In this rapidly changing world, how to hold powerful actors to account has emerged as a major theme. Yet there are major challenges: development professionals now face a context in which political authority is fragmented, private (non-state) actors play a vital role in providing public services, and the digital transformation is remaking citizen-state relations. The accountability agenda has to evolve to identify the opportunities and challenges these and other changes present. We need to know what accountability should look like in this context, what it can reasonably accomplish, and how it can be enhanced. At IDS, we are exploring these questions with our partners in global policy research networks.


IDS has been at the cutting edge of the accountability agenda for the past 20 years

Our research, advisory work, and professional training has supported a generation of development professionals with highly contextualised knowledge and innovative approaches to enhancing accountability. 

It is hard to overstate the importance of the accountability agenda.

Accountability is crucial to reducing inequality and increasing access of marginalised citizens to essential services, and it is central to fighting corruption and strengthening democratic governance.

And it is hard to imagine meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without substantial gains in accountability.

Our work examines accountability as a process riven by competing interests, forms of power and rights. It looks at different types of accountability – social, legal, and political – and how these can become mutually reinforcing.

We are developing exciting and innovative approaches to understanding accountability in fragile and conflict settings. Scalability of accountability initiatives – from local to national and international, and across sectors – is a major concern of development professionals and a core focus of this work.

Our studies of digital democracy and citizen monitoring explore how power and politics, and culturally specific concepts of accountability, impact on citizen engagement and state responses. These and other insights are guiding our work into how accountability can contribute to achieving health equity, transparency in taxation and effective social protection.

Global research programmes 

Projects with a thematic focus

Photo of Alex Shankland, IDS Research Fellow More details

Photo of Anuradha Joshi, IDS researcher More details

Photo of Dolf te Lintelo More details

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Photo of Erika Lopez-Franco, IDS Participation team Research Officer More details

Photo of Jackie Shaw, Research Fellow in the Participation research cluster More details

Photo of Jo Howard, Research Fellow in the IDS Participation cluster More details

Photo of John Gaventa More details

Photo of IDS researcher, Mariz Tadros More details

Miguel Loureiro photo More details

Photo of Naomi Hossain, IDS Research Fellow More details

Photo of Nick Nisbett, IDS Research Fellow in the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team More details

IDS staff or research student More details

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Accountability for Health Equity Programme

The accountability for health equity programme seeks to strengthen connections between different research and policy communities working on health systems strengthening, building institutions for accountability and translating evidence into policy so they can better inform and learn from one another. The programme will generate, assemble and mobilise evidence and learning that will be used by those funding, designing, planning and implementing strategies. More details

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Research Hub

This project supports and facilitates high-quality research, exchange of ideas, relationship-building and networking among the scholarly and practitioner community working in countering violent extremism (CVE) in Kenya. The CVE Research Hub will serve as a centre of excellence in research on policy, practice and theory in Kenya More details

Food Riots and Food Rights

The objective of this research is to improve the prospects for accountability for food security at a time of volatility. This will be achieved through an exploration of the proposition that recent popular mobilisation around food has activated public accountability for hunger. More details

Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index - HANCI

HANCI measures and ranks governments’ political commitment to reduce hunger and undernutrition on an annual basis. More details

Making All Voices Count

Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development (MAVC) is a four-year $45 million fund to support innovation, scaling-up, and research that will deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness. More details

Participate: Participatory Monitoring and Accountability

The Participatory Monitoring and Accountability (PMA) programme marks a new phase of the Participate initiative. It aims to foster and support PMA learning processes that enable citizen participation for accountability to be embedded in development policy and practice. More details

The Governance of Service Delivery

A new partnership between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and IDS has been formed with the aim of supporting SDC’s ‘Democratisation, Decentralisation and Local Governance Network’ (DLGN) between 2012 and 2014. IDS’ contribution will seek to improve DLGN’s effectiveness and impact of policy strategies and operations. More details

Unequal Voices: The Politics of Accountability for Equity in Health Systems

The Unequal Voices project - Vozes Desiguais in Portuguese - examines the politics of accountability in health systems in Brazil and Mozambique, exploring how accountability can be used to deliver better health services for citizens everywhere. More details


A Strategic Approach to Social Accountability in Pakistan

IDS Working Paper 497 (2017)

This paper explores the progress of the Empowerment, Voice and Accountability for Better Health and Nutrition (EVA) project implemented by Palladium in partnership with the Centre for Communications Programmes Pakistan. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Research Report Pathways to Accountability from the Margins: Reflections of Participatory Video Practices

Pathways to Accountability from the Margins: Reflections on Participatory Video Practice

Two of the central challenges in building accountability for marginalised people are how to reach and meaningfully involve the most excluded, and how to establish the kinds of relationships that mean they can achieve, influence and expect government responsiveness. This report explores asks how participatory video can be adapted and strengthened inclusively engage citizens and foster responses from decision-makers. More details


Accountability in Health Systems and the Potential of mHealth

IDS Working Paper 490 (2017)

The rapid spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs) (and of mobile phones in particular) across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) has generated considerable excitement in development circles regarding their potential to revolutionise service delivery in health systems. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Research Report ICT-facilitated accountability and engagement in health systems: a review of Making All Voices Count mHealth for accountability projects.

