Specialist short course

Rethinking AccOuntability Strategies for a Changing World

How do citizens hold authorities to account? This short course will help you understand the strategies of citizen-led accountability, and how to improve the design, legitimacy and appeal of your accountability-claiming work in the context of international development.

In an era where trust in governments seems to be diminishing around the world, leaders appear to act with impunity and public services often don’t reach the people for whom they are intended, the need to promote accountability of public authorities is as important as ever. Over the last decade or more, the focus on accountability strategies by a variety of actors – civil society, donors, researchers – has produced a great deal of knowledge from which we can learn.

However, as accountability work has gained traction so too has the world been changing, with democratic backsliding, closing civic space, the growth of misinformation and other pressures affecting how citizen-led efforts to hold powerful actors to account will play out.

In this course you will join other participants engaged in designing, supporting, or delivering accountability strategies in learning how to navigate the challenges of the new terrain. Our courses attract participants from around the world with a wide range of experience: from donors, NGO staff, grassroots activists and members of government, allowing you to take advantage of skills and knowledge sharing with international development peers.

Drawing from case studies and the most recent research across multiple sectors, and guided by experienced resource people, you will learn lessons from existing accountability strategies, deepen your understanding of the power dynamics in these efforts, and learn how to draw from the broader ecosystem of social and political actions currently being used.

IDS is uniquely placed to offer the most up-to-date and cutting-edge research on accountability, from leading academics specialising in this area.

Course aims

To equip you with the tools to design, support or implement strategies that enable ordinary or marginalised citizens to seek greater accountability from individuals or institutions holding power.  

You will share mutual learning and make connections with a broad range of other accountability practitioners, enabling you to develop your own approaches. 

Who should attend

Donors and programme designers, civil society practitioners and leaders, government officials, social and civic tech innovators, engaged researchers and evaluators interested in accountability solutions from a range of sectors, including the delivery of health and education and other services, environment, gender and economic justice, climate change, electoral reform, among others.

How you'll learn

Our online programme combines lectures, webinars, readings, inputs from practitioners, case studies, group work, and presentations.

Through the course, you will each design and develop an accountability intervention to help to address issues or challenges you are facing in your own context or on your own issue. The approach will involve small group discussion in support of this goal.

The course will run over five weeks starting on Monday 23 January and finishing on Monday 20 February 2023. Webinars and study groups will take place on Mondays and Tuesdays between 12:30 and 14:30 UK GMT and 13:00 – 14:30 UK GMT respectively.

Sessions will be delivered on Mondays and Tuesdays in Weeks 1-4 and on Monday only in Week 5 when it runs from 12:30-16:00 UK GMT. A pre-course induction, to introduce the digital learning platform and help you with any technical queries, will take place before the course begins. Each week will involve a webinar with a lecture or presentation from key researchers and experienced practitioners, with opportunities for group discussion and debate. The outline of the contents that will be taught each week is provided below:

Week 1

  • outline briefly the history of the concept of accountability in development
  • map some general strategies found in the A4EA programme and other research
  • develop more clarity on key terms and terminologies
  • discuss the particular challenges of building accountability strategies in context of receding democracy and closing civic space
  • discuss overall principles to think about when designing an accountability intervention

Week 2

  • summarise the current state of knowledge as to which conditions and design aspects contribute to success
  • offer a conceptualization of accountability as shifting power relate features of many contemporary accountability-claiming settings – closing civic space, authoritarian governance, violent conflict – to the arguments for ‘strategic’ accountability approaches given the difficulties of shifting power in those settings

Week 3

  • outline formal and informal channels of seeking accountability
  • explore use of unruly politics for accountability
  • offer a way to understand accountability regimes and positive synergies

Week 4

  • explore how accountability programs can be designed to have linkages across scale and geographies
  • offer a summary of the building blocks of accountability
  • develop clarity on mapping and measuring outcomes of accountability programs
  • apply ideas of flexibility, adaptation and ‘doing development differently’ to accountability-oriented programs

For the study group session each Tuesday, you will be assigned to a facilitator along with a small group, with whom you will also be able to keep the conversation going via a dedicated online channel throughout the course. Study groups will involve the review of suggested readings, individual reflection and the application of think tools to unpack case studies, with guidance and support from the assigned facilitator.

Participation in the course will require six to eight hours of your time per week. The course has been designed to allow you to work as flexibly as possible but three and a half hours per week will be made up of scheduled sessions at fixed times. Reading materials, along with a comprehensive workbook, will be made available in advance.

Learning outcomes

After completing this course you will be able to: 

  • Understand the key theories underpinning the concept of accountability in the context of international development, and how to put them into practise
  • Critique existing accountability strategies and interrogate evidence for what works
  • Describe and analyse implications of the emerging challenges of democratic backsliding and closing space for accountability strategies
  • Apply a series of accountability strategies across different issues and contexts
  • Articulate a more complete understanding of, or better-developed solution to, the particular accountability-related question, issue or problem which you are facing
  • Conceptualise and design more effective interventions on your particular issue or in your context 

Key information

From 23 January 2023 until 20 February 2023

Apply now

Secure your place on this course

Complete the online application form

Key contacts

Core teaching team

Image of John Gaventa

John Gaventa

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

Image of Rosemary McGee

Rosemary McGee

Research Fellow

Image of Alex Shankland

Alex Shankland

Research Fellow

Image of Colin Anderson

Colin Anderson

Research Officer

Image of Niranjan J. Nampoothiri

Niranjan J. Nampoothiri

Research Officer

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