Accountability of development NGOs is often seen - in the first place - as an obligation to donors. This translates in doing accountability by producing financial and narrative reporting. This documentary challenges this assumption. It shows that the practice of accountability is first of all part of a process of empowerment. In terms of communication, we also wanted to deal with the idea of accountability in an innovative way, given that accountability is a subject on which the debate is mainly written, academic, and quite disembedded from practice.
The video was shot in four of the areas in which ActionAid works in Bangladesh (the districts of Panchbibi, Faridpur and Kurigram and the Mohammadpur slum in Dhaka) and in the ActionAid office in Rome.
A first step is to share information openly and proactively with partner CBOs and, through them, to the community members. Familiarity with budget and finance issues, for example, leads them to demand more accountability on community expenditure – as shown in Panchbibi. Similarly, to be accountable NGO must be able to justify their choices: the best way to make appropriate ones is to give people living in poverty the tools to analyze, understand and change their conditions – as shown in Faridpur. This applies not just to the planning phases but also to the review ones, when they can question the work done and identify appropriate adjustments – as shown in Mohammadpur. Practising accountability with ActionAid and its partner CBOs gives citizens the confidence to demand the same accountability to local authorities and institutions – as shown through the community audit carried out by the community members in Kurigram.
If accountability is practiced primarily towards the so called “beneficiaries”, all the other NGO accountabilities (to donors, supporters, staff …) will be stronger, since they’re validated by those in whose name the NGO acts. Similarly, all the NGO work – from fundraising to campaigning and lobbying – would benefit of a stronger legitimacy, since it is built around their demands and not defined by the NGO headquarters.
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The processes described in the video are drawn on the principles settled by ALPS – the Accountability Learning and Planning System of ActionAid: accountability, learning, transparency, power sharing and women’s rights. ALPS is an innovative system promoted by ActionAid to simplify planning and reporting processes, making them more significant.
The processes shown are all based on the active participation of those involved in the projects, who are given all the tools and information necessary in order to become true partners of the project and not mere recipients/beneficiaries. This implies a different understanding of accountability that puts the “project beneficiaries” at the centre of the process. This shift in perspective and approach requires ActionAid and the local partner NGOs to accept to give up part of their power and be questioned by the citizens they’re working with. This trustful relationship is the basis for true empowerment: citizens become more and more aware of their rights and more confident in making demands and question decisions that affect them, practising accountability with ActionAid and local NGOs first. This – once transferred to the relation with local authorities and institutions – helps fostering a broader rights-based and accountability culture, which is the building block of a better governance.
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