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Disentangling Government Responses: How Do We Know When Accountability Work Is Gaining Traction?

Advocacy for public accountability aims to produce certain reactions from government officials or service providers. However, the reactions can be many and diverse, and it is not always clear to advocates how to interpret them and decide on next steps—whether to intensify efforts or back off; continue the same strategy or make adjustments.

This paper presents a framework to help accountability advocates and practitioners interpret government reactions to their efforts and move forward appropriately. The framework arises from learning and reflection in the context of the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s Strengthening Public Accountability with Results and Knowledge (SPARK) program. SPARK seeks to bolster the collective agency of marginalized communities and coalitions to advance democratic and equitable fiscal governance systems1 that channel public resources to services that address the priority needs of these historically excluded groups. The paper does the following:

  • Unpacks the broad umbrella category of government responses to citizen-led accountability initiatives, discerning within it three overlapping categories of responses, responsiveness, and accountable responsiveness (RRA), and pinpointing what distinguishes them.
  • Maps out the public financial management (PFM) system as the critical conduit for any public service to progress from non-response through these three categories, reflecting the terrain and priorities of the SPARK program and IBP more broadly. Looking at RRA in the context of this PFM map offers key insights for the twin tasks of tracing and unblocking bottlenecks in resource management systems that hinder responsiveness and accountability, as well as demanding specific reforms that make the fiscal governance system more open to citizen engagement.
  • Discusses how the RRA framework can be used to take stock of partial or incremental responses and assess whether change is moving towards accountable governance by reference to the SPARK program and other IBP efforts.

The RRA framework supports accountability-claiming practice by facilitating close attention to the actions of and influences on key government stakeholders, careful interpretation of these, and consequential adjustments to advocacy strategies.

Its implications for monitoring, evaluating, and learning (MEL) from practice are also significant. MEL has been evolving in the accountability field in line with the thinking and practical challenges behind the development of the RRA framework. The framework adds to a range of emerging approaches that support the application theories of change, evidence-based adaptive programming, and politically aware systems thinking in the complex task of building accountable responsiveness towards constituencies historically excluded from public goods and services, and ultimately equitable development outcomes from an intersectional perspective.

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Disentangling Government Responses: How Do We Know When Accountability Work Is Gaining Traction?

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