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The elusive quest for the golden standard: Concepts, policies and practices of accountability in development cooperation


  • Speijcken, Renée

    () (Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University, and UNU-MERIT)

  • Bakker, Wieger

    () (Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht University)


Promoting public accountability plays an ever increasing role in the recent discourse on development cooperation. It is said to encourage a more efficient use of public funds, to decrease corruption, add to more legitimate, responsive and democratic institutions including government and therefore to enhance aid effectiveness (OECD/DAC, 2005). To realize these ideals, a wide range of stakeholders, from international institutions, national governments to International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), unite in their elusive quest for the golden standard to promote public accountability in their policies. More accountability seems to have become the universal cure for all democratic deficits and ineffective policies in developing countries. However, in contrast to their high expectations, accountability promotion policies have not yet delivered the expected results. This paper seeks to understand why this has been the case by analysing the current state of affairs of promoting public accountability in development cooperation with a focus on donor interventions and particularly on the interaction between donors' concepts, policies and practices. We start by exploring how accountability gained importance in development cooperation and what the underlying development paradigms, ideologies and concepts were. A multilevel governance framework is established in which four key interrelated accountability relationships are identified and examined that characterize accountability in development cooperation. The paper proceeds by exploring the main types of donor practices in accountability promotion and discusses their effects. It introduces a new perspective on assessing donor policies and practices to understand the mismatch between expectations and result from which conclusions and recommendations for future aid interventions and for further research in the area of promoting public accountability are formulated.

Suggested Citation

  • Speijcken, Renée & Bakker, Wieger, 2011. "The elusive quest for the golden standard: Concepts, policies and practices of accountability in development cooperation," MERIT Working Papers 018, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
  • Handle: RePEc:unm:unumer:2011018

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Martens,Bertin & Mummert,Uwe & Murrell,Peter & Seabright,Paul, 2008. "The Institutional Economics of Foreign Aid," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521055390, April.
    2. repec:cup:apsrev:v:99:y:2005:i:01:p:29-43_05 is not listed on IDEAS
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    More about this item


    public accountability; development cooperation; multi-level governance; evidence based approaches; political science; public policy analysis; development aid;

    JEL classification:

    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • F55 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - International Institutional Arrangements
    • F59 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - Other
    • H83 - Public Economics - - Miscellaneous Issues - - - Public Administration
    • O19 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - International Linkages to Development; Role of International Organizations
    • O29 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Other


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