Enhancing the role of accountability in promoting the rights of beneficiaries of development NGOs

Brendan O'Dwyer, Jeffrey Unerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper identifies and assesses the extent to which downward accountability mechanisms in nongovernmental development organisations (NGDOs) have had the potential in practice to contributeto the effectiveness of rights-based approaches to development. The paper draws on evidence gathered from a detailed documentary analysis and a series of in-depth interviews undertaken with seniorindividuals working in the Irish NGDO sector. The analysis indicates variations in practice with regard to the substantive implementation of key downward accountability mechanisms. The accountability-in-practice revealed suggests that challenges to substantive implementation have arisen due to:insufficient Irish NGDO attention to oversight of downward accountability within locally based partner NGDOs; a reluctance and/or inability to transfer influence to locally based partner NGDOs byallowing them some influence on Irish NGDO governance and strategy; the perceived control of locally based partner NGDOs by local elites who may be distant from, and unrepresentative of, local communities; and a perception that locally based partner NGDOs may not require downward accountability. Drawing on these findings, the paper makes some suggestions aimed at helping to transform the rhetorical NGDO commitment to downward accountability into real practices that can contribute substantively to the realisation of the key elements of the rights-based approach to development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-471
Number of pages20
JournalAccounting and Business Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Accountability
  • Development aid
  • Downward accountability
  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • Rightsbased approach to development


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