Edited by Robert DeFillippi, Alison Rieple and Patrik Wikström
Chapter 5: Disrupting conventions in development: from ‘beneficiaries’ to ‘co-designers’
There is increasing pressure on development actors to do more with less and build programs that are self-sustainable with participation and shared value for beneficiaries, rather than dependency (Porter and Kramer, 2011). Therefore, the idea of shifting the collective mindset from seeing ‘beneficiaries’ as ‘co-designers’ poses some interesting questions for development actors and designers more broadly. A question that is explored in this chapter is: How can a shift from ‘beneficiaries receiving’ to ‘users co-designing’ increase development organizations’ performance and social accountability? The call for greater accountability for program beneficiaries in the development literature, referred to as ‘social accountability,’ has been discussed extensively for years (Burger and Seabe, 2014; Cronin and O’Regan, 2002; Ebrahim, 2005; Najam, 1996; Newcomer et al., 2013; Unerman and O’Dwyer, 2010). In practice, however, measuring performance and accountability toward beneficiaries in development programs are not prioritized to the same degree as they are for donors, on whom these organizations depend for survival (Edwards and Hulme, 2002; Gent et al., 2013; Najam, 1996). Donors place great emphasis and importance on ‘functional accountability,’ which is short term in orientation. This requires reporting on resources and resource use, preferences high levels of control during implementation and prioritizes the measurable and quantifiable over less tangible changes in human development (Dennehy et al., 2013; Ebrahim, 2003; Edwards and Hulme, 2002; Newcomer et al., 2013; Unerman and O’Dwyer, 2010). This is in stark contrast to long, iterative and people-centered projects that do not provide quick, tangible results or may not correspond with the outcome perceived by the initial plan. This latter approach is less favorable to donors, even if the project addresses the real needs of the beneficiaries (Dennehy et al., 2013). As a result, Smith (2010) claims, without the primary focus on ‘social accountability’ for beneficiaries, organizational performance and program sustainability becomes compromised.
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