Language, listening and learning: critically reflective accountability for INGOs

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This paper examines the emergence of two waves of reforms across the international NGO (INGO) sector in accountability discourse and practice. The first wave accountability model was narrowly framed around the demands of powerful stakeholders such as donors and governments, whereas the second wave was a more holistic approach that prioritised the obligations of INGOs towards their ‘beneficiaries’. It is argued that INGOs should embed critically reflective accountability by pursuing further reforms in three thematic areas. Firstly, words like ‘beneficiary’ should be expunged from the language of accountability, since it is encoded with norms that implicitly undermine the rights of people and communities to expect that INGOs should be answerable for their actions. Secondly, listening to marginalised stakeholders should be facilitated by inclusive discursive arenas that enable and empower people ‘to speak and be heard’. Lastly, INGOs need to use feedback to become a learning organisation, and collaborate with peers to engender a culture of reflective learning across the sector.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)809-828
JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • Accountability
  • INGO
  • regulation
  • development
  • civil society


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