As discussed in this week’s blog, accountability—as defined by the UK Department for International Development—is “the ability of citizens, civil society and the private sector to scrutinize public institutions and governments and hold them to account.” Accountability requires empowerment—of citizens, civil society and the private sector—which is composed of agency and an enabling environment to exert agency (formal and informal mechanisms of expression, in this context in reference to governance, accountability and citizen’s voice).
Hot Resource! Handbook of Democracy and Governance Program Indicators by USAID
While there are discussions concerning how agency should be best defined, this post will opt for Amartya Sen’s definition: “what a person is free to do and achieve in pursuit of whatever goals or values he or she regards as important.”
Within this definition are two further concepts: capacity to do and achieve something, and whether that goal/value/objective is important to the individual. Both matter, but you cannot measure both in the same indicator – that would not be a very SMART.
Hot Tip! An accountability project will likely emphasize one particular aspect of agency over the other: emphasis on creating the environmental pre-conditions for the exercise of agency (i.e., environmental conditions which allow and/or facilitate holding public individuals or institutions to account such as the presence of public forums, accountability institutions, etc.) or the exercise of agency for accountability purposes (i.e., writing letters to public officials, holding a public demonstration, etc.).
Once you’ve decided which level of accountability you are seeking to affect, you can design a system or basket of indicators to triangulate whether or not the observed change is indeed occurring. This system of indicators should include indicators at both levels so you can monitor and evaluate the systemic relationship between agency for accountability at the individual level and the environmental level.
Hot Tip! Avoid using ‘and’ in your indicators – they will soon become too broad. Your system of indicators should include indicators to track progress at both the agency/capacity (for individuals, communities or society writ large) and enabling environment levels.
There are a whole range of resources listing possible indicators – several of these are provided in this DM&E Tip. The Vera Institute resource on “Measuring Progress toward Safety and Justice: A Global Guide to the Design of Performance Indicators across the Justice Sector” provides systems of indicators for a range of possible justice-based accountability interventions, and many of these can be easily adapted to better suit the needs of your project.
But of course, you can also create your own project and context-specific indicators following established best practices. Any indicator you create, including the pre-existing ‘generic’ indicators you might adapt, must be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.
Jonathan White is the Manager of the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding at Search for Common Ground. Views expressed herein do not represent SFCG, the Learning Portal or its partners and affiliates.