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

This short course combines lecture inputs, inputs from practitioners, and small group work on case studies, reflecting on reading material, and applying the ideas shared.

During the course, you will 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, and a presentation to share your conclusions with other participants.

The course will run over five consecutive days. A variety of resources will be shared for preparation and for you to engage with across the week.

Each day  will involve some key inputs from researchers and experienced practitioners, and opportunities for whole group discussion and debate.

Participants will also work in smaller study groups to review suggested readings,  and apply think tools to selected case studies and to their own project, with guidance and support from facilitators.

Our provisional aims across the week are to:

Day 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

Day 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

Day 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

Day 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.

Day 5

  • summarise the learning and key points across the week
  • hear about the projects that each participant has designed
  • consider our key takeaways for the policies and practices related to accountability system and accountability claiming by citizens

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

In person or online

Register your interest

Email the short courses team

Key contacts

Core teaching team

John Gaventa

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

Rosemary McGee

Power and Popular Politics Cluster Lead

Alex Shankland

Research Fellow

Colin Anderson

Research Officer

Niranjan J. Nampoothiri

Research Officer

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