I Orientations on development co-operation, accountability and democratic governance

The role of accountability in promoting good governance

This chapter introduces the objectives of the study. It reflects on how donors can improve their support to accountability in developing countries and on what needs to be done to change practice. It provides more clarity on the links and relationships among development co-operation and domestic accountability, presenting in a comprehensive way where donors stand in this area of development co-operation.


Strengthening domestic accountability has been a growing component of development assistance in recent decades. This is in line with the rising interest in improving governance - increasingly seen as the touchstone of successful development. The role of domestic accountability has been acknowledged in development co-operation effectiveness work and embedded in relevant commitments agreed at meetings in Paris, Accra and Busan.[1] These trends underscore the widely-held view that efforts to address poverty and promote development are most effective when they are informed by a good understanding of the social, political and governance context in which they are implemented and where they support productive citizen-state relations. They build on calls from citizens, local organisations and accountability institutions in developing countries for greater voice and representation in development decision making and debates. They also build on longstanding efforts by the international community to support democracy.

However, domestic accountability support has not been as successful as hoped: while the capacity of accountability actors has been strengthened, important weaknesses and gaps have not been addressed. All too often this is due to inaccurate assumptions by donors about the nature of local democratic and institutional contexts and transitions. Inevitably, donors have tended to design programmes and projects that replicate institutions and processes characteristic of more developed countries, rather than provide support which builds on local realities to substantially improve accountability.[2] This has resulted in too many examples of countries with all the trappings of accountability - but without most of its functionalities.[3] As a consequence, accountability and governance support are now being challenged to “work with the grain” of societies and to develop country-specific strategies which represent the “best fit” rather than “best practice” (CFS, 2010).

While there is growing recognition of the need for new approaches, there is not yet broad agreement on what changed practice actually looks like. This orientations note therefore aims to provide more clarity, by focusing on three key themes: and realistic approaches, including the implications for risk analysis and management.

  • 2. A focus on the substantive functions or issues to address, not just the form, of domestic accountability. If support aims at strengthening accountability for budget processes, for example, it should start with the core accountability problem or function to be addressed and then develop creative approaches to work with - rather than simply supporting formal institutions which may lack substantive influence. This means carefully analysing, and potentially re-considering, the use of different aid modalities overall and their interaction with domestic accountability.
  • 3. An “accountability systems” approach, rooted in these core accountability functions. This emphasises the need to move beyond a narrow focus on supply-side versus demand-side accountability support, or a focus only on formal institutions, and instead to look more closely at the linkages among actors and how these can be strengthened over time. This programme has taken an important line of inquiry to unpack the hypothesis that donors tend to take a siloed approach and supply support to individual institutions of accountability - parliaments, the media and the like - without developing a greater understanding of how citizens interact in systems or processes of accountability, as noted below.

Changes in practice will require some changes in donor approaches, including different roles, new forms of assistance, adjustments to funding modalities and new approaches to risk and results management. It will involve wholesale shifts in behaviour by parts of the development assistance community, moving outside conventional comfort zones and reflexes towards new approaches to risk taking and political engagement. While this poses challenges which need to be understood, managed and implemented cautiously, the risks of not changing may be greater. Some agencies and organisations are already beginning to move in this direction, as suggested through case studies and research.

This note distils the findings of “work in progress” by the development co-operation and research communities to assess donor policy and practice in promoting domestic accountability. It is aimed at a range of practitioners, from those designing and implementing accountability programmes to those for whom accountability issues form a small part of their overall development assistance programming. It is also targeted at a wider interested audience, including civil society actors and citizens around the world who interact with donors working on accountability support. It represents a collective effort by the OECD-DAC Governance Network

(GOVNET) in collaboration with partners in developing country accountability institutions - such as parliaments, civil society organisations, political parties, and the media - to explore citizen-state relations and to better understand the impact of development co-operation on domestic accountability.

The note has a particular focus on accountability for budget processes and service delivery. It is based on country case studies in Mali, Mozambique, Peru and Uganda (Annex A), a survey of leading analytical thinking and donor innovations in this field since mid-2009, and the findings of a series of special high-level international dialogues on how to best support domestic accountability institutions and processes. These led to the identification of key principles for supporting specific institutions that play critical roles in democratic governance, including elections, parliaments, the media, and political parties (Part II).4

At the same time, this note implicitly acknowledges that there is still much to learn about “good practice” in supporting domestic accountability. There is not much hard evidence about “what works and what doesn’t work’ on which to base definitive conclusions. Accordingly, this text does not provide the complete recipe for success - it is not a guidance note or a “how to” instruction manual - but rather reflects existing research and collective experience to offer some preliminary, yet promising, findings. It seeks to acquaint the reader with what a changed approach to domestic accountability support might look like, introducing some of the conceptual underpinnings, and making suggestions for specific implications for programming and implementation.

Part I begins with a brief overview of domestic accountability and related development assistance support, including a definition of the concept, historical trends and functional links between development cooperation, domestic accountability and the wider governance landscape. Chapter 2 then describes the important role that politics, incentives and informal institutions play in delivering functional accountability - and the concomitant need to integrate these factors into relevant development assistance efforts. Chapter 3 sets out the scope and method for moving towards a systems-wide approach to domestic accountability. The need for such an approach was a particularly promising finding from the GOVNET case studies, and is reinforced by emerging international research. The note then explores the “big picture” implications of development co-operation for domestic accountability processes and institutions (Chapter 4), and concludes with some core recommendations for the future (Chapter 5). Part II outlines specific principles for targeted, institution-specific support to key components of domestic accountability systems - electoral systems, parliamentary support, political party development and media assistance.

Annex A provides short summaries of the findings of case studies in Mali, Mozambique, Peru and Uganda. The full case studies are available on the OECD website (www.oecd.org/dac/governance).

  • [1] The need for much more politically-informed, smarterdevelopment co-operation. The principles underpinning “best fit”
  • [2] rather than “best practice” approaches, and working with institutionsas they are rather than as they should be, are broadly accepted. Butactually putting this into policy and practice remains a challenge.
  • [3] This note looks at strategies for achieving more politically feasible
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