Estimates suggest that by 2030, about half of the world’s poor will live in contexts of fragility, conflict and violence, all of which exacerbate the difficulties faced by poor and marginalised people, particularly in influencing the policy decisions that affect their lives. This issue of the IDS Bulletin was prepared as part of Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA), an international research programme exploring social and political action in fragile, conflict, and violent settings. It identifies insights from relatively recent experiences of grass-roots struggles and related social and political change. The articles highlight key issues that are central in understanding how accountability pathways unfold in contexts of fragility, violence, and conflict. Such contexts are often ones where state institutions are weak, fragmented, and lack legitimacy; where non-state actors control territory and often provide services, and where civic space is limited and uneven. The issue emphasises the importance of distinguishing processes of accountability from those of empowerment, and recognising the complexities of the relationships between them. As pockets of fragility, conflict, and violence emerge in what have so far been relatively stable places, the initial insights discussed here will be increasingly relevant for tackling these issues globally.