NGOs should systematically monitor the technical quality of their work and ensure it meets appropriate standards.
Whatever their contribution to other people’s efforts, NGOs should ensure that it is high quality and meets appropriate standards. For instance, NGOs’ contributions may include:
- Research and policy advice
- Welfare services, such as providing water or health care
- Training and management advice
- Providing funds
In each case, NGOs should identify or develop standards which can be used to guide and assess their performance. National governments set standards for most areas of welfare provision, such as water purity or education. International standards also often apply, for instance in UN charters.
Many areas of NGO work are not formally regulated. The Sphere project has set international minimum standards for providing emergency assistance in humanitarian disasters. Activities like training and management advice can be very high quality or very poor. Low quality advice may be actively harmful, ‘unhelpful help’. NGOs may choose to develop their own indicators and standards in these situations.
NGOs should not aim to apply the highest standards in all cases. Over-specified standards may raise the cost and restrict the scope of service delivery. They should not trample on the contribution NGOs make through international solidarity, ‘being there’ with people in difficult times. Standards should be creatively used, to balance different factors in appropriate ways for operating contexts.
The specific contribution that some NGOs make may be around managing relationships, for instance in tackling gender or caste inequalities, or trying to bridge conflict. In these cases, technical standards are likely to link closely with how the NGO manages relationships.
Many NGOs and funders contribute to other organisations by funding them. The way donors go about their job has a major effect on recipients’ work, both positive and negative. Surprisingly, there are few established standards for the best ways of providing funding. DARA’s Humanitarian Response Index, CEP’s Grantee perception reports and Keystone’s partner survey may evolve this way.