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 Anuradha Joshi, IDS researcher More details

IDS staff or research student More details

Photo of Dolf te Lintelo More details

Photo of Duncan Edwards, ICTs Innovations Manager 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

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

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

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

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


The Role of External Actors in Supporting Social and Political Action towards Empowerment and Accountability with a Focus on Fragile, Conflict- and Violence-Affected Settings

IDS Working Paper 503 (2017)

This paper explores the role and experience of external actors, particularly donors, in supporting social and political action in fragile, conflict and violence affected settings. More details


Theories of Change for Promoting Empowerment and Accountability in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings

IDS Working Paper 499 (2017)

This paper explores the current state of thinking among a range of aid actors (multilaterals, bilateral, applied scholars and international non-governmental organisations) on how to promote empowerment and accountability in fragile, conflict and violence affected settings. 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

IDS publications on international development research

“Unpicking Power and Politics for Transformative Change: Towards Accountability for Health Equity” Workshop Report

While “accountability” has become an increasingly popular buzzword in health systems debates and health service delivery, it has multiple – and contested – meanings. This is a report of an IDS international workshop which brought together 80-plus activists, researchers, public health practitioners and policy makers who critically examined the forces that shape accountability in health systems, from local to global levels. 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

Front cover of Learning Report

Participatory Monitoring and Accountability and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Learning Report of the Participate Network

Accountability describes the rights and responsibilities that exist between people and the institutions that affect their lives, including government, civil society and the private sector. This report is intended as a learning document, both to record key lessons and important insights from Participate’s Participatory Monitoring and Accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) work, and to prompt and encourage future learning and inquiry for organisations working for transformation and social justice. 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 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 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