29 January 2021

Understanding Complaint Stage Outcomes

Complaint stage information is a critical component in helping us understand how accountability mechanisms function in practice. Recent updates to our methodology on complaint stages provide further insights into things like registration criteria, eligibility trends, and outputs for communities — helping inform a community-centered approach to our data.

Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) are designed to help ensure that international finance and development projects are not unduly causing, contributing to, or recreating harm for the communities they are intended to benefit. Ensuring that IAMs are an independent, fair, transparent, accessible, and effective means for communities seeking redress involves understanding the ways in which they are or are not serving communities. The Accountability Console was born out of a need to understand how mechanisms function in practice, and measure how effective they are in achieving remedy for communities facing harm.

The Accountability Console contains information on every complaint filed to an IAM. Each complaint is classified according to relevant information, like the type of harm raised, project sectors about which the complaint is filed, and the groups involved in the filing of the complaint. Through years of tracking this information, we’ve assembled a methodology for collecting, categorizing, and assessing complaint data. We’ve worked to define the terms for which this data is organized and maintained in order to best represent the complaint process, accounting for cross-compatibility of different IAMs and registries, alongside our knowledge of community perspectives through our own case work. The power of this database of information is that it allows for full visibility into things like how often complaints are deemed eligible, or the most common project sectors about which complaints are raised. It allows us to compare (across mechanisms, regions, issues, or project sectors) how often eligible complaints yield an agreement between parties, or the publication of a compliance report to name a few.

Maintaining data systems like this can be challenging, and understanding the ways in which the data is represented and being used is critical in order to realize the true impacts of accountability systems. Through our own research using this dataset, we have understood that uncovering information about a particular stage can prove difficult.

For example, comparing eligible complaints that are closed or in monitoring to eligible complaints that are closed without outputs shows that approximately 40% of eligible complaints still fail to produce any tangible outputs from the complaint process. This finding has important consequences that warrant further attention and research. Of particular interest to us are the reasons why subsequent substantive phases failed or did not occur, including actors refusing to participate, the IAM determining that an agreement was not feasible, or the IAM refusing to conduct an investigation due to a prior complaint raising similar issues.

Formerly, uncovering this sort of information on the Console involved the use of a few different queries on different variables, and knowledge of stage terminology. In an effort to make questions like this easier to access and uncover, we have redesigned the way in which we categorize and organize complaint stage information. Advanced filter options now exist that allow filtering on whether a particular stage occurred, the outcome of the stage, whether there is public documentation about the stage (regardless of the outcome), as well as the reasons why a stage failed to produce an output or did not occur. For example:

It’s imperative that accountability mechanisms designed for communities facing harm or adverse impacts are accessible by these communities. The Accountability Console allows researchers, advocates, partners, and investors, to ensure that IAMs are an effective means of redress for communities facing harm from international finance.


This article was originally published in the Accountability Console Newsletter, where AC’s Research team shares research and insights from the world’s most comprehensive database of Independent Accountability Mechanism (IAM) complaints, the Accountability Console. Click here if you would like to subscribe to the monthly Console Newsletter.