Connecting the Dots for Accountability: Civil Society Policy Monitoring and Advocacy Strategies

Date: February 2016
Authors: Jonathan Fox (editor), Brendan Halloran (editor), Anna Levy, Joy Aceron, Albert van Zyl
Publication type: Learning Exchange Report
Published by: Transparency and Accountability Initiative, School of International Service, International Budget Partnership, Government Watch, SIMLab

In the past decade, efforts to promote more open and accountable governance have proliferated. These endeavors have taken on many shapes and sizes, from international multi-stakeholder initiatives to community-level citizen action, and everything in between. Most often, these approaches have sought to leverage elements of transparency and information along with some form of citizen engagement or participation, with the goal of influencing government actions to be more responsive and accountable. But has the formula of transparency + participation = accountability really worked?

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have often been at the front lines of these efforts, whether it be advocating for improved policies, monitoring government actions, mounting legal challenges to ensure accountability, or any number of other strategies. But do all these individual initiatives and approaches, many of which result in specific wins, really to add up to more than the sum of their parts? Furthermore, do external actors too often focus on a relatively narrow set of civil society actors, specifically formal and professional CSOs, failing to engage with diverse membership-based organizations, grassroots movements, and other kinds of citizen mobilization?

In June 2015, researchers and practitioners from the global north and south met to discuss more strategic approaches to citizen-led accountability. Specifically, the workshop organizers sought to explore how CSO efforts could ‘connect the dots’ in ways that involve multiple actors, tools and tactics, and levels of governance. This report draws on the practical experiences and conceptual insights shared during the workshop.

Figure 1: Seeking Synergy – Multi-level Independent Policy Monitoring and Advocacy. Credit: Jonathan Fox and Waad Tamaa

Jonathan Fox

Jonathan Fox is a professor in the School of International Service at American University. He studies the relationships between accountability, transparency and citizen participation. He is the director of the Accountability Research Center. His most recent publications include articles in World Development and the IDS Bulletin, and reports published by Making All Voices Count, U4: Anti-Corruption Resource Center and the Transparency and Accountability Initiative. His books include Accountability Politics: Power and Voice in Rural Mexico (Oxford 2007) and Mexico’s Right-to-Know Reforms: Civil Society Perspectives (co-editor, Fundar/Wilson Center 2007). He was a founding member of the International Expert Panel of the Independent Reporting Mechanism of the Open Government Partnership and currently serves on the boards of directors of Fundar (Mexico) and the Bank Information Center (DC). For online publications, see

Brendan Halloran

Brendan Halloran is the Senior Fellow in the International Budget Partnership’s Strategy and Learning team. In this role, Brendan supports strategy and learning processes at IBP – both the internal production of learning insights and drawing on evidence and ideas from broader research and practice in the governance space. He’s particularly interested in complex change dynamics, and how to support organizations to both navigate and strengthen their accountability ecosystems. Prior to joining IBP in 2016, Brendan lead the learning work of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, where he played a role in shaping and interpreting evidence about what works, as well as supporting collective learning spaces, such as the TALEARN network. Before that, Brendan spent five years living, researching and working in Guatemala, most recently as a Governance Advisor for USAID.  Brendan has a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, and has published work in a variety of journals, think pieces, and blogs, including his own — Politics, Governance, and Development.

Anna Levy

Anna Levy is an independent researcher focused on governance and accountability politics, the political economy of donors and NGOs in conflict and development, and structural inequality and transformation in the digital age. She has held research and advisory roles at Beautiful Rising, Transparency International, Princeton and New York Universities.

Joy Aceron

Joy Aceron is Convenor-Director of Government Watch (G-Watch), an action research organization working on accountability and citizen empowerment in the Philippines. Concurrently, she is a Research Fellow at Accountability Research Center. A graduate of the University of the Philippines-Diliman with bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration, she has 15 years’ experience in citizen monitoring, citizenship education and civil society government engagement and has been invited to over 20 countries to speak in international conferences and to facilitate learning workshops. Joy has published works on political reform, civil society participation in governance and leadership, the most recent of which is a publication with Jonathan Fox on vertically-integrated citizen monitoring and advocacy campaigns. Formerly a program director and senior knowledge and practice leader at Ateneo School of Government for 10 years, Joy is at present a member of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS)-Making All Voices Count (MAVC)’s Research Outreach Team and the Philippine Researcher for Open Government Partnership (OGP)’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM).

Albert van Zyl

Albert van Zyl is the International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) South Africa Country Manager. Albert joined IBP in 2005 from South Africa where he established and managed the macroeconomic analysis and budget offices in the Western Cape Treasury. Before that he worked at the Budget Information Service (BIS) at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) and directed it from 2000-2002. Most recently he worked as IBP’s Director of Strategy and Learning. Albert holds MA degrees in Politics, Philosophy, and Economy from the Universities of Stellenbosch and Bordeaux, France. He has been published on a range of public finance issues including CSO oversight of budgets, fiscal policy, social service finance, budget transparency, and subnational finance.