There is a new document in the research section of the site. It’s a piece of research commissioned by BOND about different approaches to partnership in the International Development sector. It tells us much about how the 22 ‘agencies’ consulted view, manage and assess their partnerships. Because of resource constraints it tells us little about what those ‘partner’ agencies actually think. I sympathise with BOND, who commissioned the report. I’m sure resrources were tight and all their own remit is to be the network for INGOs here and so it’s the agencies based in the UK who are their direct concern. Yet I can’t help feeling uneasy about any attempt to analyse partnership which doesn’t look at what partners actually think. I’ll go further, I’m uneasy about any attempt to understand the effectiveness of development which doesn’t ask partners what they think. In my mind I sometimes draw comparisons with the corporate sector. An INGO who works with partners but doesn’t ask them what they think is a bit like, it seems to me, a company that produces a product but doesn’t ask the customers what they think of it. But the analogy stops there. Because in the corporate sector not asking a customer what they thought would most likely be commercial suicide at worst – and very lucky at best. In addition customers who didn;t like the product would simply vote with their feet! But in international development its possible to exist for years without ever really asking the partners we work with what they think. I’m not suggesting that this is what all INGOs do but I do think its a position which is possible. Its possible because the partners, our ‘customers’, are not usually providing the funds. And so if we have an effective fundraising outfit we can continue to obtain resources even if the partners, whose work we support are unhappy with the support they receive. This situation makes me sad and it makes me angry. Sad because it means that our partners opinions, thoughts and feelings can be ignored. Angry because when this happens we are listening to ourselves and those who fund us instead of the people, whose work, we purport to support. It should never be this way and that’s why I really supported the Keystone Accountability Partner Survey, which was also part-funded by BOND in which for the first time 25 ‘northern’ NGOS got a third party (Keystone) to ask their partners what they thought and compared the finding. You can find the report in the research section now too. The major findings of the study were that using partner surveys in this way produced data which INGOS found helpful and also which was comparable. The authors felt that the collection of this sort of data collected anonymously which could be both structured and comparative should become ‘a new standard for reporting the performance of NGOs that work in partnership with southern organisations. The standard could create a powerful new basis for funding decisions, so that funds are better directed towards those NGOs that are seen as working most effectively by their southern partners’. They also found that ‘Respondents want northern NGOs’ help to become strong, independent and influential organisations. They contrast this with being contracted to implement northern NGOs projects and priorities.’ Food for thought for us all!
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