Restless Development has been nominated for this year’s Bond Transparency Award – a recognition of our commitment to taking transparency and accountability further. Perry Maddox, our COO, explains how. Tweet Perry your thoughts on our approach transparency. 

As we set out in 2015 to overhaul our approach to transparency at Restless Development, the question – why would you want to publish that? – kept coming up.  

Why publish the salaries of every single staff member across our global agency? Why publish reports of every meeting of our global board of trustees? Why publish all of our policy manuals, declarations of interest, our reports to the UK Department for International Development, our ethical fundraising framework?

In a global climate of intensified scrutiny on non-governmental organisations, daily media attacks on development and aid, and shrinking civic space, were we not inviting trouble and opening ourselves up to attack?

The simple answer is that we believe that by turning our agency inside-out and by bringing more people into our work, we will have a bigger impact for the young people, communities, partners and governments with whom we work. And we wanted to go beyond merely being compliant with transparency initiatives like the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by taking the risk to open up our agency in a way that aligned with our values. We are making a statement about just how radical transparency must be in order to gain trust.

But a deeper answer lies in a more nuanced understanding of transparency that we’ve been building over the past years.

‘Dynamic accountability’

Transparency can be a passive and rather low-impact exercise. Sure, openness is an important piece of the puzzle, but it risks being a one-way flow of information especially if that information languishes on a website or in a database unseen by those who might use it.

The real goal is something we’ve been calling ‘dynamic accountability’. It means transparency becomes a two-way exchange of information, and  that the act of being transparent brings in more voices into the leadership, governance and management of our agency, ultimately making our work better.

Over the past years we’ve explored several ways to put this into practice:

A Big Conversation.  When it came to creating our new global strategy, we asked young people to take the lead. A Youth Strategy Team composed of young leaders from around the world designed, led and analysed a global consultation that reached 64 countries that shaped our new strategy.  Naturally, they published all of the findings, raw data and insight online, but more importantly they brought a diverse range of youth voices into our new strategy – our most ambitious and dynamic strategy to date.

Walking the talk. Critically, we sought to align our agency’s transparency with our work that supports young people to push for transparency and accountability. Our Youth Power model combines data-driven accountability (young Accountability Advocates generating and using data on the Global Goals to hold their governments to account); high-level advocacy (young people’s voices on the agenda at UN summits for example); global and local campaigns (a 15-year old Tanzanian girl starting a petition to get clean water for her community); and global moments where young people mobilise (40 youth organisations across 30 countries holding campaign events on International Youth Day last year ). These initiatives are critical to unleash the power of young people to hold to account and partner with the institutions and power-holders. Inspired by this work, we sought to unleash the same forces on our agency by applying these principles to our understanding of how a modern, cutting-edge agency should work.

Playing a leadership role in the sector. As an early adopter of IATI and a volunteer in the pilot cohort of BOND’s 2014 transparency review, we believe that publicly advocating for transparency in the sector and sharing our progress benefits both us and our peers. We joined the boards of Accountable Now and BOND as well as chaired the DFID PPA learning partnership, where we advocated for going beyond transparency to ‘dynamic accountability’. And when Justine Greening – then Secretary of State for International Development – visited our offices in 2015, young people pitched ‘Transparency 2.0’ as a way for DfID to be as accountable to its ‘beneficiaries’ as its partners are to the department.

Digital accountability.  Inspired by an Accountable Now workshop on this theme, we have worked to use technology to bring more voices into our decision-making and programmes, from: live tweeting throughout our most senior meetings of global directors; to using our #WeAreRestless hashtag daily by both staff and volunteers to document the everyday internal workings of our agency; to leveraging social media platforms and SMS data to shape our response to the Nepal Earthquake and our nation-wide Ebola response in Sierra Leone.

Just to be clear, we’re only getting started.

Some of our transparency efforts have worked well. An independent external evaluator found key success factors, including our organisational culture that is ‘values-led, innovative and risk-taking’, synergy with our work on youth-led accountability, and the commitment and engagement from our leadership team to ‘dynamic accountability’.  

Other efforts have been less successful. Our pilot of Google groups to bring 500 staff voices into our recent Directors Conference discussions was a dud. It’s important that we acknowledge and learn from both our successes and failures as we build our approach to dynamic accountability.

We have been lucky to work with partners and friends like BOND and Accountable Now to help us explore, develop and build our approach to dynamic accountability. Most importantly, we’re learning from young people every day on how we can continue to improve.

We know that transparency is not a one-off project but a drive to increase our impact by changing the way we work and empowering young people to demand greater accountability of the development sector.

In that spirit, we’d love to hear what you think about our work on transparency.

Find out more about Restless Development’s Accountability and Transparency on our website.

What do you think?

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