on Accountability

BEN_0060Corinne Huser, the leader of the DDLGN focal point team, introduced participants to a systemic view of accountability based on key pillars: Information, answerability, and responsiveness / enforceability. The systemic framework (see graphic) emphasizes the two dimensions of accountability:

  • Vertical dimension: citizens ↔ authorities;
  • Horizontal dimension: among authorities.


Accountability processes involve many actors and can reinforce (or hamper) each other. If you would like to know more about the concept…

…download Corinne’s presentation, featuring the systemic framework: pdf-xs

Here the learning objectives of this session.   pdf-xs

International background, current initiatives and trends

Conversation between Anuradha Joshi (IDS), Helena Bjuremalm (International IDEA), and the participants

BEN_0074Anuradha Joshi introduced to the international context and trends with regard to accountability. In the last years development actors seem to be increasingly aware that success and sustainability of development and thus development cooperation directly depend on the quality of public institutions in the countries. The Busan Declaration « Partnership for effective Development Cooperation » of 2011 mentioned transparency and accountability as a factor of development and cooperation in various dimensions. The most recent example is the discussion around the post-2015 agenda and the new Sustainable Development Goal SDG No. 16 that was proposed : « Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels ». The OECD DAC guidelines of 2014 on « Accountability and democratic governance: Orientations and principles for development » particularly show that accountability is crucial for a qualitative (and not purely quantitative) approach to development. Under the heading of « democratic accountability » it is clear that political and social dimensions of accountability must go together, and a variety of actors (such as the parliament, the justice system, media and independent oversight institutions) play a crucial role in holding governments responsible.

pdf-xsOECD DAC Guidelines (2014)

BEN_0065Helena Bjuremalm referred to the guide on accountability in services that was recently published by International IDEA. This guide focuses on the quality of local accountability mechanisms for service delivery, taking into account that it is the responsibility of local actors to make reforms – and they should be supported in holding service providers accountable. The guide aspires to support its users to assess the degree to which public service delivery is subject to democratic accountability checks and, based on that knowledge, identify areas of concrete action for improvement. Under the heading of accountability the guide addresses transparency, responsiveness of services, and enforceability in different stages. The step-by-step approach also helps its users to build strategic alliances and select windows of opportunities to support social and political accountability at different levels. It addresses accountability in a systemic perspective taking into account that long term sustainability of services directly depend on accountability systems in place.

pdf-xsInternational IDEA Guidelines

Acording to Anuradha Joshi, the international debate shows that a systemic perspective is important. Social, political, bureaucratic, judicial accountability mechanisms can reinforce – or hamper each other. The legal and judicial dimension of accountability has a strong anchor in the international human rights movement : the international human rights convention are an important framework for accountability and often provide the standards for (social) accountability mechanisms. Of course, context analysis is important as well as sector analysis : Different mechanisms will be successful to generate accountable relations between the governments, service providers and users in specific sectors, e.g. health, or water. An important challenge is the vertical dimension of accountability : How can we bring the positive experience made at local level to a more strategic, national level with a view to strengthen overall accountability of power holders?

The new IT technology has opened new ways and means to distribute and access information from a variety of sources, particularly for marginalized groups. The new ways of sharing information (social media) made the mobilisation of public support easier, and has supported those asking for accountability and helped to reduce their vulnerability, e.g. in the case of denouncing corruption.

A main challenge remains : how can we assess the impact of accountabiliy mechanisms ? What are the key elements that really matter in accountability systems ? Where to find evidence for success or failure  of promoting accountability? In any case it is important to design mixed methods of measuring outputs and outcomes, based both on quality and quantity of results. And outcomes and outputs must be carefully phased : Building effective accountability system will need time. BEN_0072

The lively discussion among Anuradha, Helena and participants focused on a variety of issues, comments and open questions:

