Local Experts Weigh In On International Framework to Improve Development Effectiveness

by Danielle Ellingston and Linda Martin, Global Washington Volunteer

On June 11, Global Washington hosted one of 2 U.S. based consultations, as part of The Open Forum, an initiative driven by a global coalition of CSO’s, whose goal is “to define and promote the roles and effectiveness of the CSO sector in development, based on a shared framework of principles”.  The Seattle based consultation was one of hundreds of consultations occurring in over 50 countries by the end of 2010.   

Sixteen people attended the consultation, and provided insight and recommendations in three areas:  

1) Global Principles of CSO Development Effectiveness.
2) Best Practices and Methods for Implementing Principles.
3) The Enabling Environment for CSO Success.

What Defines a CSO?

The consultation kicked off with a discussion on the term, “CSO” which can be somewhat nebulous. The general consensus is that CSO is a broad umbrella term for organizations outside the government seeking to affect change in their society. Open Forum builds on this definition,”CSOs represent the engagement of people who have organized to promote human dignity and accompany people around the world in efforts to realize human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Two recommendations which surfaced during this discussion include ensuring inclusion of the voices of local CSOs throughout the Open Forum process, whether they are formally recognized or informally constituted; and to more clearly delineate the roles of the Global North and Global South CSOs.

Principles of CSO Development Effectiveness.

Participants first reviewed a set of draft principles offered by InterAction, the organization coordinating the U.S. CSO response, before opening up the meeting to additional ideas for common principles. A lively dialogue followed, reflecting the group’s passion for inclusion, relationship building, and locally based leadership as keystones for successful CSO development efforts.

We offer the following 4 principles for consideration:

1.       Include local grassroots voices.
Allow local CSOs in developing countries a greater voice in the Open Forum, and in the design and application of development policies. These measures can help ensure long term, sustainable development solutions.

2.       Embody respect for local traditions and cultures.
Local people are the primary agents of change in their communities, not outside organizations. To develop culturally appropriate solutions, we must first learn about the existing conditions and forces – political, environmental, and familial – that created a need for assistance. Respect the local process for identifying needs, gathering information, implementing projects, and ensuring accountability.

3.       Consider impact on community and long-term relationships.
Increase the focus on long term project impact and outcomes. Aim to build relationships, trust, and leadership in a community, and not harm existing relationships or relationship structures.

4.       Build local capacity by letting locals lead.
Employ local people as the leaders of local projects whenever possible.  Include local voices at all stages of the development project life-cycle. 

 Implementing CSO Development Principles

1.       Be accountable by local standards.
Accountability measures must be informed by local norms. Define success well, using the local definitions of success. Increase grassroots participation and downward accountability in CSOs. Understand local assessment methods, and base monitoring and evaluation on those methods.

2.       Incorporate cultural capacity building training and ongoing coaching as a prerequisite for project planning and development, and monitoring and evaluation activities.

3.       Include relationship building goals and milestones, such as building trust, collaboration, and cross-sector and cross-issue solutions, as indicators of success.

 Standards Which Support an Enabling Environment for CSO Success.

1.       Increase donor responsiveness to local norms for accountability and data indicators, collection and use.
We believe donors need to do a better job of balancing the need to ensure funds are wisely spent, with increased sensitivity to the capacity of recipient organizations to provide such data. Data collection is often considered a resource drain on recipient organizations, and increases the administrative/overhead cost of running a project. Reporting requirements should not place an undue burden on recipient organizations.

Moreover, we encourage donors to consider local standards for accountability. Input from some consultation members suggests that funders collect too much data, with little explanation of what the data will be used for, and that decisions are sometimes made without using the data that was collected. We recommend that funding entities consider collecting less data, and using what is collected more thoughtfully.

We also encourage donors to be more transparent by sharing with recipients why certain indicators are chosen and how data will be used.

2.       Fund for long-term community development, with built in flexibility.
The funding process, from application to evaluation, should create incentives for programs that have a long-term positive impact on community and relationships.  We encourage programs which are nimble and responsive to the changing needs of communities, that offer greater flexibility in how funds are spent, and that are developed in partnership with local CSOs who have a hands on understanding of local conditions.  

Participants indicated that organizations are often hindered by donor funding schedules, preventing locals from addressing pressing needs. We recommend developing more responsive funding timelines which address time-sensitive needs, along with longer term programmatic support to help support sustainable outcomes.

3.       Support transparent and accountable hiring practices.
Ensure that CSO staff work in the interests of the organization’s mission; hire DSO staff on the basis of their qualifications.

4.       Be fair and inclusive.
Promote respect for local professionals and equality between north-south partners.

5.       Develop the cultural capacity of non-local DSCOs to help ensure effective use of resources. Increased cultural competency will help experts to work within local structures more effectively and with each other.

One of the most interesting ideas that came out of the discussion was the suggestion to move towards a resource or asset based development approach. CSOs would identify assets and resources available  to support development activity, along with capacity building programs to build local assets, essential for sustainability. Such an approach would take into account the resources and skills local and non-local CSOs bring to the table, making projects more geared to local capacity while facilitating an exchange of skills and ideas that would benefit both. Based on the assessment, capacity building programs can be put into place to build local assets, which are considered essential for sustainability. As one participant noted” Sharing power with the local leaders is integral to formulating an effective strategy in the field”.

Next Steps

InterAction is combining the recommendations from our Seattle consultation with the ideas that came out of the two-day consultation in Washington, DC, and will write a report based on the outcome.  They will present this report at the Open Forum Global Assembly in Istanbul, Turkey in September 2010.  Stay tuned for updates.  For further information, please refer to the links below.

The Open Forum
2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness
Accra Agenda for Action (AAA)