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The improbability of accountability of nongovernmental organisations to their intended beneficiaries: the case of ActionAid

Walsh, Sinead Brenda (2014) The improbability of accountability of nongovernmental organisations to their intended beneficiaries: the case of ActionAid. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This dissertation examines what happens when NGOs attempt to implement systems to improve their accountability to intended beneficiaries. While NGO accountability is widely discussed in the literature, there has been very little work done on how accountability systems operate in practice. My dissertation aims to address this important gap by providing a detailed case study of one NGO’s initiative in this area using qualitative empirical data. The data relate to the ‘best case’ example of ActionAid, an NGO that has made substantial, high-profile efforts to improve its downward accountability since 2000 through its Accountability Learning and Planning System (ALPS). The case study reconstructs the evolution of ALPS and examines efforts to implement it, both at international level and within a single country setting: Uganda. The data reveal the obstacles which have hindered ActionAid in its attempts to strengthen its downward accountability. Despite positive rhetoric around ALPS and downward accountability, my findings indicate a significant disjuncture between intentions and actual outcomes. Key factors causing this disjuncture include the benefits that the organisation can reap from an appearance of downward accountability, such as enhanced external legitimacy, even if this does not reflect reality. More broadly, my case study suggests that disjuncture between aims and actual practices is a necessary feature of how NGOs function in the aid sector, in terms of accountability and also in other areas. What then can NGOs do to attempt to overcome the negative implications of disjuncture and improve their relationships with intended beneficiaries? My central recommendation is for NGOs to reflect and to recognise their tendencies to promote disjuncture, such as when they over-state achievements to donors. Frank assessments of the actual status of an NGO’s relationships with communities and of the limitations caused by the NGO’s funding structures are important steps to improving these relationships.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Sinead Brenda Walsh
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Lewis, David

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