CSO Accountability in the Digital Age

Empowered relationships – leveraged impact

The digital opportunity
The digital age fundamentally transforms the way in which people relate to organisations. In the digital age people take a much more active approach to customising and shaping their interactions with organisations, on issues and in regard to outcomes. The rise of the blogosphere in the early 2000’s, open source collaborations in Linux and Wikipedia, digital campaigns’ organisations such as MoveOn and GetUp or social movements like Occupy Wall Street exemplify people’s new engagement model. Key characteristics in all of them are: easy access, personalised in-time communication and taking an active role in co-shaping outcomes. Central to the new engagement practice is that organisations actively invite others to act, connect and contribute to the shared cause. Emerging strategies of civil society organisations (CSOs) building on this paradigm are often called people-powered strategies.

Digit. Acc. Scribing

Challenges to success
While co-creation may seem to be the heyday of civil society accountability to people and partners – it is not necessarily as such in practice. There are still a lot of organisational-centric behaviors, triggered by ambitions around income, brand or board expectations. The recent 2016 Health Check by Bond confirms that: while CSOs are strong on identity and integrity, they are much weaker when it comes to listening and active stakeholder engagement.

The new accountability paradigm
Strong accountability is absolutely key if we want to ensure that people-centric strategies truly succeed. But it is a different type of accountability. It has to go beyond compliance and reporting in order to drive practices and a culture that propels interaction, listening, co-creation and sharing of responsibility for actions and results.

The Digital Accountability project
Together with the Digital Accountability Working Group, the Charter developed the Quick Check Tool which includes succinct questions that measure organisational responsiveness to people and partners. The tool intends to prompt and trigger the right conversations within organisations. The group also put together six case studies to check insights from the Quick Check Tool against real live scenarios in: 350.org, 38 Degrees, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Transparency International.

During a meeting with the Digital Accountability group at the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio, we elicited the following six key principles of the new accountability paradigm:

  1. Radical clarity on the value you add in an environment where support of active people and groups should be at the forefront of CSO work;
  2. Greater transparency: in-time & on-demand – way beyond the annual report;
  3. Clarity on where the CSO is taking a stewardship role to ensure overall integrity and responsibility of the organisation and where people or partners, who are more actively engaged, also share accountability for the outcomes;
  4. Focus on increasing the quality of empowering relationships to people and partners and using that as a success indicator in and of itself;
  5. Collective identification, monitoring and evaluation of impact and;
  6. A smart risk management approach that allows CSOs to let go of control to invite the ownership of others for the common cause while at the same time preserving overall integrity of the organisation.

Case studies
For civil society organisations (CSOs), the digital age offers huge opportunities but poses challenging questions: (i) How to optimally connect to people and partners without losing focus on the mission? (ii) How to balance co-creating change with stakeholders while preserving stewardship? (iii) How to scale-up impact by leveraging people engagement? and (iv) How to manage risk smartly and responsibly within the fast changing digital environment? There is no one size fits all answer to all these questions. But in the below case studies, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, 38 Degrees and Transparency International share with us their insights on how they are starting to address these questions.



Scaling-up impact by leveraging people engagement


Reflections on Greenpeace’s connectivity to people and partners


Opportunities & challenges of co-creation with members


The changing nature of risk management in the digital age

Digital Accountability in Practice

Six CSO Action Guides that guide Board Members, Strategy Directors, Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operations Officers, Campaign or Programme Directors and HR Directors on mainstreaming digital accountability practices in their daily work.

Outcome Report on the New Accountability Paradigm – Learn about the digital opportunity of citizen engagement and the challenges to people-powered work.

Blog for Feedback Labs by Michael Silberman on Creating Change with, not for, People and by Karenina Schröder on Citizen Engagement: What can we Learn from Digital Campaigns Organisations?

Blog series by CSO experts for Disrupt&Innovate: Find out how your organisation will benefit from stakeholder engagement. What does digital accountability mean within an organisational context?

  1. Lauren Woodman, CEO, NetHope: Questions, Reflections and a Step Forward in Supporting Greater Accountability
  2. Virginie Coulloudon, Group Director External Relations, Transparency International & Jed Miller, Digital Strategist, 3Bridges: We Need to “Rotate” the Top-Down Model of NGO Campaigning
  3. Jeremy Osborn, Co-Founder & Operations Director, 350.org: Movement Beyond Membership
  4. Gautam Raju, Lead, Worldwide Influencing Network Digital, Oxfam: Mobilising the World
  5. Eric Gordon, Harvard: Civic Media is the Message

What comes next?
We are advancing the CSO Action Guides and add more functions to the list. Furthermore, we are creating an animated video that illustrates and visualizes the new accountability paradigm.

Digital Accountability Group Bellagio Meeting

CSO Action Guides

Learn how to engage people for greater collective impact as Board Member, Strategy Director, CEO, COO, Campaign and Programme Director & HR Director in our six CSO Action Guides

"These one-pagers are concise but packed with the kind of tangible information for which we are hearing increasing demand. I particularly like how each one-pager ends with specific questions to elicit what people and partners think."

Megan P. Campbell, Research and Learning Manager, Feedback Labs
Read more:

The Outcome Report on the New Accountability Paradigm

Blog for Feedback Labs by Michael Silberman on Creating Change with, not for, People

Blog for Feedback Labs titled: Citizen engagement: What can we learn from digital campaigns organisations?

A synthesis of a survey that we undertook with the Working Group in 2015.

Webinar on CSO Accountability in the Digital Age

In March 2016 we held a webinar aimed at presenting a framework that assesses the extent to which CSOs are good at connecting and co-creating impact in the digital age while acting responsibly.

Have a look at the webinar outcome.