Increasing strategic accountability: a framework for international NGOs

The accountability of international development NGOs (INGOs) has attracted a great deal of interest from academics and development practitioners. INGO accountability falls into two categories: practical accountability (for the use of inputs, the way activities are performed, and for outputs) and strategic accountability for how INGOs are performing in relation to their mission. This paper presents a conceptual framework for exploring INGO accountability. It is based on information collected through a literature review and semi-structured interviews with representatives from 20 UK-based INGOs. The research found that INGOs tend to use a number of quality-assurance mechanisms to achieve ‘practical’ accountability. However, it is suggested that this kind of accountability will not necessarily enable INGOs to achieve their missions to alleviate poverty and eliminate injustice. Furthermore, the predominant use of practical accountability has led to a number of gaps in INGO accountability. It is suggested that, like the term participation before it, accountability has been co-opted for its instrumental benefits to INGO project performance and management. It is argued that if INGOs are to achieve their missions, this will require more ‘strategic’ forms of accountability geared towards fundamentally changing those social, economic, and political structures that promote poverty.