Confronting a coercion logic within nongovernmental organization upward accountability processes  

Gloria Agyemang, Brendan O'Dwyer, Jeffrey Unerman, M. Awumbila

Research output: Working paper


The purpose of this paper is to empirically examine and theorise Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) fieldworkers’ on-the-ground experiences of upward accountability processes.
The paper derives its primary insights from in-depth interviews with NGO fieldworkers working and delivering development aid in Northern Ghana. It makes sense of the fieldworkers’ perceptions by mobilizing the concepts of coercion and enabling (Adler and Borys, 1996) to characterize the upward accountability processes encountered. Particular emphasis is placed on the roles assigned by fieldworkers to the characteristics of flexibility, repair, global transparency, and internal transparency embedded within these accountability processes.

The fieldworkers’ perceptions reveal a predominant coercion logic underpinning upward accountability processes despite evidence of an evolving enabling logic endorsed by funders. These perceptions contribute to a ‘culture of silence’ among fieldworkers when reporting to funders. While fieldworkers actively advocated a combination of coercion and enabling logics to inform upward accountability processes, the predominant coercion logic failed to stifle their initiative and intrinsic commitment. They craved increased reciprocity and internal and global transparency and were stimulated by an overriding sense of felt responsibility towards beneficiaries. This compelled them to work creatively with and around coercive upward accountability processes in order to adapt to local contingencies and seek effective on-the-ground solutions for beneficiaries. Overall, our analysis suggests that this felt responsibility towards beneficiaries mediates for, and partly diminishes, the perceived negative impacts on aid effectiveness of upward accountability processes informed by a coercion logic.

The paper significantly nuances and unpacks the tensions between global control and local flexibility within NGO upward accountability processes. It is one of the few studies to examine the potential of upward accountability processes using in-depth analyses of the actual experiences of those involved in delivering NGO services at the grassroots level. It contributes to emerging work in this vein by enriching our understanding of local constituencies’ experiences of accountability processes more generally, especially the impact these mechanisms have on NGO operational activities. It unveils the mediating role fieldworkers’ felt responsibility to beneficiaries plays in moderating the perceived negative impacts on aid effectiveness of coercive upward accountability processes.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), upward accountability, coercion logic, enabling logic, performance assessment, felt responsibility.

Article Classification:
Research paper

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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