The Accountability Incubator is a creative peer learning program for young civic activists and change-makers who want to fight corruption and build accountability. It was developed to provide long-term support, networks and skills to people who are often overlooked by or left out of traditional civil society programs. It is innovative in that it uses creative tools, a long-term approach and the very latest thinking to shape governance globally.
Young people have to be at the forefront of solutions to problems of poor governance and corruption, but they are rarely given the support they need to play that role. Ten years ago, we spoke to hundreds of young people around the world and they all told us the same thing- that a lack of accountability and corruption is at the heart of the problems they face. And that they often do not have registered organizations that donors feel they can fund; they often come from diverse backgrounds and places that are difficult to reach; and many times they speak different languages (literally and figuratively) to experts on these issues. But these young activists have the solutions we need- they are more connected, more creative and more willing to challenge the status quo on these issues than any generation before them. And they have massive potential if they are supported in ways that are contextually relevant and move beyond standardized one-off trainings.
The Accountability Incubator addresses these issues by providing tailored, long-term and hands-on support to 100+ activists and change-makers (that we call “accountapreneurs”) from civil society around the world. The support they receive takes a hybrid format (online/through bite-size Whatsapp content) and in person with Accountability Labs in 8 countries- Belize, Kenya, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The year long program provides these accountapreneurs with everything they need- from learning opportunities to communications support to stipends to pilot ideas- to super-charge accountability within their communities and find new ways to solve entrenched problems of governance.
The overarching objective of the innovation is to build a new generation of accountability change-makers that can create a more prosperous, inclusive and fair society. Each year in September we open a call for applications for the Incubator across the 8 countries above- and target young people from minority groups, women and others whose voices are often less heard- in particular. We receive hundreds of nominations in each country and work to select the top 10-12 participants to join the program at the beginning of the following year. We work closely with partners- including local networks, civil society associations and the media to spread the word about the process. We also work closely with government (at the national and local levels) to understand the kinds of accountability challenges they face; to map backwards to the core issues; and to demonstrate how a citizen driven process such as this can help them to solve those challenges.
Each year the Incubator supports some of the very best leaders within the governance and anti-corruption space. We now have more than 300+ alumni of the program who we continue to work with to create change- in whatever position they hold going forwards across civil society, government, the media and the private sector. Beneficiaries have included young leaders from diverse groups who often otherwise would not have had access to this kind of support- for example young people with disabilities, women, religious minorities and others. The incubator has super-charged their efforts. With our support they have collectively raised millions of dollars for their ideas; created significant change in their communities; and gone on to win other awards including the Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment Award; US State Department fellowships; and the Queen’s Young Leaders’ Award.
The Incubator continues to grow- with another 5-10 countries set to launch over the next 5 years. The process is also being adapted in new ways to additional contexts- in South Africa, for example, it is focusing specifically on local media-makers and storytellers in communities. The Incubator is becoming institutionalized in that our networks are now significant across these contexts; and governments are now working with us to define problems they want solved and to engage with the civil society eco-systems that is emerging through the program.
The incubator is hybrid- with content delivered in virtual easy-to-access chunks (eg through Whatsapp content for low bandwidth contexts) and through high-touch in-person mentoring, network-building and support. In this way it moves decisively beyond the off-the-shelf training approaches, builds trust and engagement over time and ensures much greater sustainability of ideas and impact. The incubator is inspired by many other innovations- the content of which we draw upon in various ways- including ideo.org, Y Combinator and the Open Government Partnership.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Accountability Incubator is innovative in 3 key ways:
- Model - as explained above, it blends flexible, virtual content with hands-on, sustained support on the ground, meaning that civic changemakers receive the support they need to push local and national/global reforms;
- Approach - the Incubator is centered in locally driven, locally owned and locally sustained efforts. It brings in those that are least included; and supports them to make their voices heard in new ways.
- Scale - the Incubator is an approach as much as a method. It can be scaled (and adapted to context) easily as we have shown; and it can be reframed according to issues/context- to focus on specific accountability and governance challenges.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Incubator is currently operating across three stages:
- Implementation - the Incubator has been growing rapidly over the course of the last 10 years. It is now recognized as the foremost civic incubator globally; and has 200+ “accountapreneurs” who are implementing ideas- including around budget monitoring, using film for change, developing music festivals to support democracy and much more.
- Evaluation - we are actively collecting data around the Incubator on a continual basis to understand the impact it is having and the changes that the accountapreneurs are creating. This data is then fed back into the design to improve the model. We are also working on longer-term longitudinal analysis to understand broader changes over time.
