Findings Support Idea that Diagonal Accountability Enhances Human Development

Jan Teorell, Varieties of Democracy Institute
Jan Teorell, Varieties of Democracy Institute

Research findings have supported the idea scholars and policymakers across the world have long believed that diagonal accountability enhances human development. This is the finding published in “Diagonal Accountability and Development Outcomes,” a report produced by Valeriya Mechkova, Michael Bernhard, Anna Lührmann as part of a V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy Institute) study.

The authors defined diagonal accountability as “the ability of organized citizens to hold their rulers directly accountable,” adding “such public engagement is key to a more open and responsive government.”

Overall, the report findings “suggest that investments in diagonal accountability not only empower citizens politically, they also contribute to human development.” Findings also show that in countries with limited vertical and horizontal accountability as well as state capacity and economic development, such pay-offs may not immediately materialize. It however noted that even in such contexts diagonal accountability contributes to human development in the long-run as it allows citizens and civil society to more forcefully articulate demands for accountable governance that rests on capable public administration and fosters economic development.

The research which carried out a regression analysis of more than 130 countries and over 60 years of history shows in its report “that improvements in diagonal accountability are associated with a decrease in infant mortality as one of the major indicators of human development.”

The research findings also show that over a 10 years period, the difference between countries with high and low levels of diagonal accountability is predicted to add up to a reduction of infant mortality by 10 deaths/1000 births.

The report shows a similar relationship to other indicators of human development in particular life expectancy, economic equality, education and economic growth, though in some cases the relationship is less robust.

It adds that diagonal accountability is a powerful tool which gives civil society actors a range of ways to monitor and impose costs on governments, constraining their autonomy from society.

The report says it is clear that when diagonal accountability is embedded in political contexts in which there are competitive elections and rule of law, its ability to trigger vertical and horizontal accountability mechanisms such as “throwing the bums out,” votes of no confidence, triggering veto points, and impeachment proceedings makes it a more credible threat to power holders.

The authors point out in the report that the study of accountability has highlighted three distinct pathways: the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal through which citizens keep governments accountable. They added: “Whereas there has been substantial study of the first two, diagonal accountability has only recently been identified and thus has been studied to a lesser extent.” They therefore focused on diagonal accountability in the study, adding” “Such public engagement is key to a more open and responsive government,” saying they expect it to promote a range of benefits for those human development outcomes which are dependent on government action.

The report also discusses how diagonal accountability differs from the other two forms of accountability and how it should work to promote human development outcomes.

The authors thereafter performed a series of statistical tests that look at the ways in which diagonal accountability affects public health, education rates, economic growth, and income equality. We also explore how other political environmental factors condition the ways in which diagonal accountability affect these outcomes.

Expatiating further, the report says “Good government is not only a function of the quality of administration but of how well that administration responds to the needs of its citizens. Thus the accountability of government is central to its ability to meet the developmental needs of the population over which it governs.”

The full report is available online and can be downloaded from