Keystone Partner Survey: powerful new data on NGOs’ performance

If an NGO funds and supports local partners, how do you assess if it is doing a good job? Simple: ask them. It’s not the only way to measure performance, but it’s got to get you most of the way there. Better still, bring together a group of NGOs and use the same questions to ask their partners to rate each NGO’s performance. Then compare answers, so you can tell which NGO is doing better in which areas and which worse.

That’s exactly what Keystone did with their Partner Survey. (Disclosure: I was the project manager for this project and the report’s principal author.) The report was launched this month. It has two major findings:

First, local organisations send a clear message. They do not want to be treated as sub-contractors, carrying out international agencies’ projects. They want agencies’ help to become strong, independent organisations in their own right, responding flexibly to local people’s priorities.

Second, the feedback data is a reliable way of measuring performance. The data work. Benchmarks have been calculated and direct comparisons can be made between NGOs – a first for the sector. The report shows exactly how the key principles of feedback can be applied in practice.

Matthew Frost, Tearfund’s CEO, is a keen supporter, saying “I hope this approach will gain widespread adoption across the sector, as a fresh, robust and insightful approach to learning and accountability.”

During 2010, Keystone, in association with Bond, InterAction and NIDOS, brought together 25 international NGOs. We surveyed 2,700 of their partners and achieved a 39% response rate, with just over 1,000 partners replying. Questions covered areas like: “does [the NGO] provide funds on time?”, “how useful is their training?” and “how much do they listen to you?”

The Keystone team and I are delighted that the report has been picked up by Lawrence Haddad, Charity Navigator and Civicus. It’s causing a splash in the twittersphere. People seem to like the way it uses feedback to shine a spotlight on NGOs’ own performance – generating powerful data, from the bottom up.

Three NGOs have taken the next step, publishing their confidential survey reports on-line. Congratulations to AbleChildAfrica, Peace Direct and Progressio, for raising standards of transparency, accountability and credibility in the sector.

Will others follow? They are: CARE UK, CARE USA, Catholic Relief Services, Christian Aid, Church World Service, Concern, Helvetas, International Rescue Committee, International Service, Lutheran World Relief, Mennonite Central Committee, Mercy Corps US, Methodist Relief and Development Fund, Practical Action, Save the Children UK, Save the Children US, Schorer, Self Help Africa, Skillshare International, Tearfund (Asia) and Trocaire.

This could potentially create a new reporting standard for NGOs that fund Southern partners: regularly reporting quantified, benchmarked feedback from their partners.

Why stop there? Couldn’t most NGOs publish quantified feedback from the people they aim to help? Wouldn’t it transform reporting if they did? Who is better placed to know how well NGOs have actually helped them?

8 Responses

  1. Thanks for this post Alex – and congratulations to the NGOs who have published their survey reports. This kind of independent performance assessment is an important component in the process of optimising the bottom line performance of NGOs.

  2. Thanks Alex. Yes, seems very good in terms of benchmarking and accountiablity.

    The transparent approach of those three NGOs publishing their reports is also very welcome. As you say, it should generate or extend credibility, especially with donors, whether institutional or individal.

  3. Just to add that Practical Action has also put its Keystone Accountability reort up on its website. A copy can be found under ‘whats new’ and also a link through to the report from the blogs section (see CEO blog).

  4. Congratulations, Simon. It’s terrific that Practical Action has taken this step and published your confidential partner feedback report.

    Just 21 other NGOs to follow suit now!

  5. […] Keystone Partner Survey used a carefully designed questionnaire to define the ways that Northern NGOs expect to add value […]

  6. Check out this advocacy from an African NGO, the African Centre for Humanitarian Action:

    While Northern NGOs advocate for changes in how international organisations & governments do business, they advocate for changes in how Northern NGOs do business. It’s exactly in line with the findings of the Keystone Partner Survey.

    Here’s what they say:

    “We bring an all important African voice to the otherwise northern dominated international humanitarian field. Confident that Africans have what it takes to deal with the challenges facing the continent, we advocate for:

    • Increased support and empowerment of indigenous organizations;
    • Flexible, timely, predictable, and needs based funding;
    • Genuine partnerships based on equality, transparency, complementarity, and shared-responsibility;
    • The acknowledgement and integration of African CSO’s agenda and strategy;
    • International recognition of African CSO’s value, contribution, and expertise;
    • Continued improvement in humanitarian delivery through enhanced accountability, sustainability, and use of the participatory approach; and
    • Increased capacity development for African CSOs and vulnerable populations.”

  7. Quick update. Three more NGOs have published their confidential reports: Save the Children UK, Save the Children US and Church World Service. See:

    Congratulations to them! It’s terrific to see this level of transparency and accountability in action. These NGOs join AbleChildAfrica, Peace Direct, Practical Action, Progressio at the forefront of this field.

    At a meeting in London last week, NGOs shared lessons from the survey. They had found it a very useful and stimulating process, helping them support partners better.

  8. Self Help Africa has joined the roll of honour, publishing their confidential report on line:

    They’ve included a short note from managers titled “Reflection, context and commitment to improve”. It gives a frank comment on the survey’s findings and makes a commitment to repeat the survey in two years time. Congratulations, Self Help Africa!

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