Impact Story

New insights on accountability and empowerment in conflict settings

Published on 18 August 2022

The IDS-led international research programme, Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) concluded in 2021 with a powerful final report, ‘Against the Odds’, which shares new insights on how accountability, governance and citizen empowerment play out differently in fragile and violence-affected settings.

Over its five years in operation, A4EA involved more than 100 researchers and 25 research partners and spanned 22 countries overall, though it was primarily focused on Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and, initially, Egypt. A4EA aimed to explore how social and political action can contribute to empowerment and accountability in settings affected by fragility, conflict, and violence.

The ‘Against the Odds’ report is a showcase of A4EA’s extensive collaboration and learning exchange, drawing on findings from across over 220 programme outputs. One key finding draws on an innovative method, Governance Diaries, developed and rolled out by A4EA working with poor and marginalised communities, which takes a ‘citizen’s-eye’ view of governance relationships.

Innovative ‘citizen’s-eye view’ method widely adopted in policymaking

The Governance Diaries methodology built relationships of trust with marginalised households, documenting experiences of how they expressed grievances and sought accountability, in conflicted-affected parts of Mozambique, Myanmar and Pakistan. Over time, these diaries provided a ‘view from below’ of how citizens interact with authority.

Key to the success of this approach was the researchers’ routine of checking in with more than 160 marginalised households once a month over 12 months. Researchers asked about the issues the people faced, whether they sought help from governance actors, and how these issues were resolved. Partners in Myanmar adapted the approach in the pandemic to pursue ‘Covid diaries’, gauging how restrictions and policies were experienced among communities.

Inspired by the results, at least seven unrelated research projects have adapted the methodology for other issues in six new contexts. For example, the Asian Development Bank has sponsored the use of an approach that draws on the methodology to assess impacts of Covid-19 on young people in Nepal and Indonesia.

Through this innovative approach, researchers discerned significant mistrust in, and fear of authorities among people living in conflict-affected areas. Awareness of this in public policy and development programming is likely to mean interventions will respond better to the real-life complexities that people in these areas experience when accessing services, negotiating ‘gatekeepers’, decision-making and claiming rights.

Charting five years of change

Launched in 2016, the A4EA programme witnessed significant political and economic change and upheaval across its lifespan. Not only the impact of the worldwide pandemic in 2020, but also wholesale change to political leadership following elections (in Pakistan, the UK, the USA) and a military coup (Myanmar) which had major implications for both research and programme operations.

IDS Fellow and A4EA Director Professor John Gaventa explained how, when A4EA was launched, ‘there was an optimism in many places that a governance agenda of transparency, accountability and participation was both growing and making a difference in many parts of the world.

‘Over the five years of our research, the world has changed. Rather than becoming more democratic, with more transparent and accountable institutions, we have seen democratic backsliding, growing authoritarianism and closing civic space. Rather than being fragile exceptions to an otherwise increasingly democratic world, the countries we studied increasingly represent the norm.’

Yet despite the challenging contexts in which it has worked, the A4EA programme has influenced changes in policy and practice in each study country and further afield. Perhaps the less commonly measured results may have the longest legacy – the new skills and insights learned, the relationships and networks built, and the spin-off projects that have emerged.


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