Hello everyone. We are Jeremy Danz and Dhaval Kothari, co-founders of The ADMEL Lab, a collaborative focusing on embedding inclusive accountability in M&E frameworks.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked on COVID-19 contact tracing programs in Massachusetts and Washington and on corruption and governance programs throughout South Asia, as well as survey and accountability mechanism design for programs in Cambodia and Myanmar.
Regardless of our focus, we always try to consider how organizations and programs maintain accountability to those they claim to serve. Too often, especially in the international development and humanitarian response sectors, organizations often end up primarily accountable to their donors, and perhaps secondarily accountable to other stakeholders within the aid industry itself, as opposed to people who live in areas hosting organizations’ interventions.
Defining the directionality of accountability can be challenging, as terms like “downward accountability” imply a hierarchical relationship, perhaps with inequities, injustices, and shades of neocolonialism baked right in.
So, to evaluate aid sector responses from an accountability perspective, we believe that potential for evaluation and potential for meaningful work rests on the trust built between implementing organizations and the communities they are working to serve. Confirming the existence of functional trust between organizations and communities may not always be possible, so we propose one quick question upon which to base conclusions.
Ask this first question: “Do people living in areas where organizations are implementing programs have the power to change programming, or even to reject programming entirely?”
If opposition to programming at the local level is not heard, or if desires for altered programming are not incorporated into planning processes, then organizations cannot be said to be accountable to communities and individuals living in areas where they are implementing programs. When asking this question, evaluators must consider inclusion of vulnerable groups from areas hosting interventions in these accountability mechanisms and decision-making processes. Failure to include the most vulnerable may inadvertently exacerbate pre-existing inequities and power imbalances.
Organizations and evaluators should remember to include members of the following groups, and if evaluators determine that organizations have not included members of the following groups, this should be specifically articulated and explained.
- Local leaders
- Women’s groups
- Ethnic minority groups
- People with disabilities
- Subsistence farmers
- Other vulnerable groups
Our second quick question upon which evaluators can rapidly discern whether organizations are indeed accountable to those people living in areas hosting their interventions involves financial transparency.
Then, ask this second question: “Would staff at implementing organizations, either expatriate international staff or ‘national’ staff, be comfortable and willing to share programmatic budgeting information with individuals living in areas hosting development and humanitarian response operations?”
In our careers in both South and Southeast Asia, we have received direct instructions from our managers not to share information about salaries and benefits, per diem calculations, incidental expenses, etc. with both our national colleagues and the people living in areas our programs are attempting to serve. Often, these organizations do have financial transparency obligations to their donors and taxpayers at home. If organizations are unwilling to share these financial details with the people they are ostensibly serving, then their directional accountability is primarily inward, or at least somewhere other than on the ground where they are working.
We believe that if organizations and evaluators include these two simple questions in their work, it should be possible to determine quickly whether implementing organizations and their programming are truly accountable to people living in areas hosting their interventions, regardless of the type of programming or the host country of the intervention.
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