  • The focus on accountability is not so much about new tools and instruments : There is already a multitude available. Accountability is more about a new perspective, an attitude and approach to our every-day work, and it makes careful context analysis a must.
  • Accountability is shaping mutual relations and interactions between citizens and authorities : Citizens also have responsibilities towards the State structures, not only rights.
  • A variety of examples showed the great opportunities provided by the new technologies to address information gaps. A lot of practical experience is already available and should be shared. However, information alone will not address power gaps.
  • A certain tension can be observed between effectiveness/efficiency and accountability: accountability systems are consuming time and resources and refer to a long term process of change, while efficiency is needed to get short term results. Tactically, quick successes must be combined with long term changes.
  • Accountability issues must be carefully and continuously assessed as they can change rapidly. Issues both at national level as well as at local level need to be assessed. Donors are often applying methodologies to assess accountability all over but this should be more differentiated. Moreover, accountability mechanisms must absolutely be designed in resonse to a certain context : Donors should not push for mechanisms that are not adapted e.g. to the limited resources available.
  • Accountability systems are never in the interest of those in power – so political willingness for reform in this area is often very limited. Political economy analysis can help to find the gaps – and build strategic alliances for change. The question is also how to find incentives for bureaucrats and politicians to buy into building up effective accountability mechanisms.
  • Accountability focuses on the mechanisms to hold the powerful responsible for implementing a certain standard that is already predefined. Accountability asks authorities to stick to the existing rules and frameworks – it is not about changing the rules but building mechanisms and procedures to secure the implementation of predefined rules.
  • By asking governments of receiving countries to be accountable for the money transferred, donors often divert attention of governments from national accountability systems. Governments depending on donor money will not feel responsible and will not be responsive to their citizens’ needs. While the donors are accountable to their own taxpayers (and often their internal political agenda) it is important that they aspire to strengthen national accountability systems instead of building parallel reporting systems.
  • In situations of fragility public institutions are often challenged by a lack of trust. Improvements in service delivery, closely linked to the building-up of effective accountability systems that ensure services without discrimination, can help to build such trust.

Experience sharing among peers

In the afternoon the programme focused on concrete experience on ways and means how to promote accountability from a systemic perspective. Based on programme experience presented by participants from Pakistan, Bhutan, Mali, Macedonia, the region of East – South Africa, group discussions went around promoting accountability in different contexts, particularly in situations of fragility. Participants exchanged their experience and discussed achievements and challenges so far.

You can download the pin board on the country examples here:

 Bhutanpdf-xs  ESADpdf-xs  Pakistanpdf-xs
Malipdf-xs  Macedoniapdf-xs

The discussions helped them to get a better idea what Accountability means. In this short video the participants were asked to describe accountability in just 3 words:

Synthesized results from the groups’ discussions were presented to the plenary. You can watch the full restitution in this video:

The presentations were then further commented and discussed by the experts who had intervened in the morning. The expert panel found that SDC’s accountability work is strong in many aspects, and identified some areas for improvement. While many key accountability issues are often addressed in SDC’s interventions, they should be integrated in a more systematic and systemic way. It is not only about promoting accountability mechanisms but about thinking and working politically. SDC could also more systematically look at what works, and reflect on how we can learn from each other despite the contextual differences we are working in. The experts also pointed to the fact that the assumptions and hypotheses of change behind our interventions are often not explicit and visible enough so it is more difficult to adapt to often rapidly changing circumstances.

systematic = in a methodical, organised way
systemic = relating to a system

The insights or questions were then discussed with the experts in a lively discussion. You can watch the full video here:

pdf-xsYou can download the recommendation boards here.

Reflecting on accountability: gender equality and minorities

Please find some interesting inputs from colleagues concerning accountability and inclusiveness that came up during the Regional F2F of West Africa (shared by Dorothy and Kader) as well as the DDLGN F2F. (by Evelin Stettler)


  • National government “standards” for accountability might not be ideal from an SDC perspective (not enough inclusive, not enough gender-sensitive
  • Exclusion
  • Under-representation of women in politics
  • Inclusion and voice in decision making
  • No access to information
  • Persistent mindsets on specific gender roles
  • “Invisible” powerful actors that don’t want to change gender roles
  • Time constraints (especially for women participants)
  • There can be significant resistance against empowerment of as well as no political will to address women and minority issues (creating problems in relation to sustainability)
  • In Conflict Contexts it is even more difficult to reach out to women (e.g. Pakistan)

SDC possibilities to address these challenges

Policy level:

  • Including gender actors in the political economy analysis and engaging with interested national entities on gender and inclusiveness issues (e.g. Lao Womens Union).
  • Do power analysis also between elite women and rural women and addressing these power issues accordingly (Bangladesh)
  • support policy reforms focusing on inclusiveness and enabling rules and regulations (e.g. for women’s participation)
  • Use of evidenced based stories from the local level in the policy dialogue
  • Use of new technologies for access to information (e.g. for specific minority groups)
  • Supporting alliance building (between women / women’s groups / state institutions responsible for gender issues)
  • Supporting/Training/Mentoring (leadership, public speaking) of potential as well as elected women and facilitate networking amongst them and important (national) gender state actors (Bhutan)
  • Support Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting on local and national level
  • Politicisation of issues and polarisation based on party affiliations are common phenomenon in Bangladesh. Political parties try to co-opt successful women leaders. Therefore materials, training modules, in-formation, education and communication need to carefully ensure that issues are addressed through a non-partisan lens. Projects should emphasizes leadership over partisan politics and re-affirm that it provides opportunities to open up political debate without taking a political stance.



