Accountability - The Key to Legitimacy: Ford Foundation Official Addresses ICNL's Annual Meeting

11 June 2003

Members of ICNL’s Board, Advisory Council, staff, and friends attending the Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., received a challenge in the keynote address by Michael Edwards. Mr. Edwards is the author of provocative works about the nature, purpose, and possibilities of civil society, including the book Future Positive: International Cooperation in the 21st Century, as well as director of the Ford Foundation's Governance and Civil Society unit.

Mr. Edwards emphasized that in civil society – as elsewhere – accountability is increasingly the “key to legitimacy, and legitimacy is central to the responsible exercise of power and authority in the world today.” Accountability structures, he pointed out, effectively battle the abuse that can arise from the arbitrary and untrammeled exercise of power.

Legitimacy, by Mr. Edwards’s definition, is the “perception that an organization is lawful, admissible, and justified in its chosen course of action among a broad swath of stakeholders.” He sees accountability as “the duty to report one’s actions and their effects in a rigorous way to a higher authority or set of authorities.” Legitimacy and accountability are intertwined, with the connections between them underpinned by commitments and the ways those commitments are monitored and measured.

Mr. Edwards highlighted recent developments in civil society that have brought additional attention to accountability, including scandals, growth in complexity, increasing influence, security concerns, and the spread of market economy. And he praised ICNL and other organizations for focusing effectively on both public and self-regulatory approaches that enable accountability and freedom of association to work together for the good of global civil society.