Posted 6 October, 2015 by Tom Walker

Exploring the role social movements play in transparency and accountability


When funders think about increasing transparency and accountability, they often look first to civil society organizations to get citizens interested in an issue, collect data or advocate to governments.

But often these organizations won’t be able to mobilise the numbers of people needed to challenge entrenched power structures. This could be for many reasons: they might lack the flexibility to respond rapidly to political opportunities, or perhaps they prioritise funding applications over grassroots community-building. In those cases, social movements – networked groups that use substantial grassroots support to challenge authorities on a particular issue – are often better at holding powerful groups accountable.

However, funders interested in supporting activities around transparency and accountability rarely provide support to social movements (financial or otherwise). Why? And are they missing something?

The engine room and Mary Joyce recently wrote two think pieces looking deeper into this question, as part of a three-part series initiated by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative’s TALEARN working group on social movements and state accountability.

The first think piece in the series (by Brendan Halloran and Walter Flores from TALEARN) suggests that funders could do more to support citizen-based groups or movements that contest prevailing power dynamics. The second describes areas where social movements have key strategic advantages over civil society organisations. The third suggests ways in which funders can provide support to social movements without damaging their legitimacy or effectiveness, and highlights examples where funders have been able to provide support successfully.

Last week, the engine room facilitated a TALEARN event in Delhi, bringing together social movement activists, civil society organisations and researchers to collaboratively identify questions  that will increase knowledge about social movements and the role they play. The aim of this work is to build a research agenda that can direct research energies and methodologies to explore questions that, if answered, can help to improve social movement effectiveness.

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