As we have seen in Chapter 1, accountability is the process for meeting the information needs of those to whom one is responsible (either legally or morally). These needs involve information about possible futures, current actions and the results of past actions. This chapter deals with evaluative approaches for generating the accountability information needed by decision-makers across the management cycle.
Those who have been crying out for ‘more and better accountability’ in the non-profit sector often complain that key stakeholders such as donors, policy-makers or client groups do not know enough about how effectively and efficiently an organization or programme has been performing. Fears are expressed that money is being wasted or that a particular service is ultimately of no value in improving the conditions it was intended to improve. Therefore, the process of improving the non-profit sector through better accountability must start with evaluation before looking ahead at future challenges and opportunities.
While the need for more and better evaluation may be clear, actually carrying it out in accordance with the ideals laid down in Chapter 1 is not so easy. Many problems and pitfalls arise, which can discourage the process from getting started, distort the results it produces and lead to its rapid abandonment soon after it begins.
The chapters to follow present several pieces of research which show what actually takes place when those seeking accountability attempt to evaluate the performance of the programmes, organizations or larger systems in which they are interested. The picture that emerges from this research is not an especially positive one. Many problems are revealed and yet decisions on funding, programme changes, staffing, and other matters must be made and they will be based, in part, on some kind of assessment of the impact of past practices. For this reason, the remainder of this book examines a variety of specific efforts to move the accountability dialogue into a more open and rational discussion of how decisions will be reached.