It can be difficult to explain just what it is that Accountable Now does. Most of my friends and family still don’t understand it. Indeed, save for those who are directly working on accountability issues in relation to civil society organisations (CSOs), most people still equate accountability with simply getting an organisation’s accounts in order.
However, to us it is much more than that – a dynamic approach encapsulating all aspects of an organisation’s operations, from inclusive and sustainable practices to engaging stakeholders in the design and implementation of policies and programmes.
As we celebrate Accountable Now’s 10th anniversary in 2018, I am excited to see how far we have come in our understanding and practice of accountability. In the past year alone, Accountable Now has taken a number of steps to advance our approach to accountability. I would like to highlight three of these and shed some light on what exactly we have been working on.
Adopting the Global Standard for CSO Accountability
Our members have adopted the Global Standard for CSO Accountability as the 12 Commitments they strive to respect and promote. The 12 Commitments were created together with eight other accountability networks from around the world. The end product captures a globally shared, dynamic understanding of accountability, continuous engagement of stakeholders and demonstrating impact at its heart.
Transforming accountability into an ongoing dialogue is crucial for developing trust with stakeholders, encouraging continuous learning and change, and enhancing the credibility and legitimacy of CSOs.
Refining our annual reporting framework
To accompany our new accountability commitments, we have refined the reporting framework and questions against which our members report each year. Our aim is to make the process more:
- Timely: By reducing the number of reporting questions from 90 to 34 and allowing flexibility in the format of reports, we hope to reduce submission timelines by up to 6 months. We also aim to provide feedback to our members within two months of submission (compared to four months previously). This means members should receive feedback 8 months after the end of the year their report covers, and be able to use it to shape their plans for the following year.
- Global: We are getting rid of our standardised reporting template and encouraging members to explain how they fulfil the accountability commitments in reports that can be shared beyond our Independent Review Panel. By including this information in more accessible annual reports or global accountability reports, our members can share their successes and challenges with their stakeholders – and encourage further feedback.
- Evidence and impact based: Instead of just asking about the policies and processes an organisation has in place, we are requesting evidence and examples of how these work in practice. Are they achieving the impact they aspire to? Is there meaningful change and growth taking place within the organisation?
We hope these changes will increase the utility of the reporting mechanism – both for our members and their stakeholders.
Furthermore, in the spirit of the Global Standard, the new framework and questions were co-created with our members through several rounds of consultations and will be reviewed and improved based on their continued feedback.
Exploring people-powered decision making
We have been working with six CSOs to explore how they can better involve their stakeholders’ feedback in decision-making processes. BRAC’s pilot involved asking smallholder milk farmers in Bangladesh to bring their milk to collection centres themselves, rather than sending it via a middleman. The milk farmers filled out periodic questionnaires about the challenges they faced and assistance they needed. Analysis of the responses was able to identify regional differences in the farmers’ needs, and more targeted assistance could be provided, e.g. in the vaccinations offered to the farm animals. This led to improved animal health and increased milk production. This example shows how consulting stakeholders can allow quick changes to be made to improve CSOs’ processes and programmes.
Along the way, we have learned how important it is to really understand one’s stakeholders and their needs, and to close the loop when asking for feedback. The mere process of involving stakeholders in decision making can mean that an organisation’s usual modus operandi is questioned, highlighting the crucial importance of internal buy-in, particularly at the management level.
From an organisation with compliance and reporting at its core, to one which is at the forefront of shaping innovative accountability practices, Accountable Now has grown tremendously over the past decade. In the next year, we are excited to take this further as we host the second phase of the Global Standard project and collaborate with others on exciting new accountability initiatives. Watch this space!