The disruption caused by COVID19 is a chance to forge new ways of working, that put accountability practices and decentralised organisation at their heart, says Katie Fuhs.
Disruption suspends passive acceptance of norms and expectations and offers a narrow opportunity for change. Then, the disruption either becomes the norm or it fades away. Consequently, we must capitalise on the potential of the moment before it slips into normalcy or history.
This sounds uncomfortably similar to the American political wisdom of “never let a crisis go to waste,” right?
From ‘what has been’ to ‘what could be’
Although being dynamic demands that we move when the world does, accountability also demands that we must move in ways that best serve our stakeholders, not just ourselves. Therefore, dynamic accountability is about moving from complacency with “what has been” to energy around “what could be” in regards to meaningful engagement. It is an internal motivation that pushes us beyond minimum expectations and towards setting new standards as well as ambitious stretch goals for inclusive and participatory development.
During a recent event, The Community of Practice Conversation on Accountability during COVID-19, I mentioned that civil society organisations must practice what we preach when we demand government accountability by being accountable to our own stakeholders as well. At Accountability Lab, we have committed to organisational accountability by joining Accountable Now, an accountability reporting platform for civil society organisations. As a new member, the Lab is working with the platform to create new accountability standards within the nonprofit sector, including around duty of care and safeguarding. We are also working to refocus on accountability to those we work with in the systematic and organised way we do with our donors.
Accountability is a process not an outcome
As a member of the Accountability Lab global team, I recognise accountability is a process rather than an outcome. For my internally-facing role, dynamic accountability in times of disruption means shifting power by sharing knowledge. Since the beginning of the pandemic earlier this year, I have focused on building avenues for our more than 100 staff members across 9 countries to connect and share skills, ideas, and experiences. I have planned and/or facilitated Accountapreneur calls, junior staff learning calls, staff skills building workshops, open board calls, and more.
I have personally participated in this internal knowledge transfer by training peers from Nigeria, South Africa, and Pakistan on our contact management system and by sharing tips and tricks with coworkers from Mali and Nepal on how to run virtual meetings and use online polling. By creating opportunities and maintaining internal systems for our country teams to learn from and build relationships with one another, I hope to shift power away from myself and the global team to the country teams who work directly for and with our stakeholders.
Shifting power to those on the ground creates more accountability. Any one of our country team members has more interaction with our partners and stakeholders in a week than I have had in my year and a half with the organisation. By shifting power to our country teams, they will better position the Lab to be dynamically accountable.
One example of how our teams are responding to this time of disruption with increased accountability is their weekly bulletins that share validated information on COVID-19 and government responses in local languages through WhatsApp, email, social media, and radio stations. Our teams have produced more than 140 bulletins based entirely on community feedback, thus providing more than 20 million people with the information they have asked for in order to debunk rumours, counter misinformation, and build transparency and efficiency into the pandemic response.
The Coronavirus Civic Action Campaign is dynamic, and holds us to account in real time. As such, what I supposedly can do for our stakeholders does not come close to representing the Lab’s dynamic accountability; rather, it is what our country teams do to be present and active in local communities that exemplifies our commitment to dynamic accountability, demonstrating every day that Accountability Lab can be relied on to always live up to our name, even during times of disruption.
At 23 years old, Katie has worked for multiple nonprofits in the international development and security fields. As Operations and Programs Coordinator for Accountability Lab Global, she supports the operational and administrative management of the Global team as well as the implementation, facilitation, and oversight of Global programs. Prior to her current position, she facilitated the participation of international security leaders and experts from democracies around the world at the 2018 Halifax International Security Forum. Before the Forum, she worked on behalf of Global Development Incubator on the development and expansion of a West African capacity-building and youth leadership program, Emerging Public Leaders. Katie graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College, where she studied government and cultural anthropology and played Division 1 soccer and rugby. She sits on the Global Fund for Children’s Youth Leadership Council, where she serves as an advisor to ensure that young people inform the Fund’s grantmaking, advocacy, and development strategies. Katie is also a lead organizer for the Open Gov Youth Collective, which aims to include youth voices in the global open government movement.