Accountability Initiative

Quick Look

Accountability Initiative researches and creates innovative tools to promote transparency and accountability in India's public services.

Beginning Date: 
May 1, 2008
Annual Budget 2008: 
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
How many unique hits per month?: 
Project Scale: 


Accountability Initiative is an Indian organization focused on two main aspects: research and creating innovative tools to promote transparency and accountability, mainly regarding government’s expenditure in public delivery systems. The organization collects data from government websites, where it is often presented in an unclear way, and reorganizes it into a searchable, sortable database. An “Expenditure Track” tool pulls data from 15 to 20 key government websites and converts it into clear fact sheets.

The website is the main tool for disseminating information and placing it in the public domain and, as of October 2010, it was working on the development of a crowdsourcing platform to enable field researchers to engage in real-time data entry. The website also has a blog where people can engage in accountability issues, and connect with Facebook to generate discussion and debate.

Accountability Initiative also maintains a “document library” (an information clearing-house that pulls together both government and NGO reports, creating an easily searchable database) and publishes its own research in “Briefs,” which non-academic and non-specialist audiences can access. These initiatives attempt to start a sustained discussion on the issue of accountability among real stakeholders.


You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Date of Audio: 
September 22, 2010


Tell me a little about your project.: 

My name is Yamini Aiyar. I am the Director of Accountability Initiative. The project was set up in 2008 with a startup grant from Google, through a program called Inform and Empower. The original idea was to try and address three main gaps in the accountability space in India.

First, there were different initiatives across the country, but each was done in a small-targeted pocket. There was very little effort to create a network to see how some of these efforts could be taken to a larger scale. Second, there was very little documentation and analytical thinking about it. Different groups and NGOs were experimenting with different tools and methods, and had documented them. But they hadn’t been pooled together in an analytical frame to try and understand what the implications of these new efforts are. Third, we wanted to try and see how to engage policymakers around the issue of accountability. Each individual accountability tool or NGO had its own methods. We thought it would be interesting to try and pool them together on a common platform, to see if there was a way of having sustained engagement at the policy level.

So we started up with some trial and error, and it built into a larger program, which has to some extent gone beyond the initial mandate of the project. Accountability Initiative is based out of the Centre for Policy Research, which is a larger think tank.

To create a network we started having annual/biannual seminars and conferences which bring together activists, academics, practitioners and policy-makers. Our primary interest was also to see if there were ways of disseminating information on how government functions, as a way of promoting accountability on public service delivery, and it was in this sort of quest that we evolved our flagship project, called PAISA (“money”). This essentially is a collaboration with the National Institute of Public Finance Policy (NIPFP) and the Aser Center.

The collaboration to develop scalable practical tools to track government programmes, and the starting point was elementary education. The idea was not to restrict ourselves to simply developing tools and collecting data, but also to experiment with innovative ways of sharing this data back into the planning process, so that the data itself can be used in a manner that strengthens accountability. We are trying to push greater transparency and put that data in the public domain.

What's your vision for the project?: 

Our big vision is to promote an informed and accountable public delivery system. We do this in two ways. For such a system to exist, the government system has to exist in a form that is transparent and responsive to citizens’ needs, and citizens must be empowered with information so they can place their demands and push for greater accountability. All our work is to pull these two threads together. PAISA and Expenditure Track are examples of that. The second aspect of our work is to generate debate on the accountability issue.

How does your work currently turn into offline change? : 

We’ve had effect, but I don’t know if we’ve had impact. We are only two years old, and it’s too early to judge, but the media has picked up on us quite a bit, especially around the budget. Last year, for instance, we ran two series — one with a business newspaper called Mint on budgetary documents on public service expenditure. That was new, because usually around budget time there is a lot of talk about allocation or what the budget will mean for big businesses, etc., but there is very little talk about what the budget means for service delivery reforms. Even the talks on allocation are usually about how much the government will be spending, rather than how well the government has spent in the past, and what should be reflected in the new budget. We also did a series with a TV channel. They often used our data to kick start some of their discussions, and invited us on the panel.

We’ve been interacting a lot with the government, to the extent that our reports are being read by government, and to the extent that they, by and large, agree with our findings.

At least the issue is on the table and we have had a little bit of debate around it.
The hits on our website are slowly increasing. We hope this new, more friendly website attracts more users. Our membership on Facebook is rising steadily. We should be able to attract wider public engagement. We are getting better known in the field, and that is a sign of effect.

In terms of a long-term impact, I don’t know if we’ve made too much of a dent there. The vision is contributing to a systemic reform. I don’t know if we can make that happen, but we can at least chip in that direction.

What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

One easy-to-deal-with obstacle is how to reach out to a non-academic, non-policy, non-specialist audience. As specialists ourselves, we have an idea of how to get to our own network. We know how to communicate to policymakers, to specialist journalists, to academics, and we’ve been quite successful in bringing them into our fold. Communicating to a larger public and using technology is also new to us. So we are learning as we go along.

Finding the right skill-set within the team is another challenge. Human resources are a challenge. We are small and new. We’ve got a fairly good team. But we are doing work of 100 people in a team of 17.

We have a very successful collaboration with NIPFP and the Aser Center. Collaboration with several institutes allows you to work on a larger scale, but it is also important to make the collaboration work. So creating institutional systems to maintain the collaborative efforts is a big challenge we haven’t faced as yet, but need to beware of.

In terms of larger challenges to the nature of work, there are a couple of things. People are largely interested in accountability issues at a very peripheral level. There is a large amount of lip service. But the system is not ready for a shake-up to address these issues. Even public opinion is not nuanced enough to put the requisite pressure on the government. So we usually find when we have sensational stories of big corruption and ineffectiveness there is a lot of focus, but to have a sustained discussion on the nitty-gritty of reforms is not easy, and often we lose the audience we are trying to reach out to. It is a larger political problem.

The other challenge is how to encourage wider participation in the system by people who are real stakeholders in service delivery. We are trying to find ways with our grassroots partners to mobilize them and bring them together and start interacting with government officials. Getting people to hear you is easy, but getting them to take action on issues is the real challenge. Transparency is easy, accountability is the challenge.

What is your civic role?: 

We believe in engaging with the government, and at every level. We see ourselves as collectors of data, which the government should have access to. We are demonstrators of innovations that we hope the government notices and picks up and runs with. We want to create models. In order that the government uses these models, we believe in advocacy.

Has your work been replicated?: 

We are really new. I don’t think anyone has replicated what we are doing. We are still in the process of developing our own website. But we have shared our tools with several organizations. UNICEF has been interested in some of our tools.

Is your work a replication of another project?: 

The idea evolved from what was happening in the accountability space. So yes, we were very influenced by that. We were also influenced by participatory tracking methodologies implemented in India and Africa by the World Bank and by social audit methodologies and the RTI [right to information] movement. We were influenced by the Aser Center. These influences have helped us shape our work.

What transparency/accountability organizations do you work with?: 
How many people work on your project?: 


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <pre>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options