Transparency and accountability in fragile and conflict-affected settings


What is known about the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives
(TAIs) in fragile and conflict affected settings? What knowledge gaps exist for future research?


Over the past 10 years, there have been numerous meta-studies and syntheses of the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs), many of which attempt to incrementally add value to the existing evidence base or offer new perspectives on existing conclusions. These studies are almost unanimous in their conclusion that little of practical or replicable value is known, much less in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Much of the literature on TAIs focuses on the effectiveness of implementation, rather than on their broader impact. There are few comparative studies that look across various cases and which allow for general conclusions to be extrapolated. Furthermore, most TAIs are based on rather optimistic assumptions about what they are able to achieve, rather than on well-developed theories of change, and few studies pay sufficient attention to context, which is crucial for understanding how such initiatives play out in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Successful implementation of TAIs is increasingly understood to depend on the interaction of “micro” local-level factors with a number of “macro” contextual dimensions, including the capacity of civil society, the will of political society, inter-elite relations, state-society relations, intra-society relations and global dimensions. An appreciation of these contextual dimensions suggests that TAIs in fragile and conflict-affected settings need to focus on strengthening the social contract between state and society. In theory, such an approach can contribute to greater state legitimacy, strengthen citizen´s understanding of citizenship, promote political inclusion, provide interfaces between citizens and governments, build intra-community trust, and build competencies and skills that are necessary for organizing collective action.In order to realise this potential, it has been suggested that TAIs in fragile and conflict-affected settings need to pay particular attention to:

  • Clarity of outcomes: There is an increasing appreciation of the need to better articulate and unpack what TAIs in fragile and conflict-affected settings aim to achieve, and how different outcomes are expected to interact. For example, emerging evidence suggests that the process through which services are delivered may be at least as important as, if not more important than, service outcomes in building state legitimacy.
  • The role of intermediaries: Effective intermediaries need to be able to forge shared agendas, develop social bonds across identity groups, and reinforce a sense of citizenship. Identification of appropriate intermediaries requires a careful examination of existing social networks.
  • Inclusion of local elites: While elites may capture the gains from TAIs to further their own interests, under the right conditions they can also use them for the greater benefit of the community. There is therefore a need to work with local elites in a way which supports them to include the poor.
  • The power of information and informal networks: TAIs should focus on building inclusive information flows that reach all groups within society and avoid the perception of favouritism to particular groups. Equally important is to recognise the role of informal networks and relationships in how information is shaped.
  • Balancing incentives and sanctions: TAIs need to carefully consider the relative weight given to sanctions and the trade-offs between forward and backward-looking accountability efforts.
  • Supporting grievance mechanisms: recent evidence suggests that the mere presence of grievance mechanisms, even when not actively used, can help to strengthen the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of citizens.

Suggested citation

McDevitt, A. (2017). Transparency and Accountability in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Setting. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.