- Diffusing Lessons - we are actively sharing narratives, stories and learnings from the Incubator in an ongoing way- through social media, short reports, videos and more.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Our core collaborators for the Incubator fall into three groups:
- Citizens/activists - who are the participants in the program and also the people for which the ideas are ultimately designed;
- Governments - who are working with us to identify problems and coordinate solutions; and
- Media - who work with us to tell stories around this effort, amplify ideas and spread the word about the accountability innovations that are coming out of the program.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The users and stakeholders of the Incubator are young, diverse people from around the world. They are the participants in the program - and through their organizations, movements or networks- are bringing many thousands of others into their efforts to build accountability and improve governance. In this way, citizens as a larger group in each country are stakeholders - corruption and mismanagement affects everyone, and these ideas and this process are improving outcomes in these areas for all.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Incubator is demonstrating some important results and impact. We have supported over 200 accountapreneurs who have developed more than 150 new ideas for accountability. These change-makers have raised on average- with our support- often tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to grow their efforts, with many of the leading donor organizations globally. They have done everything from setting up the 1st tool to crowdsource information on public services in Nepal; to setting up a film school for women to fight corruption in Liberia; to building a local media outlet for verified news on issues of democracy in Pakistan. We measure results through qualitative surveys, check-ins and data collection; and longer-term evaluation efforts. In the future we are expecting the Incubator to grow further and for the networks it generates to expand to the point that anyone with a concrete ideas for governance change in the participating countries has been through the program.
Challenges and Failures
The Incubator is a process that is supporting political and social change in some of the most difficult contexts on earth- so there are plenty of challenges- from closing civic space, to logistical challenges, to lack of funding and support. This has led to many failures, which we like to think of as learning opportunities and feedback moments to help us improve. Failures have included, at different times, lack of buy-in from key political actors; lack of funding to grow key parts of the program; insufficient support for graduates of the program; and also challenges related to context (eg earthquakes, coups, floods and more). We are now adapting and learning from these failures by: conducting continual political-economy analysis and relationship building; active resource mobilization efforts; developing an alumni program and engagement community; and making sure we have clear safety and security/emergency plans and funds in place for any kinds of disasters.
Conditions for Success
There are 5 key conditions that are necessary for the success of the Accountability Incubator:
- Political space - there has to be a degree of space to discuss governance and anti-corruption issues, even if minimal.
- Engagement - the Incubator is only as good as the participants, so it is essential that we build active engagement around the process and the people within it through storytelling and outreach;
- Values - Accountability Lab and the Incubator are driven by values- these are how we make decisions and know what is right. Participants in this process have to hold integrity as a core value.
- Transparency - this process has to be transparent to build trust. We are open about the process, selections, challenges, opportunities and finances;
- Financial support - the Incubator is designed to be low costs and sustainable but in many of the contexts in which we work, some support is needed.
The Incubator has grown organically and as mentioned above is set to grow further in the next 3 to 5 years. This is a process that could be replicated by others with the relevant conditions, support and networks. The approach we use to partnerships is to provide guidance, frameworks and content; and to potentially work with others to adapt to their local contexts. Currently the process is run by local Accountability Labs globally- and we work with the managers of the process to on-board them and their teams when the process begins; and provide ongoing engagement and support as it develops. The Incubator approach can also be adapted to other programs- including to work with government reformers within government- which we are also testing and iterating currently.
- Positivity not Negativity - approaches to accountability, transparency and anti-corruption tend to focus on the problems and the perpetrators. We take a positive approach- “naming and faming” rather than “naming and shaming”- lifting people up and supporting solutions wherever we can.
- Individuals then Organizations - building accountability cannot be simply a process of creating and enforcing laws. It requires a focus on accountability agents, as well as accountability organizations or actions.
- Unlikely Networks not just Usual Suspects - we’ve learned that as we build “unlikely networks” among civil society, government officials, musicians, creatives, technologists, film-makers and others, we can open up accountability work.
- Bottom Up and Top Down - we work from communities upwards, mobilizing them with knowledge and ideas to push for reform from the local level, while also coordinating top-down responses.
The Incubator is growing rapidly and we are always open to feedback, ideas, learning and partnerships. If there are other organizations that would like to collaborate, we’d welcome the opportunity to chat - please reach out to us at [email protected] or on Twitter @accountlab.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
2 January 2023