Transparency and Accountability: learning through collaboration

10th June 2014

How can the impact of transparency and accountability work be deepened? This was the question at the heart of a recent gathering of more than 60 people working on T/A issues across the board – staff members of donor agencies, researchers and practitioners. 

Strengthening and incentivising learning, broadening understanding of ‘impact’, and working politically to produce change were just some of the issues raised.

The forum? A four-day workshop in Jakarta hosted by the TALEARN community of practice.

TALEARN creates spaces for collective learning and action on T/A challenges, practices, innovations and impact, and the workshop structure itself was designed to create those spaces. For example, it included small group reflections, a marketplace for knowledge and innovation, and case clinics with local Civil Society Organisations.

The event’s flexible framework and diversity of participants catalysed rich and honest conversations about challenges related to learning, incentives, impact and change.

Both donors and practitioners expressed a strong interest in strengthening the learning capacities of CSOs.

Rakesh Rajani is the founder of Twaweza, an East African CSO. Every organisation needs a strategic vision and a culture of learning, he told fellow participants; CSOs need to redefine their relationship with donors rather than spending their time chasing whatever money they can find. Writing many reports for multiple donors undermines CSOs’ ‘strategic coherence’ and absorbs the valuable time of key staff.  Instead, CSOs need to set out their strategy, find donors who understand their vision, and focus on evidence, results and learning.

Writing many reports for multiple donors…absorbs the valuable time of key staff.

Learning should not be conflated with research and evaluation, some participants cautioned. Learning organisations do more than just perform research (or have research performed on them); they build analytical capacity and a culture of critical inquiry, and they generate evidence that helps them navigate their context and test the assumptions in their theories of change.

Participants acknowledged that donor relationships play a significant role in incentivising and strengthening learning, or in inhibiting it. Some participants wondered how to produce evidence that both improves practice and meets the needs of funders for monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. Especially when dealing with multiple donors. And – often – short-term funding. Others asked if funders should just ‘get out of the way’ and let learning happen.

Participants wanted better tools for understanding what is working and how to learn from their efforts. They discussed the narrow definitions of impact (and the limited set of tools available to measure success) that do not pick up the small wins, the stories of change, and the intermediate steps in the long and complex journey to more responsive governance. They recognised that a broader conversation is needed about how to define success and impact, and how to measure them.

Discussions about how change happens, and how to think and work politically, sprang from a challenge to the prevailing paradigm in the T/A sector. Why, some asked, were social change processes so often ‘projectised’ and ‘NGO-ised’? Why the narrow focus on professional NGOs working on donor-funded projects? What about a wider consideration of the diverse organisations and citizens’ movements struggling for a more just, equitable and democratic society?

A broader conversation is needed about how to define – and measure – success and impact.

Some participants commented that the ‘gold standard’ for impact evaluation of randomised control trials may influence the kind of approaches that donors fund. It might make them view projects and interventions with defined boundaries more favourably than broader campaigns or movements that might be engaged in more explicitly political approaches.

In all, many good ideas, innovative approaches, and lessons from experience were shared at this workshop. Take a look at a few more here: approaches to political analysisinnovative learning practices at the grassroots level, and unpacking context in social accountability.

Importantly, the workshop invited participants to think about how they might collaborate through the TALEARN community of practice to address the issues raised, and several working groups emerged to carry forward some of the proposals discussed.

The Transparency and Accountability Initiative will continue to support the community and to share more widely the learning generated by its members.

Image: Joy Aceron from Ateneo school of Government shares thoughts on the role of citizens in transparency and accountability efforts.


Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.



Brendan Halloran

Brendan Halloran

Brendan Halloran is the Senior Fellow in the International Budget Partnership’s Strategy and Learning team. In this role, Brendan supports strategy and learning processes at IBP – both the internal production of learning insights and drawing on evidence and ideas from broader research and practice in the governance space. He is also a member of the International Expert Panel of the Open Government Partnership’s Independent Reporting Mechanism.

Read more

Related items

Gender analysis, and thinking and working politically – bridging the gap

Guest post on Devpolicy  introducing panels at this week's Australasian Aid Conference

Opinion by Chris Roche14th February 2017

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Why bring gender into Thinking and Working Politically?

Opinion by Sally Moyle6th August 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

Guest post for From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

Do donors have realistic expectations of their staff when it comes to 'thinking and working politically'?

Is learning to ‘think politically’ like learning a new language? 

Opinion by Heather Marquette9th June 2014

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Reflections from two conferences

Opinion by Chris Roche19th February 2016
Opinion by Heather Marquette9th March 2015

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The 'donor's dilemma' is discussed in a new DLP paper.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal26th April 2016
Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

#Feminism: Digital technologies and feminist activism in Fiji

Guest post on Devpolicy on DLP work with research partners at University of the South Pacific

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe14th March 2017

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

Will the shocking Nirbaya case shift attitudes?

Opinion by Martin Rew16th September 2015

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's EITI process and its contribution to broader reform

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?

Guest post for The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network

Climate change and adaptation in the Pacific Islands: watering down women's security?

How women leaders are challenging a narrow adaptation agenda.

Opinion by Nicole George7th March 2014

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The value of the political settlements framework

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Having presented evidence to the UK's International Development Committee, what of the final report?

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say?

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th November 2014

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

The unintended consequences of raising awareness of corruption

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

'Power, politics and positive deviance' is the theme of DLP's 2016 annual conference.

Opinion by Chris Roche1st December 2015
Opinion by Heather Marquette10th November 2014

Medellin - more than a miracle

From the most murderous city on earth to 'a new global standard for urban policy': the politics of change in the wake of crisis

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Overcoming premature evaluation

Guest post in From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche15th November 2016
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal15th October 2015

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania21st July 2014
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal29th March 2016

Taking the Results agenda to the next level?

On new book The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development

Opinion by Chris Roche15th July 2015

Innovation: transactional or transformative?

Given the fascination with 'innovation' in the field of development, it's time to discuss what the word might mean.

Opinion by Chris Roche23rd March 2015