Who does development serve? Projects should be accountable to communities before donors.

Organisational Accountability is a tool to change relationships and systems, increasing project sustainability and impact, says Semiye Micheal. 

The sad reality is that many resources are going down the drain without making a real impact because of the sustained disconnect between project implementing organisations and their primary stakeholders; the communities they serve.

Organisational accountability

Honestly, when I first heard about “organisational accountability” it was strange to me and I argued against it. We need to explain why learning and implementing accountability measures is important, and exciting, for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). 

The accountability of CSOs is rarely addressed and can be very cumbersome to unpack. Often NGOs and CSOs find it easier to track the performance and accountability of governments than to track themselves and their own impact.. Several factors make organisations, their operations and their use of resources, more or less accountable to the communities they serve. The way CSOs operate  shows their loyalty only to their donors. They seldom seem to believe they owe anyone any form of explanation except those who fund their activities. And donors mostly don’t compel their grantees to provide convincing evidence of how they hold themselves accountable to the communities they are operating in.

This problem is  growing daily because “beneficiaries” do not have any power to demand inclusion in the design or implementation process of projects. Is this untold ugly trend having a negative impact on the community of CSOs and the work they do?

Inclusion is accountability. 

The absence of the people a project or organisation serves at the table at every level of design, strategy and implementation is enough to question how genuine our intentions are. Accountability must go beyond publishing financial records to building a strong internal system that continuously build sustainable relationships with stakeholders as a means of allowing input. This promotes checks and balances whilst creating a quality control system at all levels of project implementation.

Organisational integrity and internal control. 

Organisations often have a focus on growth. This creates a fear of losing out on resources and pushes many CSOs to hide things. Rather than earning the trust of their host communities through openness and collaboration, organisations are driven to remain in the “good books” of their funders. These funders are rarely  present with them in the field and gleen impact from reports. We need to worry about how we help organisations grow their confidence about their future and ensure they know how important it is to operate from a place of honesty with communities, not fear of defunding.

Capacity building and organisational accountability.  

At DEAN Initiative, we work with our host communities to develop and deliver civic tech, open data, policy analysis, and advocacy tools to make governments more accountable and transparent. We do this by enhancing democratic participation, demanding better service delivery and strengthening the ability for grass-roots communities to monitor and track government budgets and expenditure.

As part of our organisational accountability model, we set up the Community Project Partnership Council (CPPC). Through this initiative, communities send delegates, who are able to call for review meetings and independently organise town hall meetings to question and scrutinise plans and clarify confusions. This method has helped us build trust with communities and create a culture of shared project ownership. Our primary stakeholders, the communities themselves, understand their roles in our work and see accountability as an essential way of  reviewing and controlling activities and their corresponding costs. This is a way of ensuring sustainability and impact. 

Collaborative learning. 

Through our Community Project Partnership Council (CPPC), we are learning a new relationship structure and power dynamic. Constituent members are playing key roles in designing projects, implementing them and maintaining them. Due to the nature of the development sector most projects are still donor designed. It is challenging to empower communities to choose what type of project we should bring to their communities but moving forward, we are hopeful that with initiatives like the Community Project Partnership Council (CPPC), the role of communities in needs assessment/baseline studies will be strengthened.

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Who does development serve? Projects should be accountable to communities before donors.

by Semiye Micheal Reading time: 3 min