Development agencies increasingly emphasise country ownership and alignment. However, critics charge that aid accountability has remained largely within the aid system itself, rather than between donors and recipients (Eyben, 2008).
Improving aid accountability to disadvantaged populations might require engaging in more critical self-reflection, relinquishing some power, shifting relations from competition to cooperation, and adjusting actions and strategies based on feedback (Crack, 2013). Experts call for donors to consider the effects (positive or negative) of all their actions on constructive bargaining between state and society (Unsworth, 2010).
Eyben, R. (2008). Power, Mutual Accountability and Responsibility in the Practice of International Aid: A Relational Approach (Working paper No. 305). Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
Accountability in aid has largely been about performance against pre-established objectives. Aid has been framed as a contract, where accountability involves regulating behaviour between separate entities, but global political economy sustains inequities in aid that impede such accountability. Eyben advocates understanding aid as relational: aid actors do not share a pre-established consensus, but they are interdependent and their relations are dynamic, messy and contradictory. Accountability becomes more about mutual responsibility, with attention to relations, process and complexity. In this approach, aid actors would emphasise more decentralised decision-making, multiple diagnoses and solutions, and ‘messy partnerships’.
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Crack, A. M. (2013). Language, Listening and Learning: Critically Reflective Accountability for INGOs. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 79(4), 809-828.
What does meaningful accountability look like in INGOs? Reforms in the 1990s emphasised legal and financial compliance, demanded by powerful actors such as donors. More recently, accountability to ‘beneficiaries’, staff and peer organisations has been emphasised, but has usually been trumped by economic imperatives. The author argues that meaningful accountability requires that INGOs embed critical reflexivity in their practices. Language needs to emphasise people’s right to expect INGOs to be answerable (e.g. the term ‘beneficiary’ should be abandoned). Listening to much less powerful stakeholders is central. INGOs need to use feedback to become learning organisations, and collaborate with peers to create a culture of reflective learning in aid.
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McGee, R. (2013). Aid Transparency and Accountability: ‘Build It and They’ll Come’? Development Policy Review, 31, s107–s124
Have promises of aid transparency as a means to aid accountability been fulfilled? This qualitative, secondary review finds that most aid TAIs have not articulated their theory of change. Transparency is considered to be a necessary but insufficient condition for aid accountability. Yet aid TAIs have barely addressed the disconnect between transparency ‘givers’ and accountability ‘seekers’. In particular, accountability ‘seekers’ are very dissimilar and disconnected (e.g. Northern taxpayers, donors that support transparency, Southern aid recipients). Greater attention is needed to the purported beneficiaries of aid TAIs. To ensure the involvement of aid recipients, aid actors should support better citizen-state relations, use framings that are meaningful to aid recipients, and supply information to recipients to help them demand accountability.
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