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Defining standards for doing

good: Examining NGO
accountability

Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre
Department of Political Science
George Washington University
Overall aims and research questions

Examine how perceptions of NGO
performance evolved in the humanitarian
sector
Interested in accountability ‘for what’
Investigate three ‘failures’ in international response:
Biafra, Rwanda, Kosovo, to examine how these
perceptions changed
Overall aims and research questions

Investigate how perceptions of NGO
performance shaped the development of
transnational self-regulatory accountability
institutions such as Sphere, HAP-I and the
Quality Project
Institutions vary in how they approach accountability
Contestation regarding standards for humanitarian
action
Overall aims and research questions

Aim to clarify the benchmarks and
standards used to assess NGO
performance
Aim to tease out what distinguishes the
NGO sector from other sectors
Aim to detail the dynamics of NGO
governance
Presentation of findings to date

 Data point 1: The rise of an
accountability and evaluation culture
shaped NGOs’ and others’ perceptions
about NGO performance.
 24 year period from 1969-1993 only 17
accountability institutions founded in humanitarian
sector
 13 year post-Rwanda period 59 accountability
institutions founded
 Rwanda is the watershed event that highlights
shifts in expectations of NGOs
Presentation of findings to date
Linked to changes in standards for
humanitarian NGOs
Shift from view of humanitarian aid as charity to more
complex notions of aid with a regard for long-term
impacts
Discussions of the international responses to
Rwanda and Kosovo highlight this shift
Presentation of findings to date

Data point 2: NGO self-perceptions about
their performance during the Rwanda
crisis sparked increased attention to
accountability
Presentation of findings to date

NGO self-assessments:
“Led to great soul-searching, absolutely
gripping pain for years to try to work out what
we can do collectively as international
organizations to make sure that [the failures] did
not happen again.”
“Guilt was a big factor…NGOs took on all of
that guilt, guilt as members of the humanitarian
community or the West—quality [of our
response] could have been better but [we] did
respond and stayed.”
Presentation of findings to date

Data point 3: Of all the possible responses
to failures, accountability emerges as the
solution to problems in the NGO sector
NGOs pursue accountability institutions
collectively for the first time
NGOs focus on issues of accountability over
other issues such as capacity building,
coordination and access
Presentation of findings to date

Data point 4: Debates about accountability
and standards for humanitarian action
reflect conflicting notions of the role of
NGOs as service providers versus moral
leaders in international society
Implications and Next Steps

Provide further understanding of the role
of NGOs as moral leaders.
Clarify “accountability for what”—this will
allow NGOs to further improve the quality
of humanitarian assistance.
Streamline accountability programs
Deduce appropriate benchmarks for
performance
Implications and Next Steps

 Inform the on-going design of
accountability institutions
 Clarify core concepts and principles of
humanitarian action
 Increase dialogue among competing groups
Implications and Next Steps

Next steps:
Potential follow-up presentation at the next
Roundtable or InterAction annual meeting
“Explaining the emergence of accountability
clubs in the humanitarian sector: the role of
context and shifting standards.” In: Nonprofit
Accountability Clubs: Voluntary Regulation of
Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organizations.
Mary Kay Gugerty & Aseem Prakash (eds.)
Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.