The Inherently Contested Nature of Nongovernmental Accountability: The Case of HAP International
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While the principled case for humanitarian accountability is relatively straightforward, the practice is demonstrably more complicated, necessitating constant negotiation among stakeholders. However, despite the wave of research into nongovernmental accountability, few empirical studies have grappled with the phenomenon’s inherently contested nature. This paper foregrounds tensions arising in the elaboration of nonprofit accountability. Its approach is informed by critical constructivist theory, an international relations approach attuned to social power, identity and exclusion, and conceptual contestation; its conclusions are supported by interview data with key stakeholders. Focusing on the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) International, it finds that initial consensus on the desirability of beneficiary (downward) accountability quickly gave way to principled disagreements and operational difficulties. Specifically, the initiation stage of HAP was marked by two conflicts—a debate about enforcement and a turf war over control—culminating in rebranding and relocation. The implementation stage was characterized by tensions over certification and intra-organizational struggles over leadership. The contemporary practice of accountability is shown to be a contingent and contested social process, with humanitarian identity and practice ultimately at stake.
KeywordsAccountability International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) Humanitarianism Constructivism Self-regulation
This article benefited from the financial support of the Andrew Dickinson Memorial Fellowship (University of Minnesota) and the Individual Faculty Development Account (College of the Holy Cross). For helpful discussions and feedback on drafts, I thank Michael Barnett, John Borton, Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Brooke Coe, Lisa Disch, Ralitsa Donkova, Raymond (Bud) Duvall, Moira Lynch, Giovanni Mantilla, and Veronica Michel. I am also grateful to the reviewers and editors at VOLUNTAS for constructive suggestions. All errors and omissions are my own.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The interviews conducted for this study were approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Minnesota as IRB #0906E68221.
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