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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

Last week we featured the first half of a discussion around financial transparency that took place during the June 12th Accountability Club call.  Angela, CARE agency manager and standing team member, continues to share her experiences in the field below:

Angela: In 2010-2011 I ran various projects for CARE in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), providing multi-sectoral support for displaced families living with host families.  This work started with a pilot project in Goma using funding from the DEC.  The funding was quite flexible and allowed us room for decision-making and revisions of the planned expenditures per sector.

Q. Was this sharing of information seen as risky at the time? Did it take negotiation? Who decided information should be shared?

A.  I was the project manager, so I decided to do it because I did not feel – as an expat – that I was in a position to make the decisions about the community’s needs and priorities.  There are, of course, risks to sharing financial information, and you may not always find it appropriate to do so – for example on cash transfer programmes where there may be security considerations when transporting cash.

Q. How did the decision-making on the budget happen?

A. We spent a morning going through different shelter options and presenting the budget to the members of the community representatives’ committee.  We drew up the budget in a really simple format on flipcharts and spent a lot of time talking through the information instead of relying on writing.  We then split up into groups and discussed the different options that we had presented, as mentioned earlier.  Once the group discussion concluded, we came back, reviewed thoughts from the groups, and came to a consensus.

Q. How did you present that information to the community? 

A. Through community representatives, the nyumba kumis (a local authority system whereby each 10 houses has a representative), through our own staff and a message board.  We would be sure that whatever it was that we displayed on the message board, there was good explanations given accompanying it, such as why we were sharing that information.

Q. Did you share any salary information?

A. All salary information was lump-summed in with total operating costs.  Sharing that information would have made the staff very vulnerable.  There are really two sides to sharing financial information. We shared direct costs with the community, because we wanted to focus on participation and involve them in decision-making.  But then we also want to share lump-sums for total operating costs in order to build trust and be transparent.  It is also useful to share the total budget as it shows the balance between what is spend on operating and programming costs.  Sharing this information forces you to think about whether or not the costs have been allocated well.  I do think, though, that if we had not shared the operations costs, the community would have asked for it.

For more information on the Accountability Club contact sarnason@care.org or klove@care.org.

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On the most recent Accountability Club call we were fortunate to have representatives from CARE, Christian Aid, the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), the ECB Project Team, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision.  The topic of the conversation was financial transparency, and the discussion was rich.  Angela, CARE agency manager and standing team member, shared her experiences in the field.

Angela: In 2010-2011 I ran various projects for CARE in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), providing multi-sectoral support for displaced families living with host families.  This work started with a pilot project in Goma using funding from the DEC.  The funding was quite flexible and allowed us room for decision-making and revisions of the planned expenditures per sector.  We started by setting up a committee of community representatives in the two areas of the town where we were working.  We then worked closely with this committee to determine selection criteria for beneficiaries and reviewed the proposed project together, including presenting the project budget.  Direct project costs were shared in more detail, but other costs, including salaries and costs of being operational there, were lumped into one sum due to sensitivities around salary information.

The planned interventions were in shelter, food and non-food items (NFIs), and we presented various shelter design and cost options, as well as different food and NFI options, and together decided what type of shelter beneficiaries would receive and how much money would go to each sector.  We also decided jointly what modality was preferred for delivery – shelter would be in-kind and food/NFIs would be through a cash voucher scheme.

Q. What were some of your key challenges?

A. At that time it was not usual to share financial information. The community representatives appreciated the chance to contribute to decisions and have an understanding of the budget.  Budgets can be extremely complicated, so a challenge is how to share the information without confusing people.  We drew up the budget on flipcharts as simply as possible, calculated costs per beneficiary family to make the amounts more tangible and went through everything verbally.

Q. What were some of the advantages of sharing this information?

A. We were able to offer different options with the shelter, and the community could make a decision on what they felt was appropriate.  Did they want us to spend more to build a more elaborate shelter and then spend less on food or NFIs? Or would their preference be a more basic shelter extension, that would allow us to spend more on food and NFIs, or somewhere between the two?  This ensured that the intervention was really relevant to them, and we received great feedback from the beneficiaries. Additionally, we surprisingly received good feedback from non-beneficiaries.  When the project ended, one of the community committees was still active for at least a year after, as the community continued to do their own fundraising from local businesses and implement their own little projects.

