Sunday, 9 December 2007

The meaning of accountability

Here's a classic article on the meaning of 'accountability' as it applies to a range of players in world politics.

Grant and Keohane argue that forms of accountability of an institution can be split between
  1. Participation: performance is evaluated by people affected by use of power by the institution
  2. Delegation: performance is evaluated by people entrusting the institution with power
The authors identify three components of accountability: standards, sanctions and information. It is difficult to pinpoint the use of any of these components when it comes to international development NGOs. Neither the poor nor donors effectively hold them to account.

Institutional mechanisms are particularly weak in terms of information:
Crucial to the efficacy of an information system for controlling abuses of power is that control over it not be limited to power-wielders and the entities that originally authorized their actions. On the contrary, the system should be open to new groups, seeking to provide information relevant to the question of whether power-wielders are meeting appropriate standards of behavior—–and to make that information widely available...Furthermore, the costs of providing information through web sites are now so low that it is difficult to use cost or inconvenience as an excuse; people around the world are increasingly used to being able to get the information that they want almost instantaneously...NGOs must also be increasingly transparent if they are to remain credible.

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