ICT-Facilitated Accountability and Engagement in Health Systems: a Review of Making All Voices Count mHealth for Accountability Projects

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and mHealth innovations hold great potential to improve health systems and health outcomes while at the same time enhancing citizen engagement and accountability. Yet there has been little assessment of the impact of mHealth innovations on the ground. More details


The Role of Social and Political Action in Advancing Women’s Rights, Empowerment, and Accountability to Women

IDS Working Paper 488 (2017)

Through the lens of four case studies focused on women’s political participation (Palestine and Sierra Leone), and the passage of domestic violence law (Brazil and South Africa), this paper looks at the role of social and political action in advancing women’s rights. More details

Image of Participate Policy Brief Issue 04

Participatory Accountability for the SDGs: Beyond Social Accountability

People who are most marginalised need to participate in the monitoring and accountability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if the ‘leave no-one behind’ ambition is to be met. Participatory accountability is necessary for their realities to be understood and for their voices to be heard. More details

Image of cover of Participate Policy Brief Issue 03

Using Knowledge from the Margins to Meet the SDGs: The Real Data Revolution

Participate Policy Briefing 3 (2017)

As efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gain momentum, we need to consider the inclusiveness of the data revolution. Knowledge from people living on the margins of society needs to be recognized, valued and embedded in the data to make visible the complex realities of their lives. More details

This is the front cover from MAVC Practice Paper Building an Ecosystem Around Data: Using Interactive Radio for Accountability to Farmers in Tanzania

Building an Ecosystem Around Data: Using Interactive Radio for Accountability to Farmers in Tanzania

This practice paper discusses research by Farm Radio International to assess the effectiveness of one of its projects, the Listening Post, and to examine its potential as a tool for the adaptive management of agricultural programmes. The Listening Post combines specialised interactive radio broadcasts with in interactive voice response tool created for gathering and analysing feedback and questions from audience members. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Research Report Shifting the Spotlight: Understanding Crowdsourcing Intermediaries in Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

Shifting the Spotlight: Understanding Crowdsourcing Intermediaries in Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

This report highlights the ideas and practices that underlie the work of crowdsourcing intermediaries: actors who collect and analyse citizen feedback using digital platforms, and use it to support positive change. Most studies of crowdsourcing initiatives in the transparency and accountability field are primarily concerned with representation (whose voice is being heard?) and impact (what kind of change is being supported?). More details

This is the front cover to the Making All Voice Count (MAVC) summary, 'Taking scale into account in transparency and accountability initiatives'.

Taking Scale into Account in Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

Research Report Summary (2016)

This research summary is based on one section of a longer research paper by Jonathan Fox. Both the summary and the paper have been co-produced by the Empowerment and Accountability Research Programme – led by the Institute of Development Studies and funded by UK aid from the UK government –and Making All Voices Count. More details


The Contribution of Digital Technology to Citizenship, Accountability and Rights: An Evidence Review

IDS Evidence Report 208 (2016)

The use of digital technologies has risen dramatically in the past century, building excitement among governments and technology experts about applying technology to improve accountability, transparency and the effectiveness of authorities. More details


Social Accountability in Big Cities: Strategies and Institutions in Delhi and São Paulo

IDS Working Paper 471 (2016)

There are signs that public services can improve in big cities when the urban poor hold providers directly accountable – what we now call social accountability. We do not know, however, to what extent the urban poor, through their civil society groups, engage in forms of social accountability nor what strategies they use. More details

IDS publications on international development research

What Have We Learned About Taxation, Statebuilding and Accountability?

ICTD Summary Brief 4 (2016)

This ICTD Summary Brief looks at what has been learned about taxation, state-building and accountability during the Centre's first five-year funding period, ending Spring 2016. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Working Paper How Useful are RCTs in Evaluating Transparency and Accountability?

How Useful are RCTs in Evaluating Transparency and Accountability?

A paper published by the Research, Evidence and Learning component of Making All Voices Count sheds light on existing evidence about the Random Controlled Trials (RCTs) in the evaluation of social accountability tools in service delivery. Where and under what conditions might RCTs be the most appropriate approach? What other evaluation approaches would be more effective, more robust, given the particular characteristics of T&A programmes? More details

This is the cover for IDS Bulletin 45.5, 'Localising Governance'.

Reading the Local Context: A Causal Chain Approach to Social Accountability

There is a general consensus that ‘context’ matters for development outcomes, yet we have little understanding of how exactly ‘context’ affects outcomes. This paper focuses on the question of ‘context’ in social accountability initiatives by separating macro and micro contextual factors. More details

Bulletin 33.3 front cover

The New Politics of Taxation and Accountability

IDS Bulletin 33.3 (2002)

Why the title 'New politics of taxation'? What then were the 'old'? This Bulletin discusses the increasing prominence of taxation issues on policy and political agendas in developing countries. More details

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Shaking Accountability in Mexico

12 Oct 2017
By Erika Lopez Franco

Naming the moment

04 Oct 2017
By Erica Nelson

Seven challenges for accountability 2.0

28 Sep 2017
By Anuradha Joshi

Tweaking or transforming? Dancing around power and accountability

13 Sep 2017
By Godelieve van Heteren, David Clarke, Maryam Bigdeli

Towards accountability for health equity

18 Jul 2017
By Denise Namburete, Vera Coelho, Alex Shankland, Gerry Bloom
< previous 1 2 next >