Understanding and Operationalizing Accountability Ecoystems

(This summary was prepared by the event organizers.)

On December 16th, 2016, with threats to democratic checks and balances on the rise worldwide, Root Change, Chemonics, Global Integrity, and the International Budget Partnership hosted an event at the OpenGov Hub: Understanding and Operationalizing an Accountability Ecosystems Approach.

We aimed to do three things:

  • Provide an introduction to the conceptual framework underpinning accountability ecosystems;

  • Introduce the audience to a few examples of how practitioners in different contexts are already engaging with those concepts;

  • Engage session participants in reflecting on and further exploring the features and implications of an ecosystems approach.

 

We began the session with a few short presentations on accountability ecosystems, and how our organizations are trying to operationalize an ecosystems approach in our work.

  • Brendan Halloran of IBP gave a broad introduction to the Accountability Ecosystems concept, describing how it came from a need to go beyond simpler formulations of transparency + participation = accountability.  Approaches based on an ecosystem understanding are driven by deeper mapping and analysis of the power dynamics inherent in accountability relationships, and emphasize multiple, complementary tools and tactics necessary to navigate and strengthen formal and informal accountability actors and mechanisms.    

  • Evan Bloom shared two approaches developed by Root Change to understand and support coordination of systemic accountability efforts. Using local systems analysis, accountability actors can visualize and discover influential relationships among themselves and the mechanisms they work to strengthen. With this rich information in hand, actors then monitor how their advocacy actions relate to accountability outcomes using advocacy strategy matrices.

  • Michael Moses briefly described the general contours of Global Integrity’s adaptive learning approach, and discussed how rapid, focused experiments can seed learning and adaptation that strengthen successful outcomes in complex systems (presentation here)

  • Veenita Emehelu of Chemonics discussed the programmatic considerations for putting the accountability ecosystems approach into practice. She highlighted learning from five Chemonics civil society programs on how to foster accountability ecosystems, including: investing the time and resources to map and analyze accountability actors; going beyond the “standard package” of civil society support; nurturing and coaching ecosystem relationships; and ensuring grants are flexible and agile.

 

In the small group discussions that followed our initial framing and presentations (powerpoints for which can be accessed here), we quickly realized that, in order to consider whether/how to take an ecosystems approach, it was essential to first address the many constraints that limit the ability of practitioners to do so. Participants from organizations such USAID, Chemonics, and the World Bank, as well as others, discussed the ways in which traditional approaches to development work - top-down, project-driven, logframe-bound - checked the extent to which they could act on or dig into ecosystems approaches.

It became clear that, if we’re to better understand the concepts and implications of ecosystems approaches, and to make an effective case for their application, we need to dig deeper - both into our own experiences and thinking, and into how others in the field are engaging with these issues. So in the coming weeks, Root Change, Chemonics, Global Integrity, and IBP will be doing further exploration - with a view towards examining and articulating even more clearly our own approaches, and their strengths and weaknesses.

How are you operationalizing ecosystems approaches? What questions do you have? What issues are you and your colleagues grappling with in your efforts to engage with the systems in which you work? We’d love to hear from you - shoot your questions to us on twitter, or join us on this listserv, and we’ll do our best to address them as we continue exploring.

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