NGOs, trust, and the accountability agenda

Vincent Charles Keating, Erla Thrandardottir

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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are undergoing an alleged crisis of trustworthiness. The past decades have seen an increase in both academic and practitioner scepticism, particularly given the transformations many NGOs have undergone in size, professionalism, and political importance. The accountability agenda, which stresses transparency and external oversight, has gained a significant amount of traction as a means to solve this crisis. But the causal link between the implementation of these recommendations and increased trustworthiness among donors has never been considered. This article bridges this gap by drawing on theoretical innovations in trust research to put forward three arguments. First, the proponents of the accountability agenda are implicitly working with a rational model of trust. Second, this model does not reflect important social characteristics of trust between donors and NGOs. Third, this mismatch means that the accountability agenda might do more to harm trust in NGOs than to help it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-151
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number1
Early online date12 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • accountability
  • institutional oversight
  • NGOs
  • transparency
  • trust
  • trust building

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


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