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Joining forces for transparency and accountability


Earlier this month, we partnered with Street League to gather a group from across and beyond the youth sector, all with a keen interest in unpicking the relationship between accountability and transparency in impact measurement and reporting. We considered how (and to who) we should explain and take responsibility for our work, and the openness and completeness with which we should do this.

The group represented organisations who deliver a wide range of provision for young people, alongside researchers and data specialists. We aimed to explore and build upon Street League’s #callforclarity campaign, which has gathered momentum behind a positive, open approach to impact reporting: one that is well aligned to learning, and resists pressure to keep back ‘negative’ data or over-claim the impact of any one organisation’s work.
Many of the group shared concerns that it is rarely easy – or commonplace – to scrutinise, fully understand or, most importantly, learn from claims made about impact. We noted that accountability and learning are often presented as oppositional concepts but we wondered if they can in fact support one another, especially when we prioritise accountability to beneficiaries and local communities. However, the point was made that culture and incentives are the most likely to affect how data is produced and used, rather than tools and methodologies.
It was a vivid and wide-ranging discussion but we were keen that it was not limited to a one-off event with a small group of people.
We have distilled discussion points into the following suggested principles:

  1. Accountability is about ‘action taken’ and not just the outcome of that action.
  2. Accountability to one stakeholder should not reduce your ability to be accountable to another.
  3. Accountability and learning are bed fellows, not opposing concepts.
  4. Accountability and transparency are about listening to all your stakeholders, not telling them what you want them to know
  5. Accountability should be active (questions we ask ourselves) rather than passive (other people’s questions that we answer)
  6. Unless data has meaning, accountability is undermined – it is easy to be transparent about meaningless data
  7. Being accountable for and transparent about the role we play in supporting change means accepting that we never create this change alone
  8. The process of ‘being accountable’ should be embedded into the process of engaging with young people
  9. Transparency is most likely to be based on shared or common measures.
  10. Accountability is about doing things differently in response to what you learn

We wonder how these might work as a set of principles to bring together a movement in pursuit of more meaningful impact measurement, and are testing whether there’s appetite for ongoing discussion and action around them. What do you think? How do these principles resonate for you? How can we bring people together to progress thinking and practice in this area? Do get in touch with and let us know.