Gender stereotypes are common, especially in patriarchal societies and significant resistance can exists against empowerment of women. Such resistance can be expressed in particularly strong terms and often violently by fundamentalist groupings. The solidarity of women networks can help to mitigate these threats as well as the linkage with media and vertical tiers of political power. A Bangladesh project seeks to include male and female elites and religious leaders with sympathetic views in events and encourages them to advocate on behalf of the programme.

  • Support Changing mindsets of gender roles through art/humor/media (theaters, songs, poems) for example on sharing stories about “role models” such as successful elected women politicians (e.g. Laos and Bolivia)
  • Specifically collaborate with “traditional/unusual” actors for addressing mindsets about gender roles.
  • Cooking classes for (young) men 🙂

Project activities:

  • Voice of (female) engagement during decision making: Macedonia – Specifically train moderators and facilitators to make community forums (for accountability) inclusive by engaging “passive” participants (as well as having standards on participants as e.g. 30% minimum of men and women)
  • Pakistan: Find “unusual” ways in governance-projects on how to reach out to women, e.g. by including livelihood aspects targeted on women in your projects
  • Providing project partners with gender trainings as well as clearly define roles and responsibilities related to gender in ToRs of project management and officers
  • Including gender experts in planning and evaluating projects
  • Timing/Mobility: If a minimum of e.g. 35% of women’s participation in all capacity buildings and trainings of a project is set, some specific measures in order to realize this can be taken:

Follow-up on the applications of women-

  • Ensure that at least 50% of the invitations have been sent to women.
  • Monitor the applications; if you see that the % of women participants will not be satisfying inquire directly with the women that have not sent their applications why they did not apply and try to find solutions for their participation

Improve access to child and elderly care –

  • Special budget could provide women to take their children (and babysitters) with them to meetings, events, trainings
  • Child-care facilities could be provided at the meeting venue
  • Organize day-care-centres or organize groups taking care of children while women attend meetings, events, trainings

Special measures for overnight stay –

  • Special measures should be taken in order for women to participate in trainings/events that include one or several overnight stay (e.g. separated rooms for women and men)

Special measures for overnight stay –

  • Special measures should be taken in order for women to participate in trainings/events that include one or several overnight stay (e.g. separated rooms for women and men)

Thinking about mobility and timing of meetings –

In order for women to participate in meetings, trainings, events outside their villages the transport has to be organized. The time of the meetings should be set in order to make it easy for women to participate.

Evelin Stettler

Further reading

If you desire to learn more about the topic, please consider this reading list:

pdf-xsThe World Bank Social Accountability contextual drivers (how to assess the context)

pdf-xsThe broader mapping context resource paper

linkAnuradha Joshi’s paper on causal chains and context

linkOn technology for accountability: All the IDS MAVC (Making all voices count) material

linkThe ODI sector characteristics work (relevant to accountability )

linkGeneral information about International IDEA
linkThe guide on Democratic Accountability in Service Delivery … and the one page version

linkInternational IDEA’s State of Democracy and State of Local Democracy frameworks

linkThe World Development Report 2014 of the World Bank – Making Services Work for the Poor

pdf-xsDAC guidelines: accountability and democratic governance: orientations and principles for development

pdf-xsInternational IDEA: Democratic accountability in service delivery (short version here)


pdf-xsA report from the assessment of democratic accountability in solid waste management in three capital districts in Malawi (International IDEA)


pdf-xsSeven papers covering 20 cases on the use and possible effects of democratic accountability (International IDEA)


Accountability – learning objectives

Day 1 and 2: Accountability

1. Introduction: Setting the frame

Learning objective:
  • The participants are informed about the key messages of the previous DDLGN learning project on citizen participation and social accountability
  • The participants know about the latest international debate and trends related to the accountability topic – broadening the scope from social accountability to a more systemic perspective.
key questions:
  • What are key definitions and concepts of accountability and how is this linked to the broader accountability agenda? For example: social, political, corporate accountability; or key pillars of accountability such as: transparency/information – answerability – responsiveness – enforceability; and: link to human rights based approach
  • What are major trends in supporting accountability initiatives and in addressing these issues in a more systemic perspective?
  • What are particular considerations/experiences in specific contexts, particularly situations of fragility and conflict (FCS) as well as countries with advanced capacities?
  • What is the debate about gender equality and inclusion aspects? What experience is available?

