Photo credit: CDC
By Misha Goforth, MIPP
Working with the results-based management unit of UNDP Cambodia for the last few months has been a great learning experience and has allowed me to stretch my skills in data management, coordination and analysis. In my last blog, I focused on the importance of results-based management in monitoring and evaluations, and on why it’s a really exciting area of work. This time I want to talk a bit more on its importance and how it contributes to a key part of international development work – accountability.
Accountability is a critical element of the international development sector for a few reasons. And keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, just a few things that come to mind when I am doing my work. Firstly, the international development sector holds a lot of power and influence across the world. A lot of funding comes in from foreign actors (sometimes governments, sometimes private foundations, etc.) for programs that are implemented in developing regions. Because of this power dynamic, it’s really important that program donors, planners and implementers are kept accountable to the citizens and governments of the regions in which programming is implemented to ensure that programming contributes to local needs and wants, rather than advancing foreign desires and interests in these regions.
Secondly, international development programming, though often planned at a high level and sometimes in rooms far removed from the areas where they will be implemented, directly impacts the daily lives of regular, oftentimes marginalized, people. While good practice would have program-beneficiaries involved in planning and implementation, there is still a power dynamic involved in this relationship that is unavoidable in our current system. For this reason, there must be a system to ensure that program donors, planners and implementers are accountable to the people who may be affected, either positively or negatively, by programming. So, for example, if an economic support program ends up disrupting local markets or if a conservation program has a negative impact on local indigenous populations, that impact must be documented in order that fallouts can be remedied and reparations can be made, and so that future programming can avoid such an impact.
A third reason is that program planners and implementers must be accountable to donors in how they use funds. This is a really important part of the system, but this often goes without saying and is often the center focus around which monitoring and evaluation frameworks are designed. The other two areas I mentioned are sometimes seen as secondary in discussions of accountability. This fact is not surprising and it’s not nefarious; pretty simply, a lot of money moves around in this sector and funders want to know that rules are being followed and expectations are being met. So that level of accountability is a given.
For me, accountability to stakeholders and beneficiaries has been at the forefront of my mind when working on RBM and during my previous experience working directly in program implementation. And from a technical standpoint as well, it’s in this area that the potential for innovation is so exciting – imagine how we could improve effectiveness and efficiency in programming if we found a way to put this form of accountability at the centre of our work. Here, programming becomes more responsive to local needs, wants and priorities. We could even address some of the power imbalances that are inherent to our work, and see new voices involved in programming.
In this sector, you often hear the words “working yourself out of a job”, because essentially program results should eventually solve problems and eliminate the need for any future programming. Embedding this form of accountability into our programming may just be the key to that.