UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigating evaluation as an accountability mechanism by international non-governmental organizations working in humanitarian relief Morris, Christopher


Accountability of humanitarian relief organizations has been a key topic of discussion since the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda was published in 1996. Dozens of initiatives stressing accountability to beneficiaries have been launched. However, humanitarian organizations still receive criticism for focusing on accountability to donors and ignoring their responsibilities to account for their actions to the communities they serve. Evaluation is considered a key mechanism for providing accountability and can give opportunities for reducing power imbalances. This study investigates how humanitarian International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) are using evaluation, asking whether evaluation practice is providing accountability to communities affected by crisis. Using a critical hermeneutic framework, the study undertook an empirical review of a sample of evaluation reports published on the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) website. Interviews with evaluators and INGO staff involved in the evaluations contributed to the understanding of current evaluation practice. The study found the accountability provided was mainly internal to INGOs and accountability to affected communities was low. Ensuring program improvement through evaluation was a weak form of accountability but affected communities were not able to use evaluation to influence decisions that affect them. Participation in evaluations was limited to the inclusion of beneficiaries at the data collection stage, and there was no evidence of participation in developing the evaluation scope or questions. Participation at the final stages of the evaluation was also low, although the evaluations that included local civil society partners showed evidence of community involvement in either negotiating or receiving the evaluation results. These latter evaluations provided the highest degree of accountability to the community. Opportunities for participatory evaluation approaches were constrained by INGO control of the evaluation scope and the time allocated for the evaluation. As a result evaluation approaches that favoured internal utilization rather than community engagement or empowerment were most common and thus INGOs benefitted the most from current evaluation practice.

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