“But how will we hold them accountable?” the senior technical advisor said of the proposal from the high-profile health NGO. “There’s not even a logframe in there.”

Silently in my cubicle, I thought, “Oh, if only that would only make people and organizations accountable…”

Obviously, the need and the desire to be accountable in our industry are not going away. With foreign aid budgets under fire in many donor countries, accountability perhaps becomes even more important.

What I find unfortunate is the automatic associations with accountability in our sector. To this technical advisor, accountability simply meant the inclusion of a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool in a proposal to a donor.

Numerous frameworks and standards on accountability to beneficiaries exist. (See the HAP International principles, INGO Accountability Charter, and Principles of Accountability for International Philanthropy.) However, one look at the results coming out of The Listening Project demonstrates how improvements in practice have been “patchy” at best.

There is much to be done to increase the appreciation and understanding of monitoring and evaluation beyond risk management and compliance. There is also much to be done to expand the notion of accountability to not only donors, but most importantly, the people we serve.

Here are a couple of resources on improving downward accountability:

  1. ListenFirst.org – practical ways of improving accountability for NGOs from Concern Worldwide
  2. WhoCounts.org – Mango UK’s guide on financial reporting to beneficiaries

When we reduce accountability to abstract or empty exercises that are, if we are honest, ultimately about reporting funding expenditures to donors, we miss the point. Besides, demonstrating “where the money is going” is quite different from representing what percentage of the money actually reaches the ground.

How can we switch the conversation on accountability to focus on creating concrete and required(?) processes of consultation, transparency and participation? Can we acknowledge that when we talk about accountability, we’re ultimately talking about power and its role in our aid relationships?

Accountability will never be found on the pages of a proposal or financial report. And if we continue to look only there, we’re looking for it in all the wrong places.


This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2011/12/07/accountability-wrong-places/

Jennifer Lentfer

Jennifer Lentfer is the founder of www.how-matters.org, a blogsite aimed at raising the level of human dignity within international aid. She has worked with over 300 grassroots organizations in east and southern Africa over the past decade. Having served with various international organizations in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, and the U.S., today she works to advance the efforts of aid workers, grantmakers, and social entrepreneurs that make international aid more locally responsive.