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

Check out videos from our Accountability YouTube Playlist

  1. What one factor affects your work on social accountability? Extract from our panel session at the GPSA 2017
  2. Five challenges to work on accountability in fragile, conflict and violent settings - Anu Joshi speaking in this extract from our panel session at the GPSA 2017
  3. Four challenges to World Bank support for social accountabiltiy - Helen Grandvoinnet speaking in this this extract from our panel session at the GPSA 2017
  4. Why Vertical Integration Matters for Social Accountability? Jonathan Fox, from the Accountability Research Centre / American University, speaking at IDS.
  5. Accountability for Health Equity: Power, Politics and Transformative Change - More than 80 activists, researchers, public health practitioners and policymakers gathered at IDS in July 2017 to critically examine the forces that shape accountability in health systems, from local to global levels.
  6. The Quest for Citizen-led Accountability - a one day research workshop IDS in April 2015, in partnership with the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) and the Transparency Accountability Initiative (TAI).
Photo of Alex Shankland, IDS Research Fellow More details

Photo of Alex Shankland, IDS Research Fellow More details

Photo of Anuradha Joshi, IDS researcher More details

IDS staff or research student More details

Photo of Dolf te Lintelo More details

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

Jonathan Fox Director Accountability Research Center. 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

Photo of Rosemary McGee More details

Photo of Shandana Mohmand More details

Accountability for Health Equity Programme

Since the publication of the 2004 World Development Report a range of different attempts have been made to make the design, prioritisation and delivery of health services more accountable to different stakeholders. However, complex politics and power dynamics can limit or skew people's abilities to access services or hold them to account, particularly for poor and marginalized people. More details

Capacity Building for Smart Data and Inclusive Cities (SDIC)

The “Capacity Building for Smart Data and Inclusive Cities” (SDIC) project aims strengthen technical and institutional capacities by working directly with municipal authorities participating in the Smart Cities Mission in four secondary cities in India: Bhopal and Jabalpur (in Madhya Pradesh) and Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi (in Kerala). More details

Citizen Engagement Programme (CEP)

An empowerment and accountability programme aimed at improving the quality of health and education services in Mozambique. 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

Democratisation, Decentralisation, Local Governance: IDS-SDC Collaboration

The aim of this third phase of cooperation between IDS and SDC is to share learning and collaborate on policy engagement in priority areas of decentralised and democratic local governance. More details


IDS is the external monitoring, evaluation and learning partner for Diálogo, a programme which aims to contribute to improved governance and accountability for Mozambican citizens. 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

Linking Participation and Economic Advancement

In this project, IDS will draw upon and expand its rich experience at the forefront of thinking about participation in development, and our emerging work at the intersection of participation and markets. We will co-create along with the Economic Advancement Program (EAP) at the Open Society Foundations (OSF), a deeper understanding of participation in economic advancement in general, as well as how EAP can bring participatory approaches into its own practice. 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

Meanings and Expressions of Empowerment and Accountability (part of the A4EA programme)

This research theme, under the Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) Research Programme, is concerned with the meanings of empowerment and accountability from the point of view of the people’s experiences and perceptions, and this in turn means for collective action. More details

National Health Systems From a Comparative Perspective: Studies of Local, Regional and Participatory Management (Decentralisation, Participation and Equity in the English NHS)

This study examines the Brazilian National Health System (SUS) in comparison with the National Health Service (NHS) in England, in order to develop proposals for reform towards an effective, universal, quality health system in Brazil. 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

Pathways to Accountability Bargains (part of the A4EA research programme)

This research theme, under the Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) Research Programme, is concerned with the following question: how can stable and inclusive political settlements (among elites) and a just social contract (between elites and different social groups) emerge that are based on accountable and responsive institutions? 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

The Role of External Actors (part of the A4EA research programme)

This theme supports the programme in addressing: What are the best ways for external actors, such as donors, NGO’s etc., to support internally led social and political actions or to create enabling conditions that contribute to empowerment and accountability?’ More details

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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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Two lessons for early involvement of stakeholders in research

14 Nov 2017
By Obasanjo Joseph Oyedele, Martin Atela, Ayo Ojebode

Adaptiveness through ‘simplest tools and practices’

13 Nov 2017
By Pedro Prieto Martin

Pakistani politics: where are the women?

17 Oct 2017
By Ayesha Khan

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