The elusive quest for the golden standard: Concepts, policies and practices of accountability in development cooperation

Renée Speijcken & Wieger Bakker


Promoting public accountability plays an ever increasing role in the recent discourse on development cooperation. It is said to encourage a more efficient use of public funds, to decrease corruption, add to more legitimate, responsive and democratic institutions including government and therefore to enhance aid effectiveness (OECD/DAC, 2005). To realize these ideals, a wide range of stakeholders, from international institutions, national governments to International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), unite in their elusive quest for the golden standard to promote public accountability in their policies. More accountability seems to have become the universal cure for all democratic deficits and ineffective policies in developing countries. However, in contrast to their high expectations, accountability promotion policies have not yet delivered the expected results. This paper seeks to understand why this has been the case by analysing the current state of affairs of promoting public accountability in development cooperation with a focus on donor interventions and particularly on the interaction between donors' concepts, policies and practices. We start by exploring how accountability gained importance in development cooperation and what the underlying development paradigms, ideologies and concepts were. A multilevel governance framework is established in which four key interrelated accountability relationships are identified and examined that characterize accountability in development cooperation. The paper proceeds by exploring the main types of donor practices in accountability promotion and discusses their effects. It introduces a new perspective on assessing donor policies and practices to understand the mismatch between expectations and result from which conclusions and recommendations for future aid interventions and for further research in the area of promoting public accountability are formulated.

Keywords: public accountability, development cooperation, multi-level governance, evidence based approaches