Accountability and Development Effectiveness: Assessing the Linkages

Concerns about the need to strengthen accountability and increase the transparency of aid have become more prominent in recent years. In a series of High-Level Fora about aid effectiveness, donors and partner countries agreed to become more accountable to each other and to make aid more transparent. Stronger accountability mechanisms are expected to have a positive influence on aid effectiveness by incentivising those responsible for implementing development interventions to provide better services.

In general terms, accountability can be defined as ‘‘the means by which individuals and organizations report to a recognized authority (or authorities) and are held responsible for their actions’’ (Edwards / Hulme 1996, 967). Accountability in development cooperation is a complex issue because multiple stakeholders, who are often accountable to many different actors, are involved. While donor agencies are accountable to their governments, parliaments and citizens, as well as to to partner country governments, recipient countries have to account to donor agencies and to their citizens. Recently, there has been a good deal of emphasis on changing the accountability relationship between donors and recipient countries to one based on mutual accountability rather than one based on upwards accountability by the recipient to the donor. One example is the International Aid Transparency Initiative and related efforts, which seek to make information about development cooperation more timely available at the level of individual activities, allowing for more transparency on what donors are supporting in specific countries or areas. However, it is increasingly recognised that aid transparency is only one of many factors affecting accountability relations in development cooperation.

In addition, the multitude of accountability relations can sometimes lead to conflicting demands. For example, the strong accountability needs of donor constituencies may create perverse incentives to bypass developing-country institutions in an effort to seek “value for money” . This reality contrasts with international commitments made to use country systems – i.e. developing countries’ own arrangements and procedures for public sector planning, budgeting and accountability – as the default option for development assistance. In addition, while donor countries may want to communicate the results of their development aid, recipient countries are likely to be reluctant to give donors the credit for development in their countries and may want to attribute the development results to their own policies. In times of a changing aid environment and with respect to the aid effectiveness agenda, it is therefore important that donor agencies shift from attributing results to their own engagement to using country systems and communicating results that are measured and achieved (with their support) by partner countries.

Against the background described above, the academic panel will address the following research questions:

  • Can conflicting accountability demands between donor and recipient countries be reconciled?
  • To what extent are donors accountable to different constituencies in relation to explaining and motivating their choices to focus on specific countries and/or sectors?
  • To what extent have developing country governments taken the initiative in facilitating mutual accountability, and what benefits have these initiatives led to?
  • To what extent do increased donor efforts to communicate development results influence the public’s perception of how development works and what it requires?
  •  To what extent does the current focus on ‘value for money’ and the proactive communication of results to donor constituents affect the sustainability of development cooperation and the promotion of key effective cooperation principles?
  • What experiences have been gained in enabling partner countries be enabled to not only account for and communicate development results to their citizens but also to citizens in donor countries?
  • What lessons can be drawn from developing countries where accountability relations have improved over time? In particular, what do we know about the effects of increased accountability on development effectiveness?