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The co-construction of NGO accountability: Aligning imposed and felt accountability in NGO-funder accountability relationships

Brendan O'Dwyer (University of Amsterdam Business School, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Roel Boomsma (University of Amsterdam Business School, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 19 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to deepen and advance the understanding of the construction of accountability within the relationship between government funders and development non-governmental organisations (NGOs).


The paper presents a case study examining the process through which an influential Dutch development NGO, Oxfam Novib, constructed its own accountability while simultaneously seeking to influence shifts in government funder accountability requirements. It enrols a combination of comprehensive archival data on the Dutch government’s financing scheme for NGOs from 1965 to 2012 and in-depth interviews with Oxfam Novib managers and Dutch government officials. The co-evolution in accountability within Oxfam Novib and the government funding scheme is conceptualised using the notions of imposed, felt and adaptive accountability


The case unveils the dynamics through which accountability within a major government funding scheme for NGOs was co-constructed by Oxfam Novib and the Dutch government’s development aid department. In particular, it reveals how this process was influenced by an internal evolution in Oxfam Novib’s organisational approach to accountability and an institutional context characterised by consensus-based economic and social policy making. The case also unveils the process through which Oxfam Novib’s influence declined as more demanding, narrowly focused government accountability requirements emerged in a setting that was increasingly critical of NGOs.


The paper presents a rare example of a context where development NGOs have proactively sought and secured influence over the accountability demands of a key donor. It is unique in combining consideration of the internal evolution of accountability within an individual NGO (conceptualised as an evolution from felt to adaptive accountability) with a progression in the form of accountability required by governmental funders. The paper unveils the conditions under which NGO-preferred conceptions of accountability may gain (and lose) influence among key funders.



The authors would like to acknowledge the extensive assistance of George Georgakopoulos in the initial stages of this paper’s development. The authors would like to thank participants at presentations delivered at: the 2010 Alternative Accounts conference in Toronto; the 2009 International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research in St Andrews; the 2010 Asia Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting (APIRA) Conference at the University of Sydney; a 2013 research presentation at the University of Sydney Business School. The authors also acknowledge the highly helpful comments of Mary Canning, David Cooper, and the two anonymous reviewers. The generous assistance offered by all of the interviewees who participated in the study is warmly appreciated.


O'Dwyer, B. and Boomsma, R. (2015), "The co-construction of NGO accountability: Aligning imposed and felt accountability in NGO-funder accountability relationships", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 36-68.



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