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The paradox of greater NGO accountability: A case study of Amnesty Ireland

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  • O'Dwyer, Brendan
  • Unerman, Jeffrey
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    Abstract

    Despite mounting public, governmental and corporate interest in issues of non-governmental organisation (NGO) accountability, there are few academic studies investigating the emergence of accountability mechanisms in specific advocacy NGO settings. Drawing on the theoretical constructs of hierarchical and holistic accountability, this paper addresses this research gap by investigating recent developments in accountability practices at the Irish section of the human rights advocacy NGO Amnesty International. Through analysis of a series of in-depth interviews with managers in Amnesty Ireland, supported by extensive documentary scrutiny, this study examines reasons why Amnesty's historical reliance on internal forms of accountability has been augmented with a range of ad hoc external accountability mechanisms. The study reveals that while managers favoured the development of holistic accountability mechanisms exhibiting accountability to a wide range of stakeholders, a hierarchical conception of accountability privileging a narrow range of (potentially) powerful stakeholders, has begun to dominate external accountability discourse and practice. It was widely perceived that this trend could, somewhat paradoxically, prove counterproductive to the achievement of Amnesty's mission. Resolving this paradox will, at a minimum, involve Amnesty Ireland's leadership becoming more open to and more knowledgeable about a broader, more holistic accountability conception. The paper considers the possible implications of these findings for the development of NGO holistic accountability practice more generally.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6VCK-4S3G9K9-1/2/19de5f408981e99046f6575de88ff0bd
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Accounting, Organizations and Society.

    Volume (Year): 33 (2008)
    Issue (Month): 7-8 ()
    Pages: 801-824

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:33:y:2008:i:7-8:p:801-824

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/aos

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    References

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    1. Jeffrey Unerman & Brendan O'Dwyer, 2006. "Theorising accountability for NGO advocacy," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(3), pages 349-376, April.
    2. Vakil, Anna C., 1997. "Confronting the classification problem: Toward a taxonomy of NGOs," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 25(12), pages 2057-2070, December.
    3. Brendan O'Dwyer & Jeffrey Unerman, 2007. "From functional to social accountability: Transforming the accountability relationship between funders and non-governmental development organisations," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 20(3), pages 446-471, April.
    4. Cooper, Stuart M. & Owen, David L., 2007. "Corporate social reporting and stakeholder accountability: The missing link," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 32(7-8), pages 649-667.
    5. Roberts, John, 1991. "The possibilities of accountability," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 16(4), pages 355-368.
    6. Roberts, John & Scapens, Robert, 1985. "Accounting systems and systems of accountability -- understanding accounting practices in their organisational contexts," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 443-456, October.
    7. Jeffrey Unerman & Brendan O'Dwyer, 2006. "On James Bond and the importance of NGO accountability," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(3), pages 305-318, April.
    8. Colin Dey, 2007. "Social accounting at Traidcraft plc: A struggle for the meaning of fair trade," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 20(3), pages 423-445, April.
    9. Andrew Goddard & Mussa Juma Assad, 2006. "Accounting and navigating legitimacy in Tanzanian NGOs," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(3), pages 377-404, April.
    10. Rob Dixon & John Ritchie & Juliana Siwale, 2006. "Microfinance: accountability from the grassroots," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(3), pages 405-427, April.
    11. Rob Gray & Jan Bebbington & David Collison, 2006. "NGOs, civil society and accountability: making the people accountable to capital," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(3), pages 319-348, April.
    12. Nelson, Paul J. & Dorsey, Ellen, 2003. "At the Nexus of Human Rights and Development: New Methods and Strategies of Global NGOs," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(12), pages 2013-2026, December.
    13. Unerman, Jeffrey & Bennett, Mark, 2004. "Increased stakeholder dialogue and the internet: towards greater corporate accountability or reinforcing capitalist hegemony?," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 29(7), pages 685-707, October.
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    Cited by:
    1. Carolyn Cordery & Rachel Baskerville & Brenda Porter, 2010. "Control or collaboration?: Contrasting accountability relationships in the primary health sector," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 23(6), pages 793-813, August.
    2. Vassili Joannides & N. Berland, 2008. "Grounded theory: quels usages dans les recherches en contrĂ´le de gestion?," Grenoble Ecole de Management (Post-Print) hal-00676580, HAL.
    3. Dorothea Baur & Hans Schmitz, 2012. "Corporations and NGOs: When Accountability Leads to Co-optation," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 106(1), pages 9-21, March.
    4. Claudine Grisard, 2012. "Accountability and Bottom of the Pyramid projects: the two sides of the mirror," Post-Print hal-00690956, HAL.
    5. Steven Dellaportas & Jonathan Langton & Brian West, 2012. "Governance and accountability in Australian charitable organisations: Perceptions from CFOs," International Journal of Accounting and Information Management, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 20(3), pages 238-254.
    6. Grisard, Claudine, 2012. "Accountability and Bottom of the Pyramid projects: the two sides of the mirror," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/9498, Paris Dauphine University.
    7. Berland, Nicolas & Joannides, Vassili, 2008. "Grounded theory : quels usages dans les recherches en contrĂ´le de gestion ?," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/1375, Paris Dauphine University.

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