Q. What information was shared with partners?  What was included in the partner agreement?

A. We didn’t have partners on that first project, but it may be tricky working with local partners with full transparency.  I previously worked with Merlin in DRC where we worked with the local health authorities, and I definitely wouldn’t have shared the full project financial information with certain individuals as they may well have used it against us to leverage higher ‘primes’ (a subsidy from Merlin on top of their normal Ministry of Health salary).

On this point Lucy from Oxfam shared that during an Oxfam program in West Bank they were completely transparent with their partners and conducted the budgeting process with them. They also shared financial information with communities with whom they worked.  The level of comfort they felt in this relationship was, however, mainly due to the long-term relationship they had with these partners. They had built trust over time, but she also noted that the more information you share, the more trust you build. It is a long-term process, but it’s worth working through.

Read the second half of this interview here!

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The AIM Standing Team deployment to Bangladesh was met with success!

meeting with a community in the field

Despite a major strike during the deployment and restricted ability to freely move about, AIM Standing Team members Saji  from World Vision India and Shagufta from Mercy Corps Pakistan were still able to meet the deployment  objectives in time. The deployment lasted from April 22 to May 6. The purpose of the deployment was to review and document current practices of accountability and impact measurement of ECB and its member agencies in emergency response over the last year, in order to identify strengths and gaps and produce an action plan that paves the way forward.

They visited with several NGOs, field staff, partners, and communities to discuss standards, policies, practices and initiatives around accountability. On May 3 they conducted a workshop for focal points and steering committee members (senior management) from Oxfam, CARE, World Vision, Concern Worldwide, Save the Children and the ECB Bangladesh consortium. At the workshop Shagufta and Saji shared their findings. Then workshop participants identified their own agency-level and ECB recommendations.  After this exercise, Shagufta and Saji shared their own recommendations. The participants are to create an action plan with the rest of their agency staff and submit by next week.

The review of the practice of accountability among ECB agencies in Bangladesh is not a thorough study to identify their specific strengths and gaps. The findings are general.

Here are some of their findings:

Meeting with women beneficiaries

Leadership/Governance

  • Among almost all agencies, there is a commitment to accountability in their country strategies and policies and among senior management. However, there were not enough resources allocated to the practice.
  • Agencies knew about the Good Enough Guide and ECB’s Key Elements of Accountability, but no evidence was found of actually using these. 
  • Most of the agencies have incorporated accountability in program proposals but mostly in terms of sharing information and involving communities.
  • Some agencies use results from reviews and evaluations to improve their practices.

Transparency

  • Some organizations shared information with communities about projects, plans and activities, particularly beneficiary selection criteria and relevant financial information, using banners and information boards.  However, because a majority of the population is illiterate, they were not completely aware of project details.
  • Progress/performance reports of project are not shared with communities.
  • Involving communities and sharing information have given NGOs a positive image and increased trust by the communities.

Feedback

  • Feedback and complaint mechanisms were used in communities and people were aware of their right to complain. However, serious weaknesses were found in such mechanisms. Such systems were not formally agreed upon with communities. Communities did not know how to complain. No field staff and managers dedicated to the Complaints and Response Mechanisms (CRM) were found, and no documentary evidence was found of incorporating communities’ feedback.

Participation

  • Communities were consulted during needs assessments, and all agencies involved communities during project implementation. Communities were involved only a little in assessment of impact of the project. There was no evidence of involving communities in the development of proposals, activities and plans.
  • Agencies used various means of communicating with communities about project interventions, including focus group discussions, loud speakers, information boards, etcetera. Such diversity of communication ensured information reached all segments of the population. 
  • Communities need more information about their rights to assistance and in order to ask questions.

Design, Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Many good accountability practices were found but were not documented, i.e. in case studies, reports, complaints handling.
  • Agencies do evaluate projects but with little to no focus on accountability
  • There was no evidence of sharing progress and evaluation reports with relevant communities.

Discussing the findings and brainstorming recommendations for the action plan at the workshop

Shagufta wrote

We are so happy we received very positive responses from [workshop] participants. Everyone agreed with our findings and used many of them for their actions plans.

We will post a few videos of participants discussing the outcome of the deployment after the workshop. Stay tuned!

