The role of external actors (part of the A4EA programme)

Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) is an international research programme which explores how social and political action can contribute to empowerment and accountability in fragile, conflict, and violent settings, with a particular focus on Egypt, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, Jim Yong Kim, World Bank President, and Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, Finance Minister of Bangladesh at Kutupalong Camp site interaction with Rohingya people in July 2018. Photo: Tanvir Murad Topu / World Bank

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, Jim Yong Kim, World Bank President, and Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, Finance Minister of Bangladesh at Kutupalong Camp site interaction with Rohingya people in July 2018. Photo: Tanvir Murad Topu / World Bank (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)The A4EA programme incorporates 15 international research projects, managed by its seven consortium partners, which have been organised under four themes:

  1. Meanings and Expressions
  2. Pathways to Accountability Bargains
  3. Women’s Social and Political Action
  4. Role of External Actors

The Role of External Actors theme is concerned with the one core question:

What are the best ways for external actors, particularly donors and NGOs, to support internally led social and political actions that lead to greater empowerment and accountability, or to create enabling conditions that contribute to these?

Theme convenors:

Many of the A4EA research projects are addressing this core thematic question in different ways. There are also three specific projects looking in particular at this theme.

1. Adaptive programming for empowerment and accountability

There is much hype and attention given to new models of development programming that are iterative, adaptive and politically grounded – on the assumption and with the hope that they show greater promise than more traditional development approaches.

Evidence of how adaptive programming approaches with empowerment and accountability aims play out in fragile and conflict-affected contexts is however thin on the ground. There is more to explore in relation to how such approaches have been put into practice, what has worked and not worked, the underlying factors that enable their effective implementation, how they contribute to success, and the added value they provide.

This project responds to a a growing appetite for a stronger evidence base for these approaches from donors and practitioners alike, and a growing realisation that adaptive programming also necessitates external actors supporting the development of particular structures to enable the application of these approaches

About the research project

This research project will produce comparative case study evidence that explores experiences of DFID-funded programmes that are designed to use adaptive approaches to work on issues of empowerment and accountability. It will look at the challenges, opportunities and constraints that practitioners – and especially national frontline workers – face in delivering new, innovative, and politically grounded forms of governance programming. Engaging with practitioners throughout, it will aim to pose key questions about how both the evidence base and practice can be deepened in ways that take into account the realities of working in complex places.

Research team


Angela Christie

Melanie Punton

Richard Burge


Duncan Green

Irene Guijt

2. Taking scale into account: strategies for vertical integration and building pro-accountability coalitions

As well as recognising the need to work in more adaptive and less linear ways, increasingly people working to generate greater accountability and responsiveness on the part of authorities are interested in how to ‘connect the dots’ between localised projects, initiatives, and reforms to impact the wider set of decision-making processes that affect people’s lives. This has also been of interest for international donors such as the UK Department for International Development, who have supported many different activities that have sought to join up the efforts of citizens, activists, and reformers across different ‘sites’ of decision-making in fragile and conflict-affected settings. DFID-funded programmes working in this way include, for instance, SAVI in Nigeria, DIALOGO  in Mozambique, and Pyoe Pin in Myanmar.

Together these programmes represent a substantial investment in new ways of working to try to support local actors to pursue opportunities for reform and realise rights and entitlements. The programmes are generating a wealth of data, and many have been the subject of close case studies, but they are now at a stage of evolution and implementation to allow more systematic cross-country comparisons and explore a number of key questions of wider relevance.

About the research project

Through this research project we aim to expand our understanding of how this range of different approaches play out in challenging contexts. Looking across a set of DFID-funded programmes in different countries, the project will draw out comparative findings on the practices of building pro-accountability coalitions across multiple parts of the governance landscape. It will also explore the implications for doing this against the backdrop of the kinds of governance challenges faced by fragile and conflict-affected settings, aiming to inform future programme design and practice and the ways in which these activities can contribute to the evidence base for future action.

Research team


Colin Anderson

John Gaventa

Anu Joshi

Erika Lopez-Franco

Rosemary McGee

Alex Shankland

Accountability Research Center

Jonathan Fox

Daniel Esser

Suchi Pande

3. Pilot assessments of World Bank Citizen Engagement implementation

In 2014, the World Bank launched its Strategic Framework for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group Operations. This sets out clear requirements and expectations that  World Bank programmes need to meet in the ways that they engage with local people throughout their investment cycles – indeed the World Bank President committed the institution to applying this framework to 100 percent of investment projects. Whilst this step is welcome actually implementing the framework in a meaningful way faces a number of challenges. The very limited public data available from the World Bank’s system for monitoring progress indicates the risk of it becoming a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise for project teams, and observers have noted that assessing the quality and impact of greater citizen engagement is significantly under-resourced. These gaps in knowledge and information underscore the policy relevance of independent, bottom-up assessment of actual citizen engagement practices as they have become incorporated in World Bank programmes.

About the research

This project will document and analyse whether and how World Bank projects in the five A4EA focused countries (Egypt, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan) put the strategic framework (Citizen Engagement Strategy) into practice. It will develop a framework to support ‘bottom-up’ assessment of the ways in which Bank-funded projects have operationalised citizen engagement and what this means for the ways in which projects are delivered. Doing so holds the potential to shed some light on the effectiveness of the framework and the particularities of different contexts and different kinds of projects in relation to citizen engagement mechanisms. The assessments completed will inform policy dialogue amongst key stakeholders on how the Bank can take stock of how the strategy is being implemented, and what the next steps for deepening participation in large-scale investments in fragile and conflict-affected settings might be.

Research team

Accountability Research Center

Jonathan Fox

Rachel Nadelman

Key contacts

John Gaventa

Research Fellow and Director, Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) programme

Project details

start date
1 April 2017


About this project