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?