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Maria Kiani, Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor at Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP), has over nine years experience working in the humanitarian, development and communications sectors. With HAP Maria led deployments after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Sri Lanka civil conflict of 2007, and more recently to Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya in 2010, Pakistan after the flooding of 2011, and, again, to Kenya in 2011 in response to the Horn of Africa Famine Crisis (a joint deployment of Sphere, HAP and People in Aid). She also supported deployments in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti and to the civil conflict in Kyrgyzstan.

 We were excited to have an opportunity to speak with Maria!

  1. Can you describe your responsibilities as Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor at HAP? What do you do?

As the Senior Q&A Advisor, I lead HAP’s Roving Team which is deployed across the globe. The Roving Team operates under the New Emergencies Policy, which is a commitment by organisations to make special collective efforts to apply the HAP Principles of Accountability in new or escalated emergencies.

hapinternational.org

Before a deployment, I monitor humanitarian crises around the world and the accountability issues that arise in turn. If a HAP member or agency invokes the New Emergency policy and requests a deployment, I work with our members (82 of them!), fellow Q&A Initiatives, UN agencies and other actors involved in the ongoing response to develop a draft terms of reference (ToR) and seek funding.

When in country, I meet with the stakeholders and interested parties to see if the ToR is relevant, achievable and beneficial to them. I also seek their input and advice in defining what activities to undertake and the appropriate methodologies and time frames. This is particularly important since deployed teams often go into a humanitarian operation where a plan/ToR has been developed without fully understanding the context, nuances, time constraints and work load of staff. Discussing the ToR with the people with whom you will be working and seeking their input helps to create realistic goals and develop a context appropriate approach. It is also a way of increasing ownership and support for the work you will be doing.

During a deployment, I work bi-laterally with various interested agencies, which involves working closely with their senior and frontline staff. Since the aim of a deployment is also to increase collective action, special effort is made to ensure that agencies of various sizes and backgrounds come together to strengthen accountability within the ongoing humanitarian response. This is an important step, since agencies and staff often don’t realise that they the face the same challenges and can find common solutions. There is great value in collective learning and action, and this is often the most satisfying aspect of a deployment.

At the end of the deployment, I consolidate the learning, develop tools and case-studies, debrief senior and headquarter management and write my reports. I continue to provide remote support to the colleagues who I worked with during the deployment through email and Skype. 

My other responsibilities and activities include research (supporting it or conducting it), developing training material, communications and participating in discussions at various fora.

  1.  What have you learned in your current position regarding the practice of accountability around the world?

There are a couple of things:

a)       Accountability is not rocket science! It is about attitude, approach and action: Do we treat affected communities as equals and respect them through our attitudes and actions?  Do we make decisions with them rather than for them, or at the very least explain to them why we made a particular decision?  Accountability can be achieved through simple actions such as communicating who we are, what assistance we will provide, including affected communities in our programmes and decision-making and listening to their concerns and acting on them.  Every action we take matters and has impact.

b)      Communities are very appreciative and understanding: During my discussions with those affected by disaster and conflict across the world, communities mostly appreciate the aid workers and commend them for working in harsh conditions, away from their families. It is about dialogue and transparency. If an agency clearly explains the challenges it faces, such as resources, access, time, insecurity etc, affected communities often understand and offer solutions as well.

c)       Collective action matters: In a humanitarian context, agencies and staff are unified through a common objective of providing assistance on an impartial and humanitarian basis. We face similar challenges and can find joint solutions. Peer learning, joint problem solving and exchange of knowledge is critical. Reports are not necessarily the best way to share learning! We need to find practical and creative ways of sharing knowledge (local and technical), and a more learning-by-doing approach is needed so staff can find context appropriate solutions. Challenges around coordination and communication will persist between agencies, however there are small steps we can take, for example visiting an office of another humanitarian organization to observe a good practice can spark ideas of how you can make changes in your organization. This peer learning approach was used in my deployment to Pakistan in 2011, when a group of agencies had a question and answer session at the Oxfam office on complaints hotlines.

d)     Practice can guide policy and vice-versa: During deployments, you can observe that good practices of accountability are taking place due to initiative, creativity and leadership of some staff members.  There might not be a policy or clear guidance which has resulted in this, so it is important to capture this and share it with the management or headquarters. Based on evidence of successful practices, agencies often create clearer policies and procedures which can result in systematic improvements throughout the organization.

e)       Unpack accountability, what are its elements: As agencies we aspire towards greater accountability through our commitments and mission statements. For example, agencies state that they provide information and undertake participation. But the question would be, are staff clear about the steps involved? Are these steps followed during humanitarian operations? What is the decision-making process on what information can and cannot be provided in a complex operational environment? We need to look at the elements involved in achieving greater accountability and know the minimum requirements to assess these.

