Report

Connecting the Dots for Accountability
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In the past decade, efforts to promote more open and accountable governance have proliferated. These endeavors have taken on many shapes and sizes, from international multi-stakeholder initiatives to community-level citizen action, and everything in between. Most often, these approaches have sought to leverage elements of transparency and information along with some form of citizen engagement or participation, with the goal of influencing government actions to be more responsive and accountable. But has the formula of transparency + participation = accountability really worked?

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have often been at the front lines of these efforts, whether it be advocating for improved policies, monitoring government actions, mounting legal challenges to ensure accountability, or any number of other strategies. But do all these individual initiatives and approaches, many of which result in specific wins, really to add up to more than the sum of their parts? Furthermore, do external actors too often focus on a relatively narrow set of civil society actors, specifically formal and professional CSOs, failing to engage with diverse membership-based organizations, grassroots movements, and other kinds of citizen mobilization?

In June 2015, researchers and practitioners from the global north and south met to discuss more strategic approaches to citizen-led accountability. Specifically, the workshop organizers sought to explore how CSO efforts could ‘connect the dots’ in ways that involve multiple actors, tools and tactics, and levels of governance. These ideas drew on insights from Jonathan Fox’s work on vertical integration and strategic accountability, as well as experiences of organizations trying to navigate the ‘accountability ecosystem’ of diverse institutions, mechanisms and processes.

This report draws on the practical experiences and conceptual insights shared during the June workshop. Key sections include:

Conceptual framework for connecting the dots
Five concrete case study summaries of CSO strategies to connect the dots
Workshop rapporteur’s report with insights organized around 8 key takeaway points
Thus, this report serves as a resource to those who want to address the challenge of isolated and fragmented transparency and accountability interventions that often do not strategically engage with the ecosystem of accountability actors, mechanisms and levels of governance to address the structural causes of corruption, impunity and poor service delivery, but rather more superficial symptoms. Moreover, the ‘Connecting the Dots’ report pushes back against simple ideas of ‘scaling up’ transparency and accountability efforts as replicating interventions or otherwise incorporating more [users, participants, localities, data, etc.] that are also unlikely to strategically engage with the accountability ecosystem. Instead, this report argues that efforts to strengthen accountability should adopt approaches that strategically ‘connect the dots’ across actors, mechanisms and levels of governance.

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Report insights + takeaways

Changing systems
“…to bring change in complex systems, you’d better think about the incentives, power imbalances and lines of influence that structure these systems.”
@TAInitiative
Refining focus
In practice, open government and social accountability risk becoming treated as ends in and of themselves. The ultimate focus should be on power shifts.
@TAInitiative
@TAInitiative