Social audit is based on the principle that democratic local governance should be carried out, as far as possible, with the consent and understanding of all concerned. It is thus a process and not an event.
An independent and empowered social audit mechanism is an absolute must because:
- A social audit is a way of measuring, understanding, reporting and ultimately improving an organization’s social and ethical performance.
- A social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality, between efficiency and effectiveness.
- It is a technique to understand, measure, verify, report on and to improve the social performance of the organization.
- Social auditing creates an impact upon governance. It values the voice of stakeholders, including marginalized/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard.
- Estimation of the opportunity cost for stakeholders of not getting timely access to public services.
- It removes the accessibility gap and helps in building trust between public and administration
Social audit can help in improving the justice delivery system by creating a feedback mechanism for judiciary and assisting in judicial process reengineering.
MGNREGA was the first act to make Social Audit by Gram Sabha mandatory. Further, many states have set up Social Audit Units (SAU) to facilitate Social Audit of programmes like PMAY, MDM, etc. Meghalaya has enacted a law to enforce Social Audit.
Social auditing is taken up for the purpose of enhancing local governance, particularly for strengthening accountability and transparency in local bodies. Hence social audit mechanism becomes indispensable in every sphere of public service.
The key difference between development and social audit is that a social audit focuses on the neglected issue of social impacts, while a development audit has a broader focus including environment and economic issues, such as the efficiency of a project or programme.