  1. What observations have you made about the evolution of the concept/field/mandate of accountability in the last ten or so years?

The sector is changing; there is greater awareness and interest in issues of accountability. The large-scale disasters such as the Tsunami and earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan have led to a clear recognition that something needs to change within the humanitarian sector if it wants to be effective, efficient and remain true to its foundational principles and values. Last year, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) set the ‘Transformative Agenda’ through which it aims to achieve greater accountability to affected communities in the sector; this is a welcome step. Accountability, individually and collectively is increasingly becoming an important aspect of humanitarian work for agencies.

I think technology will continue to play an exciting role. For example, the youth groups in Dadaab have a facebook page called The Refugee, on which they post pictures, updates and information on humanitarian activities, etc. During the height of the crisis last year, their page was a source of firsthand accounts and details for aid workers and Somali diaspora and other refugees. There are many other interactive platforms such Ushahidi and BetterPlace.org, all of which are exciting components of the sector’s evolutionary process.

  1. What value do you see in the ECB Project’s AIM Standing Team or any organization’s accountability standing team?

I think the ECB’s AIM Standing Team is a great idea! What I particularly like  is that it brings together staff from different agencies, with different perspectives, practices and experiences—which is very important for learning and continual improvement. I participated in the Standing Teaming workshop last year, which gave me an opportunity to connect with some of the team members, and it was a great learning experience. I have continued to stay in contact with some of the team members, and we have shared information, resources and contacts for the emergency in Horn of Africa. 

The team, once deployed, becomes a part of the unfolding humanitarian operation and brings their experience from other locations to the deployment.  The team is a resource which staff can draw upon; problems can be discussed and solved more quickly and in a context appropriate manner. The deployment/standing team members can act as connectors between the frontline, senior staff and headquarters. This is important as the context on the ground is evolving fast; the team can help overcome the disconnects between headquarters and operational sites. One thing to keep in mind, however, is the need to have a clear exit and follow-up strategy to ensure that all the hard work is not lost!

I think the added value of a deployment/standing/surge capacity team is that it brings attention to the issue of accountability in emergencies. Such teams can be effective in reinforcing and practically supporting accountability during emergencies.

  1. What advice do you have for the AIM Standing Team?

Be flexible: When deployed, you can be thrown in the middle of an operation which is unfolding, staff members don’t have a lot of time available to go through detailed orientations and explanations. Have a schedule for activities but be flexible and adjustable. You have to proactively seek opportunities to engage people, such as during breaks or in the vehicle on a trip to a distribution site etc. Leave a margin in your planning for sudden changes. 

Remember everyone you meet is important: ask questions and be curious. We often forget that drivers, cooks, support staff can be very good source of insights. Simple questions like, “Have you been given an induction? Did you sign a code of conduct? Was it in a language you understand? Did anyone explain the code of conduct to you? What work does your organization do,” etc can help you create a map of how well understanding of accountability flows throughout the organization.

Pace yourself: A deployment can be quite intense. There are activities you need to prepare, plan and execute for the deployment and there might be issues of work you need to address from your headquarters or parent organization. It is important to pace yourself and set achievable and realistic targets.

Sometimes results aren’t immediate: At times it is hard to not be able to see immediate results of the support you have given. Change takes times and follow-up is important, so that is something that needs to be factored in when preparing and planning for your deployment.

 Pair up and check in:  Deployments can be intense and you also need support, so find a colleague or friend you can check in with during deployments. Gregory Gleed, my colleague, who is deployed with me, is great to work with and working as a team helps to achieve better results. In a team every member has strengths and areas that need improvement (mine being excel sheets and numbers!).  A deployment is also an opportunity for learning and self-growth- we can learn from our peers about new approaches, facilitation skills, tools and coping with pressures, etc and their feedback can help us to improve.

