© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen

Social Audits: A New Approach for Civic Engagement with Municipalities in Kosovo

BY: Jesper Lauridsen, Drilon Shala - 28. September 2023
© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen

In Kosovo, municipalities are by law obliged to inform and engage citizens and interested organizations on plans, projects and activities of public interest. This is meant to foster civic participation and influence. However, public meetings and hearings have proven ineffective towards building people’s power to engage in local democratic processes. While many activities are done to inform and consult communities on their needs, less attention is given to holding local authorities to account when agreed actions to improve public services and implement developmental projects are not followed through.

The Decentralisation and Municipal Support Project (DEMOS) supports all municipalities in Kosovo in bringing systemic changes that promote good governance and the provision of better services that positively affect the daily life of citizens. In particular, the project has become known for providing performance grants to municipalities. The better a municipality’s performance, the higher the grant. By developing positive competition between municipalities, performance grants have brought positive changes to the behavior of municipalities towards improving financial and human resources management and strengthening inclusive decision-making processes – giving ordinary citizens a voice and the opportunity to yield influence.

For municipalities to be more accountable towards the promises made to citizens, DEMOS, in cooperation with the CiviKos Platform, has initiated “social audits” in four municipalities: Peja, Kamenica, Lipjan and Rahovec. These audits are meant to monitor the implementation and impact of projects funded through the municipal performance grants.

What is a “social audit?”

A social audit is an approach towards achieving social accountability through a process of constructive engagement between communities, civil society, government agencies and the private sector. It assesses the performance of municipalities who are responsible for providing services (e.g., access to water and health facilities) and for implementing community development projects (e.g., road infrastructure and the rehabilitation of public spaces).

Social audits are founded on the principles of democratic governance, which means that the process is participatory, inclusive, transparent and solution-oriented. When successful, social audits lead to improved planning and management of public resources and the delivery of public services and projects that are inclusive, especially for vulnerable groups such as women, youth, the disabled and ethnic minorities. Social audits should not be confused with classic financial audits. However, social audits are complementary since they can help municipalities and the public to assess the quality of the projects and services to which finances are allocated.

«For a long time, the voice of people with special needs has not been heard. Because of the social audits, this category of people have been given the opportunity to voice their requests and needs to local authorities.»

Haxhi Hoxha, person with special needs from Rahovec Municipality

In the four municipalities, social audit teams of 16 to 20 members where carefully set up to ensure diversity and representation of vulnerable groups. Following the approach developed by DEMOS, these social audit teams, in collaboration with the four municipalities and with facilitation from CiviKos, audited the following projects:

  • Restoration of Karagaq Park, Peja Municipality
  • Construction of infrastructure for persons with special needs, Rahovec Municipality
  • Construction of a water reservoir and rehabilitation of the water supply network in Janjevo, Lipjan Municipality
  • Water distribution for the villages of Hogosht and Lisocke, Kamenica Municipality

Audit Findings

The social audits concluded that residents are not always consulted during the planning process of the projects. Also, they often lack information about the allocated investments. For example, the social audit of Karagaq Park in Peja revealed that the metal seats are not comfortable for people, especially the elderly, to sit and relax. The park also does not provide suitable infrastructure such as ramps for wheelchair users and there is no lighting in the park after 11:00 p.m., so people do not feel safe late at night. Vandalism is frequent since there are no guards to protect the public space in the evenings.

In Rahovec, the social audit team found that there are too few ramps in public spaces and that the ramps located in the city center are narrower than the permitted standards for wheelchair users. Also, there was no signposts to indicate paths for people with special needs, and the buzzers at the traffic lights did either not work or were too quiet for pedestrians to hear.

In Lipjan, the social audit found that the water supply grid in Janjevo village is outdated and there are uncontrolled leaks in uninhabited houses. This has caused a lack of drinking water, especially in the Roma neighborhood.

In Kamenica municipality, it was recommended in the future to conduct water source quality analyses and to share the results with communities. Also, there were requests to repair the potholes and damage caused by the operator that constructed the water reservoir in Hogosht village.

The social audit teams diligently documented their findings and presented them with proposed recommendations to mayors. This was followed by the teams and service duty bearers engaging in constructive dialogue to collectively address the gaps.

The social audit process requires certain steps and actions to be meaningful and effective, as detailed in the chart below. 

The experiences from the four municipalities show that social audits come with opportunities as well as challenges. They are an effective approach towards raising public awareness and strengthening community voices to confidently engage with local authorities and hold them to account. At the same time, the audits provide a platform for elected leadership to explain why and how developmental projects do not always go to plan. The joint efforts to find solutions to identify gaps enhance the mutual trust between civil society and municipalities.

However, social audits initially require considerable technical support in terms of collecting and analysing data. Also, it can take time to build relationships and for municipal staff and elected leadership to willingly provide access to public records and engage in open dialogue. If this is not done with conflict-sensitivity, it can inflame emotions and potential harm.

The social audits were received positively by the municipalities, as illustrated in this video. So far, half of the 38 municipalities in Kosovo have expressed interest in replicating the social audit process. Equally, the Ministry of Local Government and Public Administration has decided to financially contribute to the scaling up of social audits in more localities across the country.

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