Working Paper

IDS Working Paper 536

How Do Donor-led Empowerment and Accountability Activities Take Scale into Account? Evidence from DFID Programmes in Contexts of Fragility, Conflict and Violence

Published on 3 April 2020

Development donors invest significantly in governance reform, including in contexts characterised by conflict and fragility. However, there is relatively little comparative study of their change strategies, and little understanding of what works and why.

This paper explores the strategies of six recent DFID-funded programmes in Mozambique, Myanmar, and Pakistan with empowerment and accountability aims, based on interviews and workshops with practitioners and review of documentation and evaluation evidence. It examines strategies adopted that deliberately tried to join up action across a number of sites and institutions or organisations – which we call multi-scalar or multi-level strategies. These approaches have been shown to be important in other cases. Three common strategies were identified; attempts to aggregate citizen demands and preferences upwards into decision-making systems, link civic organisations at the grassroots with sub-national and national level civil society activism and lobbying, and create linkages and networks horizontally across geographies. Using these strategies were in part a response to common complexities of citizen-state relationship in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Analysis of how these strategies played out across the programmes and were linked to their reported outcomes suggests that they can strengthen citizens’ ability to navigate governance systems to resolve problems and claim accountability. They also seem to bolster pro-accountability coalitions’ internal solidarity and external legitimacy. Multi-level strategies also appear associated with establishing more significant pressure for reform than exclusively local or national approaches.

There is significant potential in these programmes to learn more about when and how these approaches work, and to share this knowledge with others. For this learning to happen, however, there needs to be a shift in incentives towards greater transparency and rigorous assessment of outcomes. Conventional project reporting focuses on counting activities and outputs rather than really analysing the dynamic, interactive processes at work in these strategies. Evaluations were rarely publicly accessible, if they were undertaken. There were significant sources of evidence that were under-utilised. To fully understand what kinds of action strengthen citizen demands for accountability in complex places requires a more robust approach to learning from donor-led governance interventions.

Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) research programme

This paper was produced as part of the A4EA research programme.

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Anderson, C.; Fox, J. and Gaventa, J. (2020) How Do Donor-led Empowerment and Accountability Activities Take Scale into Account? Evidence from DFID Programmes in Contexts of Fragility, Conflict and Violence, IDS Working Paper 536, Brighton: IDS

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Image of Colin Anderson
Colin Anderson

Research Officer

Image of Jonathan Fox
Jonathan Fox

Honorary Associate

Image of John Gaventa
John Gaventa

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

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