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Accountability is an elusive concept, but understanding where it originates can help citizens find ways to hold governments accountable.
In the narrowest sense, accountability is equated with answerability; it refers to the obligation to give an account of one’s action to particular individuals, groups, or organizations. However, in a world where public administrators increasingly operate in intergovernmental networks and global coalitions, deciphering what constitutes accountability in public management has become a challenging task.
One of the simplest ways to unravel the mystery of accountability for public administrators is to trace back to the root sources; and examine how it unfolds across varying levels to affect governmental decision-making.
If you are about to visit an organization engaged in international development assistance and are unsure of the reception you will receive, a surefire way exists to win over your hosts: tell them you believe that four principles are crucial for development—accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion. Your hosts will almost certainly nod enthusiastically and declare that their organization in fact prioritizes these very concepts. This holds true whether you are visiting a bilateral or multilateral aid agency, a foreign ministry engaged in development work, a transnational NGO, a private foundation, or any other type of group engaged in aid work. The ubiquity of these four concepts in the policy statements and program documents of the aid world is truly striking–they have become magic words of development.
The global community faces an epic governance and accountability challenge: the big banks that we all use either directly or indirectly are out of control and nobody seems to know what to do about them. As we mark the fifth anniversary of the global financial crisis this month, it appears as if every new week brings news of a fresh banking scandal. The recent list:
With the growing number of journalism training programs being conducted in the developing world, it would be interesting to know how these programs are designed and assessed. For instance, are they focusing on the right success factors? Are they comprehensive or strategic enough? As stated by Shanthi Kalathil in her how-to-guide on media development, “a program that plunks down a sum of money for ‘training journalists’ then measures success by the number of journalists trained is unlikely to have a substantive impact.” Instead, she recommends piecing together a series of programmatic activities shaped by strategic insight into the country’s media sector. This is precisely what the World Bank’s Governance Team in Zambia did with an investigative journalist training program in Zambia.
The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economists (ABCDE) took place last week here at the World Bank (May 7-8, 2012). I registered and attended key sessions because of the unusual focus of the conference: Accountability and Transparency for Development. I say unusual because it is still unusual for economists focusing on international development to take those topics seriously. The impression one had was that topics of that kind were not ‘hard’ enough, and were on the ‘soft’, touchy-feely, tree-hugging side of development. The impression was confirmed in the course of the conference itself as speaker after speaker referred to research being done on these topics as part of the ‘cutting edge’ of development economics.
We've already blogged about the release of our new publication, Developing Independent Media As An Institution of Accountable Governance, but we wanted to let people know that the PDF is now up and available for download here. Previously, the full version was available online but not for download; hopefully, this will now make the toolkit more accessible, particularly in areas without reliable broadband access.
We've had some good reactions so far to the toolkit, and hope that it'll continue to prove useful to the broader policy and practitioner community working on issues of good governance, voice and accountability. We welcome additional constructive feedback; please comment here or feel free to email me directly at email@example.com