Symposium #1 - What is Social Accountability?

Building a Common Future for Social Accountability and Accreditation Locally and Globally[1]


Dr. Robert Woollard is a physician and professor in Family Medicine at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Charles Boelen is a medical doctor and international consultant specializing in public health, epidemiology, health system management, and the education of health professionals.

Held over Zoom on July 6, 2023, the learning objectives of this session include:

  1. Learning about the history and context of social accountability including its origin in the WHO
  2. Answering the questions: “Where are we now and where are we going?
  3. Learning about the objectives and goals of each of the symposia in the series.

The session included a message by the ISAASC leadership and sections led by each speaker which explored the following key questions:

  • How is accreditation a lever for social accountability?
  • How can medical schools mobilize local and system-level changes towards social accountability?

The goals of the seminar were to:

  • Define social accountability, its history, and why medical school accreditation is an important lever for social accountability.
  • Summarize the past and present work of the International Social Accountability and Accreditation Steering Committee(ISAASC) and the important work of its action groups.
  • Build interest in social accountability and accreditation to invite future participation.

Summary from the Collaborative Dialogue: Exploring accreditation as a lever for social accountability

  • Timeline: Social Accountability of Medical Schools
    • Established in 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated its mission of globally providing people with a “complete state of wellbeing, physical, mental and social.”
    • In 1970, the World Health Assembly resolution was adopted by member states to “provide Health For All by an intersectoral approach.”
    • In 1995, the WHO published a report defining the responsibility of medical schools to lead activities addressing the priority health concerns of the communities they have a mandate to serve. Priority needs must be identified jointly by governments, healthcare organizations, health professionals, and the public.
    • In 2010, the report “Global Consensus for Social Accountability of Medical Schools” outlined ten strategic directions to achieve this goal.
    • In 2019, the article “Accrediting Excellence for medical school impact on population health” was published in Education for Health, setting standards for excellence in socially accountable medical schools.
  • How to Meet Local Priority Health Needs: 3-4-5Social Accountability Strategy
    • Three-Tiered Strategy
      1. Identify needs and determinants in society(upstream)
      2. Adapt and transform responses (process)
      3. Follow-up to measure impact (downstream)
  • Four Reference Values
    1. Quality for person-centred care
    2. Equity
    3. Relevance to context
    4. Cost-effectiveness
  • Partnerships with Five Key Actors
    1. Public authorities
    2. Health organizations
    3. Academic institutions
    4. Health Professionals and associates
    5. Civil society

What is Accreditation?

  • Accreditation is a process by which institutions and programs voluntarily undergo an extensive peer evaluation of their compliance with accepted standards for educational quality.

Why is accreditation a lever for social accountability?

  • Accreditation can be a peer-review tool used to ensure socially accountable medical schools.
  • It brings attention to the community needs in policies and academic activities.
  • It requires the robust engagement of faculty with partners in the pentagram partnership plus.
  • It leads to interdisciplinary student-community“ service learning” opportunities
  • Schools commit to define, develop, and assess its students’ professional development.
  • It promotes faculty recognition and promotion by supporting scholarship

Helpful Approaches to Promote Change

  • Generalist: setting individuality of institutions aside, schools look out to the communities they serve and shape approaches to their needs
  • Self-Assessing: reflect on practices and evaluate progress with tools such as the ISAT (
  • Strengths-Based: use appreciative inquiry to determine what is working well and how to channel strengths to grow

Looking Ahead

ISAASC Moving Forward: Next Steps

  1. Finalization and implementation of the standards-setting document
  2. Sharing the tool with accreditation influencers across the globe
  3. Promoting an approach for adaptation to health professional schools and health structures
  4. Promoting a capacity building program to implement standards setting approach

[1] We edited this summary to make it as succinct as possible and did not intentionally omit any substantive comments. How to reference this report: Larche, CL. (2023). Symposium Summary: What is Social Accountability? Building a common future for Social Accountability and Accreditation locally and globally. Centre for Social Accountability of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University. Accompanying inforgraphic citation: Larche, CL. (2023). What is Social Accountability? Building a common future for Social Accountability and Accreditation locally and globally.[Infographic].


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