Seeking “conversations for accountability”: Mediating the impact of non-governmental organization (NGO) upward accountability processes

Gloria Agyemang, Brendan O'Dwyer, Jeffrey Unerman, Mariama Awumbila

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The purpose of this paper is to ascertain how upward accountability processes can be enabling in, or constraining to, the effective deployment of development aid funding.

The paper derives its primary insights from in-depth interviews and focus groups with non-governmental organization (NGO) fieldworkers working and delivering development aid in Northern Ghana. It analyses inductively the perspectives of fieldworkers to explain their experiences of upward accountability.

The fieldworkers’ perception of upward accountability was mainly one of external control, in response to which they enacted a skilful form of compliance accountability. This perception of control failed to stifle their initiative and intrinsic commitment to beneficiaries. The fieldworkers craved ‘conversations for accountability’, in which they had a voice in the development of upward accountability metrics, thereby enabling them to fulfil their sense of felt responsibility to beneficiaries. While aspects of ‘conversations for accountability’ were emerging in fieldworker-funder interactions, it was unclear to what extent funders were committed to further advancing them. Overall, our analysis unveils how felt responsibility mediates for, and partly diminishes, the perceived negative impacts on aid effectiveness of upward accountability processes informed by a focus on control.

We 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. We contribute 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. We also unveil the mediating role fieldworkers’ ‘felt responsibility’ to beneficiaries’ plays in moderating the perceived negative impacts on aid effectiveness of upward accountability processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)982-1007
Number of pages26
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2017


  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), NGO accountability, upward accountability, performance measurement, felt responsibility, felt accountability, management control

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