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Closing the feedback loop in South African local governance

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Project type Research 

Country South Africa 

Support £74,250

In partnership with School of Governance, University of Witwatersrand, and Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town
“Why are some elected politicians responsive to citizen needs, and inclined to be held accountable for their work, while others are not?”


municipal councillors elected at the 2016 local government elections

Start date
August 2016
End date
August 2017
Period: 13 months


More than 20 years after South Africa’s first democratic election, the country is rife with protests and corruption scandals at all levels of government. And yet it is also the case that many elected leaders are hard-working agents of democratic government, and millions of South Africans have gained access to better services. Why are some politicians doing a better job of listening to citizens, representing and acting on their interests, while others are focused on enriching themselves and their private networks at the expense of the public?


This research examines the role of politicians in democratic accountability feedback loops. It asks how variations in their responsiveness can be predicted by different factors, including the individual characteristics of politicians and their constituencies, and other political pressures.

The research team are examining responsiveness through a panel study of municipal councillors elected in August 2016. This will monitor politicians’ attitudes and behaviours over the course of their tenure, and observe how citizens, the media and political parties treat politicians. It will also analyse how social accountability campaigns influence individual politicians.

The research will enhance the prospects for positive change by opening up the ‘black box’ of politician motivations.


The MIT Department of Political Science aims to compare empirical phenomena with scholarly insights into how societies work. In the process, it develops alternative uses for existing political science methodologies and invents new ones.


  • View publication

    Politicians’ perspectives on voice and accountability: evidence…

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