How to measure success in Transparency & Accountability work?

What is the most appropriate way of tracking the effect (or even impact) of transparency and accountability (T&A) interventions? There are no perfect answers to fit every form, but Twaweza did get a spotlight to be examined as an insightful case at the recent meeting of the international community of practice (called TALEARN), convened by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Twaweza case focused on the issue of how to set up an organizational theory of change and strategy which will establish a compelling vision as well as a strong monitoring and evaluation structure, and therefore create a curious, learning organization. In turn, the organization will have a more equal footing in negotiating with donors, including streamlining and minimize the burden that is often felt in responding and managing donor requirements and demands. Our inputs included a video by Rakesh Rajani, the head of Twaweza, (embedded below), and a presentation by Twaweza’s LME manager, Varja Lipovsek (pdf).

In addition to the Twaweza’s spotlight there were numerous other excellent presentations, such as, among others, on evidence on social accountability from Jonathan Fox (American University); on frameworks for interrogating theories of change by Anuradha Joshi (IDS) and Helene Grandvoinnet (World Bank); and insightful locally-grounded examples of what it means to work politically by Hari Kusdaryanto (Asia Foundation), and Walter Flores (CEGSS). Full program and all the presentations can be accessed here.

What were the take-away messages? Here are a few:

1) To meaningfully promote citizen agency (i.e., the capacity of citizens to engage in accountability) requires a deep level of understanding the (local) political context, relationships and incentives; and therefore also the capacity to read the political climate, adapt accordingly, and seize opportunities as they arise.

2) The definition, and therefore measurement, of success has to be elastic – able to detect and value shorter-term (and sometimes unexpected) effects, as well as keeping an eye on the big picture/longer-term outcomes (which themselves can vary from service delivery to citizen agency). As succinctly pointed out by Hari from Asia Foundation, a compelling but ultimately technocratic solution such as feedback loops, while meaningful, can hardly on its own overturn centuries of power structures and dynamics.

3) Donor reporting requirements and focus on results is often antithetical to the above two points; it would be much more meaningful to the T&A field if donors rewarded and valued flexibility of design and learning from experience. 

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