People-Powered Accountability

Engaging empowered stakeholders for social change

In the digital age, empowered citizens demand an active role in co-shaping civil society organisations’ (CSO’s) work. This is great news! Stakeholders become partners and the set of skills, capacity and knowledge to achieve collective impact grows.

For CSOs to build on this opportunity however, we must innovate our accountability practice. We need to change focus from compliance-reporting, to inviting people, partners, supporters, staff, and donors to collectively build sustained impact with us.

Together with CSOs across the world Accountable Now wants to build the accountability practice of the future to create value with and not just for stakeholders.

What happened so far?

In 2015 Accountable Now formed a Working Group of Members and Non-Members to innovate civil society’s responsiveness to people and partners for collaborative impact.

Emerging Accountability Paradigm

During a meeting at the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio, the group developed six key principles of an emerging New Accountability Paradigm. The principles are based on case studies of real live scenarios and a comprehensive survey.

CSO Action Guides
The new principles of people-powered accountability informed the development of six CSO Action Guides for Board Members, Strategy Directors, Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operations Officers, Campaign or Programme Directors and HR Directors. The Action Guides advise on how to mainstream responsiveness to stakeholders in daily business.

Blog Series
Throughout 2016 we published blog articles by CSO experts on how to pro-actively engage stakeholders for greater impact.

What comes next?
Together, we will develop an accountability frame, practice, and technological tools that support a shift – from passive reporting, to pro-active engagement of key stakeholders.
Join us in shaping the future of CSO accountability!

What’s the future of accountability?

Our blog discusses strengthening accountability and transparency at the global and national level. In this series we look at positive examples to promote good accountability practice in the civil society sector. Feel free to debate, share and interact.

Sarah has been working in various development-related sectors since 2007, including migration and development, sexual and reproductive health and rights, children’s rights and education. Sarah has vast international experience from Ghana, the Netherlands, South Africa and Norway. Following positions with INGOs (Marie Stopes International, Save the Children), Sarah set up her consultancy firm Osman Advisory Services, offering a wide range of services, and is currently based in Oslo.

To me, CSOs are optimally accountable when they engage and give voice directly to the people they work with. I judge an INGO’s accountability by its ability to give its audience the opportunity to engage more equally in the world and shape outcomes to their benefit.

Meet the Children’s Radio Foundation (CRF). A modern, sleek and vibrant NGO. CRF invites you to spend some time in the world of young people from South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Zambia. Using SoundCloud and Vimeo, you get direct access to information from young people about their views on climate change, sexuality, health and human rights. Not only are we hearing young people’s voices, but we’re getting access to data on what they want and what matters to them.

Oxfam International’s recent announcement that it will begin to move its headquarters to Kenya from 2017is another great example. One of the most tangible ways to be more accountable to clients is to have decision-making bodies right where they are. It is also a tangible way to rectify the power imbalance of whose voice is heard (which, quite frankly, most of us are done with). Oxfam’s closer engagement with home-grown CSOs will not only make it more accountable, but it will in turn help build Oxfam’s own capacity to be more responsive and accountable to its clients.

And in the end, that is really the role of INGOs: the degree to which they are accountable should be measured by their ability to make it possible for their clients to engage more equally in the world. Client voices also serve another important purpose, namely engaging a new group of citizens in the developing countries themselves.

Middle and upper-income citizens in developing countries are largely ignored by INGOs, but they have the human, financial and social capital to drive change and they need to be engaged. By using digital tools and working with home-grown CSOs, INGOs should be looking for new ways to engage these groups, who generally scoff at the out-of-touch nature of development work.


To be accountable, INGOs need to include their clients in a more real way and engage new groups of people in their work towards a better informed and more equal development sector. Let’s not confuse accountability with ‘accounts ability’, and let’s praise NGOs of all sizes who are levelling the playing field and engaging new audiences. Have you come across a great example of how an NGO is ensuring its accountability to its clients recently?