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Report • Working Seminar - FGF

Report • Working Seminar - FGF

Citizens'

Citizens' Accountability: A Dangerous Burdensome Process Or A New Window for Improved Impact?Linked to the former, the legitimacy issue, in turn, raised many thought-provoking areas ofenquiry and, especially, with regard to its definition. What should CSO legitimacy bebased on and, thereby, be defined by?"Legitimacy" can mean a great many different things. The participants identified a seriesof elements of answer:- CSOs legitimacy comes from the notion of citizenship. The action of CSOs is seenwithin the context of active citizenship and participatory democracy;- CSOs legitimacy comes from knowledge and experience. The ad hoc workinggroup noted that this criteria cannot suit all organisations and needs to benuanced, as it would mean that a brand new organisation, f.i., will have no orvery little legitimacy at the start;- CSOs legitimacy comes from all or part of the following: publicly made CSOstatements and objectives, knowledge accumulated on the field, partnerships,public support, transparency to the objectives, the internal functions, methods,actions, results (cf. Oxfam Belgium's Statement of legitimacy and accountability:although this statement doesn't fit all CSOs, the working group did appreciate thistext very much.)(Available online: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/accounts/legitimacy.html)2. What does accountability encompass?3. And how is accountability linked to representation?The second and third working group reflecting on these issues found that accountabilityencompasses:- Firstly, three different aspects, viz. responsibility (feeling responsible), transparencyand liability (references to rules: ethical, social, political…);- Secondly, the distinction to be made between "internal accountability" (withregard to your members, board, general assembly ...) and external accountabilityto third parties (public authorities, donors, beneficiaries, public opinion and so on).Added to this, there's also the question of the CSOs paid teams and whether theseworkers should be regarded as "internal" or "external" parties: sometimes internaland external accountability may contradict each other, given the real-lifeconstraints. The key here is how to deal with conflicting priorities;- Thirdly, an approach of accountability that analyses the issue with regard to theCSO objectives (long, medium, short term), to its means (are you efficient?), and toits methods.Investigating the links between accountability and representation (and the issue ofparticipation), the working group set forth the following observations:- CSOs should state publicly the people they propose to represent and, quite adifferent proposition, who and what they work for, and how. They (usually, but notalways) propose to represent the interests of their members or "constituents", in theframework of a general cause (f.i. “animal welfare”...), that is not for the sole sake oftheir own organisations' future welfare.- CSOs should, at least, be accountable to the people they've set out to representand, better, also to those that may be affected by their actions ("beneficiaries","stakeholders", etc.) In this respect, it would be useful to distinguish internalaccountability (members) and external accountability (downward: beneficiaries;upward: sponsors and authorities; horizontal: peer organisations);- The working group expressed the view that a typology of organisations (at least abasic one) could help CSOs to see more clearly: there are important differencesReport Working Seminar 17 December 2008 4 / 7

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