Executive summary

Development requires effective governance and institutions that can deliver. When institutions are held to account - whether by citizens or other state institutions - they deliver services better. Groundbreaking events like the 2011 Arab Spring attest to the importance of accountability in institutions for state-building and socio-political development. The development community will need to deepen its understanding of how it can best facilitate reform in line with societal demands and government capacity in the developing world.

Development assistance for accountability in developing countries has grown over the past decade in both diversity and volume. In this time various challenges have arisen:

  • • Developing countries' capacity has been strengthened - but unevenly.
  • • Information about government policy and actions is more readily available - but many people are still not sufficiently empowered or capable of acting on it.
  • • Citizens’ voices have been amplified and, at times, have brought about change - but they are still too often ignored, dispersed, or lost.
  • • Reforms have been agreed - but not always substantively implemented; transformational change remains the exception.

A new approach is needed. Donors have tended to replicate accountability models that have worked in their home country; but these may not work in developing countries. A tendency to focus on strengthening specific institutions has caused capacity imbalances, ignoring the potential for reform offered by broad-based local alliances. Donors also appear to have struggled to link support programmes to the realities of the wider political context or to the informal “rules of the game”. And accountability may be undermined by too much aid: this can short-circuit the development of more legitimate, tax-based social and fiscal contracts between citizens and the state, encouraging stronger accountability to donors than to citizens.

There is growing recognition of the need for new approaches, but no broad agreement on what changed practice actually looks like. This orientations note therefore distils the findings of “work in progress” by the development co-operation and research communities to assess donor policy and practice in promoting accountability in developing countries.

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