Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Margaret Hermann


Accountability, International, Leadership, Non-Governmental Organizations, Nonprofit, Transnational

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


The increased involvement of non-state actors such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in The increased involvement of non-state actors such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in shaping various national and global policy processes raises serious questions about the accountability, authority, and legitimacy of these important yet unelected actors. Although there is no consensus on how to define accountability, broadly the concept refers to the idea that some hold others responsible for their actions according to a set of standards defining proper behavior. However, deciding to whom and to what standards NGOs are accountable and how they are (or should be) held accountable remain central and open questions in accountability debates.

This study relies on both qualitative and quantitative methods, introducing the use of qualitative pattern analysis to understand not only what leaders of TNGOs have to say about accountability, but also how they describe their accountability experiences. It uses the TNGO initiative datasets, which include in-depth interview data for 152 CEOs of U.S.- registered TNGOs, as well as secondary data collected for each of the organizations in the sample. Drawing from the nonprofit, management, and international relations scholarship, I explore the three central questions of accountability debates: What is accountability? Accountable to whom? And how? I argue that once one addresses each of these accountability questions, taking an actor-centered perspective, it is possible to understand how accountability practices vary across transnational NGOs.

I propose the concept of accountability dissonance to explain the disconnect between the three main questions of accountability. Through the empirical chapters, I show that TNGO leaders expressed often complex views about their accountability experiences, yet they generally struggled to communicate their practices. I stress the need to pay attention to the substantive meaning of accountability messaging and to the connections among definitions, audiences, and responses. The phenomenon of accountability dissonance persists because leaders express their accountability using tools and processes that are mismatched to their definitions and audiences. Furthermore, the data suggest that the types of organizations TNGO leaders manage matter in very different ways, contingent on the aspect of accountability being considered. To reach a holistic understanding, I propose an overarching framework using the analogy of the puzzle to highlight the need for a more integrated approach to TNGO accountability, one hinging on the ability to target the communication of accountability performance to specific audiences.


Open Access