Common Social Accountability Platform

A citizen-led solution to better governance

Photo: Kelly Lynch

Photo: Kelly Lynch

Social Accountability in Somalia

Following decades of unrest, Somalia is showing signs of hope. Parts of the country enjoy relative stability; the current federal government was formed peacefully and to a large extent, transparently; and an ambitious National Development Plan is in place which highlights the role of citizen engagement in inclusive politics. Nonetheless, government capacity to deliver services and respond to citizen needs remains limited, resulting in a fragile accountability ecosystem.  The lack of strong accountability mechanisms not only prevents government decisions from being guided by citizen feedback, but also reduces citizens trust in government to respond to their needs.

of Somalis feel they have no access to a platform to raise political concerns  

(Altai 2018) 

The international humanitarian community, on which many Somalis depend for basic service delivery, is also challenged by weak accountability structures. The effectiveness of traditional complaints and referral mechanisms (CRM), household surveys or call centres is limited and inconsistent, compounded by protracted insecurity which restricts aid actors’ on the ground presence.  As a result, the space for meaningful interaction between citizens and aid agencies is severely curtailed - a 2016 study found that 96% - of Somalis do not feel consulted in the aid that they receive.

Accountability refers to the ‘processes, norms and structures that require [power-holders] to answer for their actions to another actor, and/or suffer some sanction if the performance is judged to be below the relevant standard’ (Grant and MacArthur, 2008: 1). 

Accountability is critical for maintaining legitimacy between citizens and decision-makers, playing a catalytic role in more responsive allocation of public resources, challenging corruption, and improving the quality of public goods and services.

Photo: Tobin Jones

Towards a Common Social Accountability Platform for Somalia 

Africa’s Voices launched the Common Social Accountability Platform (CSAP) in Somalia in 2018 to  enhance the inclusion of citizens in decision-making across governance, humanitarian and development programmes.

By leveraging Africa’s Voices’ interactive radio method for building dialogue and gathering public opinion, the platform aims to build a sustained channel for open conversation between citizens and decision-makers, across sectors and mandates. 

CSAP uses a combination of radio programming and SMS messaging to create a platform that Somali citizens actively engage in, whilst simultaneously allowing for feedback received from citizen SMS messages to be robustly analysed, understood and ultimately, acted upon. 

Common Social Accountability Platform: Objectives

Increasing citizen participation in decision-making across sectors: CSAP is first of all a common platform for Somalis, and then for aid and governance actors. Citizen participation is increased through rich, inclusive radio discussions in which Somali voices guide the conversation. 

Increasing opportunities for responsive and effective decision making by authorities (governmental and non-governmental) based on citizen feedback: By asking open questions, Africa’s Voices gathers rich qualitative insight on citizen opinions which are then taken back to decision making authorities as concise, actionable recommendations.

Increasing trust in, and accountability of, authorities (governmental and non-governmental: through participation in regular radio discussions in which decision makers directly respond to citizen feedback.

Photo: Stewart Price

Africa’s Voices Interactive Radio methodology 

CSAP is grounded in Africa’s Voices’ interactive radio method, which combines radio talk-shows with audience input by SMS to build dialogue and gather insight on public opinion to inform decision-making. This proven method leverages the highly developed media and telecommunications landscape in Somalia - 89% of the population owns a SIM card (World Bank), and 70% listen to the radio on a weekly basis (USAID) - to build inclusive and far-reaching citizen-authority conversations at scale. The method is based on two pillars: 

(1) Building dialogue
Africa’s Voices builds dialogues through inclusive interactive radio debates, delivered through trusted local FM stations. Before radio shows are recorded and aired, audiences are prompted to respond to open questions aired on radio PSAs (eg. What do you think is the best solution to the current humanitarian crisis in Somalia?) through SMS to a free short-code. These responses are used to script interviews with decision-makers (government officials, humanitarians etc), who respond directly to citizen voice on air. Information on new policies, civic education materials and life-saving information can also be disseminated in this participatory format. 

(2) Informing decision-makers on public opinion
Combining responsible technology and social science, and with participants’ consent obtained through follow-up messages, Africa’s Voices analyses audience SMS feedback to understand what citizens think on critical topics. On average, 7,000 participants participate weekly in a national programme. Africa’s Voices also deploys tailored computation approaches to data analysis to robustly compare how different groups differ in their perspectives (eg. displaced vs host communities). Africa’s Voices then delivers these insights to decision-makers to ensure relevance and uptake in decision-making.

After each season of CSAP radio shows comes to an end, the participants are asked whether the process made them feel they have a voice in decision making.

78% of participants in CSAP Season 1 stated that the process made them feel involved in decision making.

"Yes, I feel involved because community consultation is always the best thing to do. I personally believe that I am part of the decisions in the community and we very much appreciate those who made this safe space to talk, like the radio presenters, the leaders involved and those aid organisations that are involved, as well." Female

A larger part (87.4%) of the participants in  Season 3 reported that engaging with CSAP made them feel involved in decision-making in their community.

"Yes, it made me feel that I have a voice and a role in raising awareness within the community because I get to share my unique opinions that can benefit the community and it is different sections." Male, 22 years, Baidoa.

Photo: Ilyas Ahmed

A proven method

Since 2018, the Common Social Accountability Platform has engaged 18,296 Somalis in interactive radio dialogues on displacement, durable solutions, good governance and humanitarian priorities.

"The use of radio has proven particularly efficient and effective in Somalia, especially in hard to reach areas. {...} Interactive radio programmes and SMS messaging by African Voices Foundation additionally garnered feedback from 8,955 individuals across every region in Somalia. An extremely high proportion of respondents (87 per cent) indicated that they felt the consultations had made them feel more included in decision-making, and the same proportion further reported that they would like to see this process repeated in the future."
UN Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview 2019

Photo: Tobin Jones

Photo: Tobin Jones
“The Common Social Accountability Platform approach is a kind of 'think outside the box.' The forums brought together displacement affected communities, local authorities and humanitarian partners. I believe if such dialogue continued, it will help the decision makers to think long term solutions for IDPs living in a city like Baidoa.” 
Mr. Abdullahi Ali Watiin, former Mayor, Baidoa

Photo: Tobin Jones

Two years of informing the UN Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO)


Africa's Voices ran radio shows across 26 radio stations to feedback findings from the Joint Multicluster Needs Assessment (JMCNA) to communities, spark a wider dialogue on the humanitarian situation in Somalia, and gather feedback from affected populations to ensure their voices influence humanitarian planning processes, including the HNO.

citizens participated in interactive radio dialogues

felt the consultations made them feel more included in humanitarian decision-making


In the latter part of 2019, for the second consecutive year, Africa’s Voices collaborated with UN OCHA and REACH to ensure that the voices of citizens inform the 2020 annual UN Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO).

citizens participated in interactive radio dialogues
felt the consultations made them feel more included in humanitarian decision-making

CSAP notes a significant shift in citizen perceptions on humanitarian priorities between the two years. For an overview of the findings, including a comparison of 2018 and 2019 results, click below.

"Yes, I feel involved 100%. I am not in a position to help my people, at least I can share my views and opinions, which I gladly give."
Male, Yaqshid

Towards an area-based approach

Guided by the desire to create a dialogue space that is inclusive, reliable and cross-sectoral, CSAP will deploy an area based approach in 2020, initially focusing on two states in Somalia - Banadir and South West State (SWS).

Regardless of funder or sector, CSAP is designed around regular cycles of engagement and feedback with a diverse range of stakeholders, aimed at catalysing actors to work collectively around programme strategy and policies in each state.

Rather than serving one agency or actor with a report, CSAP pursues a collaborative and wide-ranging approach to the dissemination of insights on public opinion. Finally, CSAP produces analytical products that provide insights on citizen data across funding sources with a view to inform the wider ecosystem as a whole. 

Placing emphasis on sustained engagement in Banadir and SWS will help build trust in the platform from both citizens, who listen regularly and see CSAP as a valued discussion space to air their views, and key government and aid stakeholders, who see CSAP as a mechanism for improving two-way communication with citizens. 

Common Social Accountability Platform supporters

Africa's Voices is a non-profit organisation, spun out of cutting-edge research at the University of Cambridge. Our mission is to listen to citizens’ authentic voices in spaces they value and turn this engagement into rigorous social insights which accelerate social impact. We are based in Nairobi, Kenya and Cambridge, UK.

Follow us @africas_voices

For more information about the Common Social Accountability Platform and our work overall, contact

Photo: Tobin Jones