the interests of the communities at heart. In recognition of this key ‘watchdog’ role in accountability, the SUN CSN commissioned a new resource titled “Accountability for Nutrition”.

An inspirational learning tool

This resource is designed to inspire civil society actors and share learning as widely as possible. We call this publication a Think Piece as it is more than a toolkit or a how-to practice guide. It aims to support national civil society alliances’ context-specific efforts to make sure accountability in nutrition exists in the actions and policies of the different actors in different sectors. This is not just the work of national and international NGOs. For the SUN Civil Society Network (SUN CSN), civil society includes small-holder farmers, pastoralists and herders, rural workers, indigenous peoples, women’s groups, faith and community-based organisations and many others.

The six case studies in Accountability for Nutrition aim to capture their ‘state of the art’ efforts to push for accountability. It reviews key research and thinking on accountability, analysing this from a civil society perspective – and provides links to of the most relevant existing accountability resources. Drawing on all this, the principal authors of the Think Piece, consultants Jay Goulden and Bernie Ward, distil key lessons for civil society and make a series of practical recommendations.

Key learnings

  • A mix of tactics: From the experiences of SUN Civil Society Alliances, accountability is really working where civil society are using a range of tools and approaches at the same time. Multiple strategies for accountability that evolve over time are needed to respond effectively to a changing context. Good examples of this can be found in the case studies on Peru, where mutual accountability among key stakeholders is well established, and Malawi, where annual budget analysis has become a key advocacy tool.
  • Citizen engagement: Where civil society is seeking to empower communities’ so that they can lead directly, this is helping to ensure that needs of local communities, voices of women, the vulnerable and the hard to reach are understood and reflected in policies. This also enables the ability to track commitments at the local level. This can be seen in the case studies on Peru, where they hold citizens’ hearings, and Cameroon, where they hold forums.
  • Budget advocacy: Budget tracking is a powerful exercise to strengthen budget advocacy work, especially when a collective agreement with the government and civil society can be achieved. The Malawi case study details the yearly comparison made by their civil society alliance of Malawi’s Nutrition for Growth pledges against other countries in the region. This has given the alliance the kind of hard data that catches the attention of parliamentarians. Zambia’s CSO-SUN worked with the government on a collective agreement on what counts as nutrition- sensitive and what constitutes nutrition specific interventions. This analysis is now a credible source of nutrition budgeting data and is used by donors, government, parliament and civil society actors.
  • Sustaining political commitment: Political attention to nutrition faces challenges with each electoral cycle. The case study from Zimbabwe looks how civil society efforts maintain government focus on nutrition, whatever the outcome of the electoral cycle. For ZCSOSUNA, engaging with parliamentarians from all parties, and getting them on board as nutrition champions, has led to a sustained commitment to nutrition.

The journey ahead

Accountability for Nutrition has helped the SUN CSN build knowledge of current efforts in citizen participation and how it can inform pilot innovative models over the next few years. Direct participation is going to be a focus of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement for 2016-2020 – and more generally this new resource will inform the Road Map for SUN 2.0.

At SUN CSN, we see Accountability for Nutrition as a high quality piece of work of practical value to civil society. We are also proud of the consultative process that created it. Key internal and external actors were involved in shaping the final product. Civil society alliances were commissioned to produce the case studies and supported to do so – the aim being to strengthen their capacity to tell the story and show the impact of our work in our network.

This is an example of the mutual accountability we are all working to strengthen in SUN 2.0.

By definition, mutual accountability cuts both ways and one of the key recommendations of the Think Piece is that civil society needs to “walk the talk” on accountability. It is not good enough to expect government to be open and transparent. Civil society needs to lead the way and the SUN CSN is continuously striving to improve accountability and transparency.

We aspire to live and breathe the SUN principles of engagement in all of our efforts.

View the Accountability for Nutrition Think Piece (In English)

French and Spanish versions will be made available on the Civil Society Network Blog



Accountability Think Piece_008

Click to view the ten recommendations from the Accountability for Nutrition think piece


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