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From functional to social accountability: Transforming the accountability relationship between funders and non-governmental development organisations

Author

Listed:
  • Brendan O'Dwyer
  • Jeffrey Unerman

Abstract

Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to analyse the evolving nature of the accountability relationship between a group of Irish non-governmental development organisations (NGDOs) and their primary governmental funder. Design/methodology/approach - The examination is undertaken in the context of a unique funder-led initiative to instil a broad social accountability focus among NGDOs while re-orienting the NGDO-funder accountability dynamic towards a partnership-based approach – whereby the accountability entity would effectively be a supra-organisation comprising the funder and the NGDOs. The empirical content of the paper is derived from a series of in-depth interviews with senior individuals working within the Irish NGDO sector, along with a comprehensive analysis of documentary sources. Findings - The partnership rhetoric central to promoting the enhanced focus on social accountability across the “virtual” accountability supra-organisation has not been transformed into reality, and the NGDO-funder accountability relationship within the supra-organisation remains centred on control and justification. A lack of resources, organisational commitment, guidance, and expertise from the governmental funder has contributed to an attitude of scepticism among many NGDOs towards both the partnership rhetoric and the accompanying adoption of the central tenets of social accountability, particularly downward accountability to beneficiaries. Research limitations/implications - The research is based on a detailed analysis in a specific context which may limit its wider applicability. Nevertheless, it adds insights to the developing academic literature on NGO accountability, with particular reference to their broader social accountabilities. Practical implications - Although highly context-specific, the findings of the study will be useful to researchers and policy makers interested in understanding how NGDO-funder accountability relationships can move towards mutual accountability and genuine partnerships focused on promoting social accountability. Originality/value - Very few in-depth academic examinations of the evolving nature of NGDO-funder accountability relationships in specific NGO contexts have emerged in the accountability literature. Many of the insights in this paper are derived from individuals inside organisations in the NGDO sector who are regularly addressing issues of accountability, both social and otherwise. This provides in-depth, highly-informed insider perspectives on the evolving nature of these relationships, especially in the context of attempts to promote more partnership-based approaches to the delivery of development aid.

Suggested Citation

  • 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, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:aaajpp:v:20:y:2007:i:3:p:446-471
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Ahrens, Thomas & Chapman, Christopher S., 2006. "Doing qualitative field research in management accounting: Positioning data to contribute to theory," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 31(8), pages 819-841, November.
    3. Doh, Jonathan P. & Teegen, Hildy, 2002. "Nongovernmental organizations as institutional actors in international business: theory and implications," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 11(6), pages 665-684, December.
    4. Ebrahim, Alnoor, 2003. "Accountability In Practice: Mechanisms for NGOs," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 813-829, May.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Trevor Hopper & Mathew Tsamenyi & Shahzad Uddin & Danture Wickramasinghe, 2009. "Management accounting in less developed countries: what is known and needs knowing," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 22(3), pages 469-514, March.
    2. Carol A. Adams, 2008. "A commentary on: corporate social responsibility reporting and reputation risk management," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 21(3), pages 365-370, March.
    3. Ken Crofts & Jayne Bisman, 2010. "Interrogating accountability: An illustration of the use of Leximancer software for qualitative data analysis," Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 7(2), pages 180-207, June.
    4. repec:hal:journl:hal-00645359 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:eee:crpeac:v:21:y:2010:i:6:p:468-485 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:eee:aosoci:v:63:y:2017:i:c:p:21-41 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Carol A. Adams & Carlos Larrinaga-González, 2007. "Engaging with organisations in pursuit of improved sustainability accounting and performance," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 20(3), pages 333-355, June.
    8. Joanna Hernik, 2011. "Social Perception of Polish Nongovernmental Organization Activity," Annals - Economic and Administrative Series -, Faculty of Business and Administration, University of Bucharest, vol. 5(1), pages 117-130, December.
    9. David Owen, 2008. "Chronicles of wasted time?: A personal reflection on the current state of, and future prospects for, social and environmental accounting research," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 21(2), pages 240-267, February.
    10. repec:eee:accfor:v:35:y:2011:i:1:p:1-10 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Miguel Rivera-Santos & Carlos Rufín, 2010. "Odd Couples: Understanding the Governance of Firm–NGO Alliances," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 94(1), pages 55-70, July.
    12. O'Dwyer, Brendan & Unerman, Jeffrey, 2008. "The paradox of greater NGO accountability: A case study of Amnesty Ireland," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 33(7-8), pages 801-824.
    13. repec:eee:crpeac:v:22:y:2011:i:8:p:738-758 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Vassili Joannides & Stéphane Jaumier, 2011. "Accounterability ou l'accountability par la bande," Grenoble Ecole de Management (Post-Print) hal-00645359, HAL.
    15. Carol A. Adams & Glen Whelan, 2009. "Conceptualising future change in corporate sustainability reporting," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 22(1), pages 118-143, January.
    16. 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.

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