Expected results: Conceptual frame and actual international debate with regard to accountability is clear, and lays out the ground for informed discussion among peers on concrete implementation experience.

2. Peer exchange on accountability implementation experience

SDC is contributing to strengthen accountability relations among involved actors through a variety of activities, aiming at i) empowering citizens and amplifying their voice, ii) strengthening accountability relations between citizens and state institutions, iii) as well as between different state institutions, and iv) promoting key pillars of accountability, such as right to information, transparency, answerability, responsiveness, redress and sanctioning (enforcement). SDC works with a variety of involved actors namely citizens, civil society organizations, media, local authorities, and increasingly also with parliaments, and possibly more.

Learning objectives:

FIRST: The participants learn how OSA approaches accountability from a systemic perspective. Lead questions:

Approaches, Strategies:
  • How: What are main approaches, intervention strategies to strengthen key pillars of accountability (transparency/information, answerability, responsiveness, enforceability), that we are supporting with our programs; for example while supporting processes of public resource management / public service provision; or while supporting processes of decentralization etc.? What type of accountability responsibilities of the different involved actors do we support during such processes? (Those who have to render accounts and those claiming for accountability)?
  • With whom: What are key actors and their accountability roles we want to strengthen, with whom do we engage and how do we foster alliances between different actors?
  • Why: What do we want to change with our interventions?
  • Inclusion: How do we promote inclusive approaches: working with overlooked actors, gender dimension and disadvantaged groups
  • Context: What are important contextual factors that constrain our interventions? (E.g. Power structures, patronage/clientelistic relations, political culture, and existing social fabric, historical legacies). How do we address/overcome such challenges?

SECOND: Based on this, selected peers (panel) discuss about: Similarities and/or differences in other countries or regions and about other contextual challenges

Expected results: a) Different approaches and implementation challenges as well as success factors are shared. – b) Critical contextual factors and political economy considerations are spelled out. – c) Gender specific considerations are pointed out as well as mechanisms for strengthening inclusion of vulnerable groups.

3. Deepening discussions among peers, experts

Learning objective: Participants understand
  • What are the conclusions for my work? What is working in practice?
  • What does that mean for the role of SDC: How can SDC position itself as a donor in a process which carries the potential of being conflictual?
  • Remaining burning questions … 

4. Parliamentary assistance

SDC works with parliaments both on national and on sub-national levels. However, the area is still considered relatively new and there are no consolidated approaches to legislative assistance itself, as well as to embedding it into a wider governance and accountability context. The session will consist of both information presented to the participants and of peer exchange and discussions.

The main questions are:
  • What is parliamentary support and how does it relate to the key functions of parliaments: legislative, representation and oversight?
  • What are recent concepts and trends related to parliamentary support discussed on international level?
  • How is parliamentary support done by other donors, and how by SDC?
  • What can we draw from this and take SDC’s approaches further?
Learning Objectives

Participants become aware of and reflect upon the following issues:

  • Why do we support parliaments? How does this relate to a larger accountability and governance agenda?
  • What are main mechanisms of parliamentary support in relation to the functions of parliaments (legislative, representation, oversight), but also to issue-based support (i.e. post-2015 agenda, crisis prevention/recovery, anti-corruption, climate change, etc.);
  • Who are the main targeted actors of parliamentary support? How can gender and inclusion issues be addressed in this context?
  • What can be done to complement parliamentary support (e.g. electoral support, working with political parties, civil society support)?
  • How can cooperation with other donors be best achieved?
  • What are contextual specificities to be taken into account?

Expected Results: a) Participants are aware of various options for interventions in parliamentary support. – b) Participants are aware of the systemic nature and the interconnectedness of such interventions (connection and synergies to decentralization or, to civil society support programmes, etc.). – c) The peer exchange will lead to the identification of further learning needs and to recommendations for the further work of the network on this issue.