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M.4 Accountability

Accountability is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as the obligation to demonstrate that work has been conducted in compliance with agreed rules and standards. Sphere describes accountability as the process of using power responsibly, taking account of and being held accountable by different stakeholders, primarily those who are affected by the exercise of such power.

Sphere and the CHS aim to improve the quality of humanitarian response in situations of disaster and conflict and to enhance the accountability of humanitarian action to crisis-affected people. Sphere’s WASH technical chapter describes the critical need for community engagement, linking communities with response teams to maximise their influence on reducing public health risks. The WASH Community Engagement model in Sphere (chapter  E ) emphasises accountability, including welcoming and addressing complaints and using power responsibly.

One of the principles of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs seeks to guide behavioural standards, stating the need to ‘hold ourselves accountable to both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources’.

There are different forms of accountability: upwards accountability (e.g. to donors) lateral accountability (e.g. to governments) and downward or forward accountability (e.g. to those affected by the disaster). As service providers, hygiene promoters are accountable to the affected population – they are the best judges of the programme’s impact and have a right to a say in decisions that affect their lives (see also Accountability to Affected Population, F.23).

WASH accountability comprises five dimensions of change: (1) participation, (2) transparency, (3) feedback and complaints, (4) monitoring, evaluation and learning and (5) staff competencies and attitudes. These five dimensions complement and link with the CHS, particularly commitment 4: ‘Communities and people affected by crisis know their rights and entitlements, have access to information and participate in decisions that affect them’ and commitment 5: ‘Communities and people affected by crisis have access to safe and responsive mechanisms to handle complaints.’

WASH personnel should take responsibility for their actions, particularly in an emergency situation when communities are more vulnerable to exploitation and where aid workers often think they already know what people need. Wherever data is collected, efforts must be made to keep both communities and staff safe, including adhering to data protection standards. In highly insecure environments, it may be necessary to conduct remote interviews (via phone or digital means) or provide personal protection. 

Even in an acute emergency, it is essential to involve the affected population as far as possible in programme planning, implementation, monitoring and feedback (M.5). Being accountable includes building trust, being respectful and developing collaborative relationships with affected communities. WASH personnel can and should support people’s capacity to overcome adversity by listening, providing clear and accurate information and the opportunity to provide feedback on the programme.

The advantages of accountability are many. Listening to people, empowering and involving them in decisions that affect them and understanding their needs will lead to an appropriately designed, implemented and more sustainable programme.

Process & Good Practice

  • Ensure that all sectors of the community (including men, women, boys and girls, persons with disabilities and older people) can participate fully in the programme and have the opportunity to voice their concerns and express their preferences e.g. on the type of toilets, hygiene items or means of communication.

  • Share information about the organisation and the programme with the community in a format and language they understand. For example, they should be informed about the content of hygiene kits and when they will be received in an accessible language and medium suited to the population.

  • Establish open, transparent and participatory mechanisms for feedback and complaints T.13. All stakeholders, particularly the users, must be able to provide feedback or complain about the programme and be informed about the organisation’s intended response. Acknowledge receipt of the feedback, analyse it, use the findings and respond to the feedback, closing the feedback loop: ‘consult, modify and consult!’

  • Monitor M.2 the progress of the programme against its goals and objectives. This feeds into the learning process (M.6, M.7 and M.8) and should involve the affected population, e.g. the users of the latrines monitor their satisfaction and use.

  • Train and support staff to demonstrate behaviours that support accountability, such as respect for the people they are working with, being open and transparent and relating to community members as partners rather than helpless victims. A trusted relationship with the community can also increase acceptance of the programme. 

  • Demonstrate active listening skills: hygiene promoters play an essential role by showing an interest, being neutral and reflective and demonstrating an understanding of what people say and feel. ‘Ask, listen, communicate!’ C.2.

  • Establish a feedback system that is simple, accessible, safe, appropriate and effective T.13. Take into account people’s age, gender, disability, language and context and design the system with the involvement of a diverse range of community members. Adapt the system according to the context (a suggestion box may work in one community but not in another with limited literacy). 

  • Include vulnerable groups in the community and listen to them. The marginalised, older people, persons with disabilities, those with special health needs and children may be less visible, but must not be forgotten. 



To ensure that WASH responders take responsibility for their work, use programme resources appropriately and for humanitarian purposes and that communities benefit from efficient and effective programming.


  • Hygiene promoters and other WASH personnel control the aid resources; they are in a powerful position in relation to the affected community and they must use this power responsibly.

  • Affected people have the right to be involved in planning, implementing, monitoring and giving feedback on the emergency response. They are best judges of the response M.5.

  • Standards such as Sphere and the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) provide a framework for accountability, supporting the programme to respond to the needs of the affected community and engage without endangering it.

  • An accountable humanitarian response is based on communication, participation and feedback; WASH staff should establish mechanisms for sharing information with the affected community including about the organisation, its principles and what assistance they are providing, when and how.

  • Hygiene promoters play a key role in ensuring an accessible and safe WASH feedback and complaints mechanism. This must be established with the input of the affected community and the feedback acted upon in a systematic and timely manner.

  • Data collection requires informed consent and might require ethical approval. Any data collected must adhere to data protection standards and ensure confidentiality.

  • Knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes are important aspects of being accountable; hygiene promoters must be competent, respectful and enabled to do their job well.

  • Programme planners should assess whether the response is necessary, useful and feasible before its implementation, as well as assessing how the community can maintain the project’s benefits in the long run. The design and implementation should be sensitive to the cultural, socioeconomic, environmental and political context.


Internationally agreed WASH minimum standards, the Core Humanitarian Standard and the Code of Conduct

Sphere Association (2018): The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response 4th Edition

Definitions of accountability and practical examples, case studies for putting accountability into practice

GWC (2009): WASH Accountability Resources. Ask, Listen, Communicate

Guidance on incorporating accountability into humanitarian programmes including WASH

IFRC (2021): A Red Cross Red Crescent Guide to Community Engagement and Accountability

Oxfam (2007): The Good Enough Guide. Impact Measurement and Accountability in Emergencies. Emergency Capacity Building Project

Overview about ethical considerations and guidelines in data collection and field research

Majorin, F., Watson, J. et al. (2020): Summary Report on Ethics, Consent, Protection and Risk, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub

Information about remote data collection and how to protect participants and data collectors

Majorin, F., Watson, J., et al. (2020): Summary Report on Remote Data Collection, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub