In its simplest terms, accountability means being held responsible for what you do and being able to give a satisfactory reason for doing it. Many civil society organisations, especially those who advocate for change, work to hold those in power (e.g. politicians) to account for their promises and actions, or lack thereof. This is known as ‘social’ accountability.
Dynamic Accountability, however, focuses on civil society organisations (CSOs) themselves being held responsible for their actions by their various stakeholders, from their staff, to their constituents – the communities they exist to serve and support. A measure of an organisation’s accountability is the extent to which its strategies, activities and decisions are driven by the needs and interests of its stakeholders. To be effective, it must therefore be ‘dynamic’, so that the organisation engages with these stakeholders in ways that are inclusive, participatory and continuously practiced. In doing so, Dynamic Accountability strengthens relationships and can help CSOs to be more relevant, impactful, and shift power to their constituents.
In response to a request from our members for more opportunities to further unpack what Dynamic Accountability means in practice, a number of informal ‘learning groups’ driven by members have started conversations on certain sub-topics. Below is a short summary of what each of the learning groups have discussed so far.
Data and evidence on accountability and its effectiveness
To track progress on this work, the group agreed that it was first important to further break down what we mean by ‘accountability’ and ‘effectiveness’. Key accountability-related factors discussed were communication, constituent voice, responsiveness, shifting power, and trust. It was also emphasised that the constituents who live with the particular problem a CSO is trying to help address are the people best placed to judge the effectiveness of their work. The differing capacities and approaches required to measure these factors was highlighted, and therefore our next conversation will focus on the various indicators and data collection techniques available in different contexts. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to join the conversation.
Feedback: Mechanisms, solutions, interesting ways to reshare/follow up on feedback.
Closing the feedback loop is an integral part of dynamic accountability as it enables for further reflective learning and adaptation. In our learning group, we discussed our current feedback mechanisms and explored some outstanding questions that we have. With the diversity and insights present in our group, we believe that it would be important to continue assessing our own mechanisms, but exploring each stage in the feedback cycle. In our next session at the end of June, we will dive into the first stage of the feedback cycle where we will discuss how to design and plan for feedback collection. If you’re interested in joining, see information at the bottom or email email@example.com!
Advancing a culture of accountability within organisations
This working group is about how to embed dynamic accountability in our organisational culture, putting the focus on our internal accountability. Our first discussion was fun and covered a large scope, highlighting multiple factors that need to be taken into consideration to develop and strengthen our internal accountability. These factors include the well-being of staff, growing internal capacities, having inclusive HR processes to establish proper feedback mechanisms, reinforcing governance accountability, involving leadership in horizontal conversations, and implementing a co-creation agenda where policies, strategies, decision-making, among others are participatory and inclusive. All of this will contribute to deconstructing barriers to accountability, increase ownership and shared responsibility for the internal accountability agenda.
We discussed that deepening accountability is a process of learning and being proactive, that it can be simple and contributes to creating positive narratives for civil society. We agreed that because we have a lot to share, we will meet once a month and vote for the next topics among the identified ones through the conversation where different members will present their experiences. If you’re interested in joining this group, click the link below or email Elisa Lopez (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Communicating for Accountability
The Communications and Accountability learning group comes together to discuss how organisations can better explain and promote their work to their key stakeholders. At the first meeting, participants explored who their different constituencies are – from partners to donors – the type of information they share with them, and how they convey it. It was acknowledged that different types of information may be more important for different stakeholders, from clarifying who we are, the activities we do (and, perhaps, do not do) and where we do it, to publicising our successes and how we spend our budgets.
We also learned that it’s much easier to talk about results when they are positive, compared to divulging failures, despite this still being crucial for true accountability. Further common challenges identified included using the right language, accessible formats, and budgeting adequately for these efforts – all skills that need to be learned. Our next conversation in June will focus on potential solutions to these challenges, so it would be wonderful for you to join us! Please email email@example.com to join our Skype group for group updates.
Other Learning Groups on Dynamic Accountability are also in the pipeline – we’ll be exploring topics such as “Accountability mechanisms for children in humanitarian contexts”, “Advancing accountability towards people with disabilities” and “Financial Reporting: Transparency in difficult contexts and reporting non-monetary contributions” – so if you’re interested, don’t forget to sign up! While you’re at it, subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date and join our Google Group to receive and exchange resources!