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?