Accountability and transparency initiatives have taken democratisation,
governance, aid and development circles by storm since the turn of the
century. Many actors involved with them – as donors, funders, programme
managers, implementers and researchers – are now keen to know more about
what these initiatives are achieving.
This paper arises from a review of the impact and effectiveness of
transparency and accountability initiatives which gathered and analysed
existing evidence, discussed how it could be improved, and evaluated how
impact and effectiveness could be enhanced. This paper takes the
discussion further, by delving into what lies behind the methodological
and evaluative debates currently surrounding governance and
accountability work. It illustrates how choices about methods are made
in the context of impact assessment designs driven by different
objectives and different ideological and epistemological underpinnings.
We argue that these differences are articulated as methodological
debates, obscuring vital issues underlying accountability work, which
are about power and politics, not methodological technicalities.
In line with this argument, there is a need to re-think what impact
means in relation to accountability initiatives, and to governance and
social change efforts more broadly. This represents a serious challenge
to the prevailing impact paradigm, posed by the realities of
unaccountable governance, unproven accountability programming and
uncertain evidence of impact. A learning approach to evaluation and
final impact assessment would give power and politics a central place in
monitoring and evaluation systems, continually test and revise
assumptions about theories of change and ensure the engagement of
marginalised people in assessment processes. Such an approach is
essential if donors and policy makers are to develop a reliable evidence
base to demonstrate that transparency and accountability work is of real
value to poor and vulnerable people.
McGee, R.; Gaventa, J. Shifting Power? Assessing the Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives. IDS Working Papers (2011) No. 383, 39 pp. ISBN 978-1-78118-039-6
Shifting Power? Assessing the Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives.