The co-construction of NGO accountability

Brendan O'Dwyer, Roel Boomsma

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This paper aims to deepen and advance our understanding of the construction of accountability within the relationship between government funders and development NGOs (non-governmental organisations).

The paper presents a case study examining the process through which an influential Dutch development NGO, Oxfam Novib, constructed its own accountability while simultaneously seeking to influence shifts in government funder accountability requirements. It enrols a combination of comprehensive archival data on the Dutch government’s financing scheme for NGOs from 1965 to 2012 and in-depth interviews with Oxfam Novib managers and Dutch government officials. The co-evolution in accountability within Oxfam Novib and the government funding scheme is conceptualised using the notions of imposed, felt and adaptive accountability.

The case unveils the dynamics through which accountability within a major government funding scheme for NGOs was co-constructed by Oxfam Novib and the Dutch government’s development aid department. In particular, it reveals how this process was influenced by an internal evolution in Oxfam Novib’s organisational approach to accountability and an institutional context characterised by consensus-based economic and social policy making. The case also unveils the process through which Oxfam Novib’s influence declined as more demanding, narrowly focused government accountability requirements emerged in a setting that was increasingly critical of NGOs.

The paper presents a rare example of a context where development NGOs have proactively sought and secured influence over the accountability demands of a key donor. It is unique in combining consideration of the internal evolution of accountability within an individual NGO (conceptualised as an evolution from felt to adaptive accountability) with a progression in the form of accountability required by governmental funders. The paper unveils the conditions under which NGO-preferred conceptions of accountability may gain (and lose) influence among key funders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-68
Number of pages33
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2015

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