By: Blair Glencorse, Executive Director.

Today, the Accountability Lab turns 5 years old. What better way to celebrate a birthday than to reflect on what we’ve done, think about what we’ve learned, and spell out where we’re going in a new strategy?! We’re proud of this new roadmap, which has grown out of a lot of hard work in West Africa and South Asia, hundreds of conversations with other organizations and individuals working in this space and significant field and desk research into accountability eco-systems to understand where we can add the most value.

This refresh comes at an important time- global political dynamics and our own experience demonstrate that the need for new and more effective efforts to build accountability are more necessary than ever, everywhere. The problem is that it remains very difficult for citizens- particularly those most socially, economically and politically excluded- to make people in power more responsible.

Building accountability is a long and complex process, but externally-led efforts to do so tend to be projectized and short-term. They also support, on the whole, established organizations rather than understanding that accountability is built through support for individuals who can take advantage of windows of opportunity for accountability and will move back and forth across organizations and institutions over time.

Many tools for accountability are driven by available funding streams- meaning these initiatives often lack sustainability and ownership. And not nearly enough effort is put into bringing initiatives together into multi-level eco-systems- so the opportunity is missed to transform disparate projects into a larger whole. Finally, common approaches tend to start with a focus on enforcement and compliance- which begins conversations around problems not solutions, and can make the politics of change more difficult to navigate.

Our new strategy takes a different approach, building on our understanding of the problem through dynamic, multiple theories of change. We will support a creative focus on individuals who can collectively push for accountability in positive ways. We will adopt a field-building approach that works to shift accountability practices, values, and dynamics over time. And we will learn from everything we do- to help ourselves and others improve in the future.

So what will our work actually consist of over the next three years? First, we’re going to continue our values-shifting campaigns to change mindsets, highlight positive deviance and create a cultural environment for accountability. Integrity Idol is a great example- set to run in 7 countries this year, this televised effort to find and celebrate honest government officials is beginning to change incentives, make linkages between local accountability movements and larger reforms, and create a global network of bureaucrats that can counter anti-accountability coalitions. As Integrity idol grows, we hope to begin to support a “scale-shift” from the local to transnational level.

Second, we’re going to expand our incubator program for young “accountapreneurs” to help them build sustainable, effective coalitions for integrity and open governance. The incubator supports young civil society change-makers to develop the tools, skills, networks, outreach efforts and funding streams they need to take advantage of windows of opportunity to build accountability. Focusing our efforts on individuals means we can shift away from more institutional approaches and support them as they move to where opportunities emerge. So far, our accountapreneurs have done everything from setting up the first accountability film school in Liberia, to developing a crowd-sourced wiki-tool to navigate government in Nepal to developing feedback campaigns to fix public services in Pakistan.

Third, we’re going to build accountability eco-systems through supporting collaboration around these issues, and developing shared mental models, physical spaces and operational practices. We will run community and innovation communities like the OpenGov Hub in Nepal and iCampus in Liberia to bring together diverse stakeholders from across the public and civic sectors focused on the intersection of accountability, open governance and technology. We will train reformers in government around issues of integrity, helping them build networks and co-create solutions to challenges with citizens; and we will work with youth networks and local officials to gather information and close feedback loops on accountability issues.

These objectives support each other- the campaigns help us spark interest in these issues and shift values, especially among youth; the incubator allows us to engage this group further, working with the best ideas and building communities around them; and the eco-systems bring these groups together, create collective identities and provide the knowledge and resources for effective collaborations.

We want to avoid short-term tactical projects and continue to develop our longer-term field building approach. We are also well placed to source ideas from the bottom-up that can inform policy decisions made from the top-down; and we aim through practice to inform the research work of donor collaboratives. In terms of structure, we will remain small and flexible, scaling only where programs can be adapted and we truly understand local political-economy dynamics.

Building accountability is a difficult, long and non-linear process- so real, adaptive learning is baked into our new strategy. We want to understand not just what works, but where and why. Beyond our programmatic work, we will also embody our principles in everything we do; and function in a way that we hope sets an example for other organizations working in development.

Sounds like a lot doesn’t it?! But in the past 5 years- thanks to incredible teams in Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan, Mali and the US- we’ve learned where gaps exist that we might be able to fill, where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and where we might be able to add the most value.

We are confident about the way forward- but no doubt we’re missing things- and we are very open to ideas, suggestions and feedback. We also want to partner wherever we can with like-minded people and organizations. Feel free to reach out to me at: [email protected] or to our teams on Facebook and Twitter in the coming days or months.

But for now, we’re going to put on our party hats and eat some birthday cake.