  1. How can the Standing Team work with HAP?

I think it would be great if the Standing Team and HAP Roving Team could undertake a deployment together! It could have a wider outreach and would be a great learning opportunity for both teams. HAP will be reviewing its New Emergency Policy, under which the Roving Team works.  We will look at how we work with other surge capacity/standing teams. Staff from our member agencies were seconded for the HAP deployments in Haiti and Dadaab (Northern Kenya) to the Roving Team. I think secondments, joint deployments or working jointly if deployed in the same location, having periodic conference calls, or having a common web platform to share ideas and resources are some of the ways in which we can explore this further- we just have to be creative and committed!

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We are happy to share with you a December 2011 study, Formal Systems of Constant Dialogue with Host Societies in Humanitarian Projects: Research on Accountability to Beneficiaries: practices and experiences of aid agencies, by Heller, Költzow and Vasudevan from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. It looks at the vastly different ways in which development and humanitarian aid agencies perceive and practice accountability to beneficiaries. Agencies studied included CARE, Oxfam, UNHCR, ICRC and IFRC and others.

The paper covers a broad set of issues around accountability. Here are a few topics:

  • the different perceptions of accountability
  • concrete accountability mechanisms
  • agencies’ lessons learned and challenges around accountability mechanisms
  • the origin of the accountability movement in the mid-2000s
  • enforcing the implementation of accountability mechanisms to the community within an agency
  • accountability to agency staff
  • the dangers of transparency
  • challenges around participation

The authors take a critical look at the role of accountability mechanisms in addressing the imbalance of power between host communities, the agency and the donor. They say that in reality, donors and agencies still hold immense power over what interventions are implemented, despite communities’ needs, which may change over time and vary within.

Most organizations interviewed were identified to be weak in the area of sharing of feedback and best practices both internally and with other agencies. The paper refers to ECB’s work regarding the need for large Western NGOs to learn from each other around accountability. Check it out!

So, what do you think? Do you agree?

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Here’s an issue Standing Team members will be interested in. Take a look and tell us what you think!

The Humanitarian Practice Network of the Overseas Development Institute dedicated its October 2011 Humanitarian Exchange magazine to accountability in humanitarian action. In their overview article the coeditors, John Mitchell and Paul Knox-Clarke of ALNAP, reflect on the underlying rationales – both moral and practical – we use to justify our commitments to improving accountability, and whether our understanding of accountability has changed in the decade since the ‘accountability revolution’ last featured in Humanitarian Exchange. Other articles discuss collective accountability, Real-Time Evaluations, NGO certification, the role of donors in improving accountability, accountability frameworks and systems, tackling corruption, dealing with sexual abuse by UN and NGO personnel, and case examples from Haiti and South Sudan. Click here for the magazine:  Humanitarian Exchange October 2011, “Humanitarian Accountability”

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The skeleton of the framework is on the table

Participants place the 5 criteria where they belong. A discussion follows focusing on:

  • understanding what each criteria is (what are the questions you would ask about it)
  • how the criteria are related

Here is a flavor of the discussion…

Question: are they standards for accountability or for evaluation?
Answer: BOTH!

The group brainstormed evaluation questions that can fall under each element:

Leadership:

  • How are managers championing accountability?
  • What kind of resources are allocated to accountability?

Transparency:

  • What kind of policies are in place to guide what information can and cannot be shared?
  • What are the procedures for sharing information with stakeholders?

Participation:

  • How does the agency involve community members in decision making?
  • How were the most vulnerable in the community identified and how were they consulted?
  • How were the disaster affected people involved in the design, monitoring (etc.) stages of the project?

 Feedback:

  • How is feedback from the community on M&E findings collected and taken into account?
  • What are the mechanisms for community members to communicate with the agency?
  • How did the agency create a “safe space” for community members to provide feedback?
  • What mechanisms are in place to respond to community feedback?

DM&E:

  • How was a needs assessment used to inform the design of the project?
  • What measures are in place to monitor the implementation of the elements of accountability?
  • How do the M&E tools reflect the interests of community members?

For more information about the framework, refer also to the post about AIM presentation in Jakarta

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