Happy New Year! And we hope 2020 is off to a great start for you and your organization – with ambitious goals, renewed energy and exciting plans. Here at the Accountability Lab we’ve begun the new year with two big changes. At the end of this month we’ll be launching a brand-new website for the Lab, which we hope you like. We feel it is a big step towards better creating the right kind of narrative around accountability; and will be much more user friendly for people like you who might like to know more about what we do and how we do it. However, in the first big change, we’re happy to release our new 2020-2023 strategy today! By Blair Glencorse.

It is a new framework that will guide our efforts over the next three years. This builds on our previous strategy and has been a labor of love over the past year or so – with inputs from our teams, a strategic retreat, deep engagement from our Board of Directors, feedback from peers and partner organizations and more. Look out for a blog on strategy as a process rather than an output coming soon. In the past 8 years we learned a huge amount that has informed this new strategy – for example, the need for:

  • Positivity not Negativity – “naming and faming” rather than “naming and shaming” and lifting people up to support solutions wherever we can;
  • Individuals then Organizations – through a focus on accountability agents, as well as accountability organizations or actions;
  • Unlikely Networks not just Usual Suspects – efforts to bring different kinds of citizens into this work across civil society, government, musicians, creatives, technologists, film-makers and others;
  • Inside Out not just Outside In – through deeper support for reformers inside government – connecting them to each other and to those outside government to work together for reforms;
  • Bottom Up and Top Down – supporting new ideas and energy from the grassroots and the “grasstops” to shift the way decisions are made;
  • Them not Us – through creating the space for others, collaborating in meaningful ways, crowding in other people and ideas, leading from behind where we can and acting as a facilitator of change;
  • Partnerships not Isolated Actions – through mapping where others intervene and link our efforts to those that are working at different points in accountability systems to amplify change;
  • Long-term Efforts not Quick-Fixes – by building trust in communities and deep networks that can provide the basis for sustained engagement over time.

All of these lessons deeply inform the new strategy, and our vision of a world in which citizens are active, leaders are responsible and institutions are accountable. In practical terms, this is how we think the Accountability Lab can best support this vision over the next three years:

  • A focus on shifting norms and changing behaviors – in particular through creative, positive campaigns such as Integrity Icon, which we will grow into a global effort to generate conversations and actions around integrity and shift the way publics understand norms related to issues of accountability. We will also grow our work around music as a tool to shift thinking among citizens and build out our visual storytelling work, using film to engage communities in conversations and actions on governance issues;
  • Equipping reformers for collective action – through building knowledge among change-makers within government, civil society and the private sector. This will build on our work for the past 8 years building out our Accountability Incubator, Innovation Challenges, Integrity Innovation Labs and other efforts that have built skills, ideas and networks for change. This also means leading and supporting the creative spaces, such as OpenGov Hubs, through which this knowledge and these “unlikely networks” can be created.
  • Influencing policies, processes and practices – at the local, national and international levels through building communities that can shift power. We have both excellent networks in communities and access to rooms where policy decisions are made – and we want to make sure we use these together and effectively. We will also work through our Civic Action Teams to better integrate the idea of citizen feedback into development and ensure people’s voices are used to inform decision-making.

The strategy more explicitly brings together the elements of the work we do in mutually reinforcing ways, as we all know, approaches to accountability are far less useful in isolation than they are together. This is already beginning to happen – for example, in Nepal, one of our winners of Integrity Icon (Campaigns) was promoted to be the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Labor and Migration. He is now working with us to develop training resources and to provide mentorship for incoming civil servants (Knowledge); including for local level officials who are engaged in work to improve accountability of migration with our Civic Action Teams at the local level (Communities).

The table below is a handy summary of how our approach has evolved:

[table id=7 /]

We understand clearly that accountability comes through proximity – and in the next 3 years we will continue to work through our Network Labs in Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan and South Africa in the ways outlined above; and grow the Lab’s presence into 3 other key, strategic contexts where we feel the potential for these approaches exists, including in the Global North. We will also scale the Lab’s work through licensing our content to others to implement with our support (such as the Integrity Icon campaign); partnering with like-minded organizations; and open sourcing as much of our knowledge as we can.

Learning across all of these contexts will be a key part of what we do – both to improve our work and hopefully that of others too. We’re excited about the potential impact of this strategy and for the important work it will involve to build accountability around the world. The next steps include localizing and contextualizing this strategy in the places we work, and a global Accountability Lab strategic retreat in mid-2020 to understand further how we can work together to achieve our goals. Thank you to all of our partners and supporters for helping us get this far and we are excited to work with you further in 2020. Here is to a productive, collaborative and successful year full of new learning and ideas!

Read the full strategy here. Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab.