The Accountability Lab recently celebrated its 6th birthday (happy birthday to us!). In those six years we’ve tapped into popular cultures to run positive engagement campaigns like Integrity Idol– that are now supporting networks of reformers within government. Through our Accountability Incubators and Citizen Helpdesks we’ve also worked with scores of incredible grassroots change-makers to do everything from set up film schools to build citizen journalism initiatives to close feedback loops on natural resource governance issues. We’ve also set up the 1st community and innovation spaces- OpenGov Hubs– for open government and accountability activists in Liberia and Nepal; and we’re about to do the same in Mali.
In six years, we’ve learned that stuff happens, to put it politely. We’ve weathered health crises (Ebola in Liberia) natural disasters (earthquakes in Nepal), ongoing insecurity (insurgency in Mali) and closing civic space (regulation in Pakistan).
This has forced us to be flexible-and led us towards internal innovations like the creation of a standing internal emergency fund to respond rapidly to critical challenges. We’ve also learned that living your values really helps to build trust as an accountability organization- and we’ve tried to do that. For example, we post all of our internal documents on our website- so that whatever the situation, we can show what we are doing, why and how.
We’ve learned through all of this that working to build accountability is- spoiler alert!- an incredibly political and non-linear process which requires deep trust within communities. And that takes a really long time- six years in and it feels like we are only just getting started. We’ve learned that adaptive learning– and data collection- have to be absolutely central to everything we do if we want to improve; and that developing organizational culture and values across diverse contexts is one of the most difficult parts of holding everything together.
We’ve learned that we are much stronger- and our work is much more effective- as part of coalitions for reform (as in the Sahel recently) rather than when we act alone; that positive, solutions-oriented approaches to challenges generate much more energy for change than those that are negative; and that accountability is knitted together through support for individuals– as part of networks- who will move back and forth across organizations and institutions over time.
We’ve learned that harnessing storytelling is essential when working on an issue that can sometimes be difficult to understand, like accountability; that we can’t possibly talk about accountability unless we are also working constantly towards greater inclusivity in our work to make sure all voices are included; and that we have to work harder to share ideas and lessons across and between our country teams to inform programming.
So, what’s next for the Lab?
From here we’d like to continue to build on the progress we’ve made, deepening our programs, expanding our work and building out our learning. For example, we are beginning to work more closely with governments- through our Integrity Idol network, with civil service training schools and at the local level through decentralization processes- to test new ideas for building accountability and integrity within state institutions.
We are also beginning to think about how to scale through expanded partnerships and licensing agreements. Transparency International will soon launch the Integrity Idol campaign with our support in Sri Lanka using our model and content, for example; and with Global Giving we are in the process of codifying the Citizen Helpdesks to provide handbooks for others who would like to use the approach in their communities.
We want to conduct more research into how and why what we are doing is valuable and the lessons that can be learned from it. For example, we are about to finalize this draft learning agenda and work around building out our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) capacity with the Open Society Foundations; and we are partnering with MIT GovLab to evaluate the impact of Integrity Idol.
Finally, we will play a greater role in bringing lessons learned on-the-ground into policy and practice discussions both at the national and international levels. We hope this will involve closer coordination with national level governance strategies developed by both governments and donors; and further engagement in mechanisms like the Open Government Partnership and at the World Bank’s GPSA.
There is plenty to do and we’d love to collaborate around all of this to make sure we are adding value where it is needed and not duplicating the work of others. Ideas or thoughts?