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Accountability in the provision of urban services

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journal contribution
posted on 2008-11-04, 16:31 authored by Sue Cavill, M. Sohail (Khan)
This paper assesses the potential of accountability arrangements to improve the quality of local services as well as the responsiveness of services providers to the needs of users and in particular those of the poor. In the first section of this paper municipal services are embedded in a social and political context, before moving on to explore a broad set of contemporary innovations in the way services are delivered. The research on which this paper is based was undertaken in cities and so specific attention is paid to urban areas. Accountability is defined using the existing literature and the current models for accountability are presented. In the second part of the paper research from case studies in South Africa, Bangladesh and the UK are presented. These studies reveal that while the provision of urban services is often based on ethics that is, that no one should be disadvantaged by where they live (in the UK) or that everyone should have access to services such as water, sanitation, and electricity (in South Africa) ethics alone are not enough to ensure adequate urban services. Accountability is most effective when these ethics are translated into more tangible rights or guarantees of performance, which enable ethics to be realised. Increasingly, however, accountability is used to better manage services and their users and has been reduced to a set of technical tools and procedural measures which can be universally applied. Consequently, ethics do not necessarily function as an input to systems of accountability. In conclusion, it is recognised that accountability cannot be reduced to a technocratic, politics-free management tool but are a product of a particular socio-cultural context.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Research Unit

  • Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC)


CAVILL, S. and SOHAIL, M., 2003. Accountability in the provision of urban services. Proceedings of ICE, Municipal Engineer, 156 (ME4), pp. 235-244


© Thomas Telford Publishing

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This article was published in the journal, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Waste and Resource Management [© Thomas Telford] and is also available at: http://www.thomastelford.com/journals/




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