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Civil Society Partnership Review: weekly focus on effective knowledge and influence

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Asia, Development Debates, Other

The Review is well under way, looking at how we will define our future objectives for working with CSOs, as well as associated approaches and instruments for our partnership model. What a first week of online engagement we’ve had! We’ve had thousands of hits on our first blog, and hundreds of survey responses! Keep your responses and comments coming! I also enjoyed our #DFIDCSPR Twitterchat with Bond on Thursday, even if it was exhausting at times! We’re now into week two of our online engagement with you all: we’re focusing this week on effective knowledge and influence.

Sharing knowledge, experience and power

I don’t know about you, but I firmly believe open and transparent dialogue between donors, CSOs, think tanks, private sector partners and others leads to better development outcomes. DFID values our discussions and engagement with CSOs, but could it be better? Is our engagement strategic and effective, or are we focused on isolated development issues, making it ad hoc and piecemeal? Can DFID, CSOs, think tanks and others collaborate better, and crucially how do you think that could be effectively achieved? If you were in our shoes, what would you do differently?

Influencing the influencers

I, and I imagine all of my colleagues, would like to believe what we hear (and sometimes tell ourselves): DFID is one of the leaders in humanitarian and development approaches. But how can we stay ahead of the game? We must go further! How can DFID and CSOs collaborate effectively to encourage others to align with our shared objectives for development? How can we work together to ensure effective sustainable development, everywhere, for everyone? What examples have you seen of effective joint donor/CSO influencing, and why did it work so well?

Once upon a time…

UK public support for development is crucial. I watched the recent One Campaign video about UK aid and public perceptions, and it made me think: are we telling our story effectively? How can DFID and civil society deepen public understanding of, and support for, international development? How can we be more strategic and collaborate better on communicating, and building support for international development? What is the donor vs CSO comparative advantage in raising awareness? As One demonstrated, once people hear the facts about what support is provided, and the difference it makes to peoples’ lives, opinions can change.

Comment, share and engage!

We’d love to see your comments below in response to some of these questions. Feel free to respond to other comments either in agreement, or to pose a counter view. Please take the survey for this theme and circulate this to your colleagues, contacts and networks. This survey will remain open until 4 September. If you’d like to know more about the review check out our webpage, follow @DFID_Inclusive on Twitter and use #DFIDCSPR to engage. You can also engage via the DFID and Bond co-hosted Twitterchat each Thursday from 13.00, or follow Matt on Twitter. Check out our Storify from the last chat.

We won't be able to offer personal responses to each and every comment, however they will be read and considered in our analysis during the review. Please do not submit written submissions concerning the Lines of Enquiry to the review team, as we cannot commit to reviewing these. For this reason, it is essential to engage with our blogs and surveys embedded in them.

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  1. Comment by Rob Cartridge - Practical Action posted on

    Great questions Matthew. How indeed can sharing knowledge and experience lead to changes in power and better lives for poor people? A humble and straight forward starting point is to collaborate more and enable better knowledge sharing. This is a big challenge facing our whole industry. Whilst we know that we cannot replicate something that has worked in one context to another we can and must invest in understanding the lessons and then allow for meaningful process and adaptation of the learning elsewhere. Our apparent inability to learn from each other threatens our credibility with the public and with the people we seek to support. Billions is poured into development research, but, despite some recent great examples of uptake initiatives, most of it still sits on the shelves and doesn’t influence practice on the ground.

    So some ideas on how to improve knowledge sharing:

    • Move away from 3-5 year fixed term projects with fixed logframes, outputs and outcomes. Take forward adaptive programming (see and take it even further. Learn from the IT industry and government digital service where agile programme management allows iterative, and highly participative development cycles.

    • Bring together the researchers and the practitioners at every level. Ensure that research outputs (and evaluations) are actionable and communicated right down to the last mile in the field when appropriate. (DFID presence in country has a key role to play here). Create the space for learning, celebrate failure and share, share, share. Not just in London – but across the target countries. DFID has a great convening power that can make people work together far better.

    • Build the improvement of knowledge systems into all programmes. Define how any programme outcome will improve the access of marginalised communities to information and knowledge that gives people choices.

    • A great principle Practical Action has learned from knowledge sharing over the decades, is to always start from what people want to know – not what you want them to know. Supply push of knowledge is rarely successful, but having a good understanding of audience, building their trust and having ongoing dialogue will get the best results. This is as true when working with people in the community as it is when sharing knowledge within and between our own agencies.

    Concretely, what if each DFID programme had a clear ‘knowledge’ offer on all its investments (not just with CSO strategic funding)? For example, set out what a £10m infrastructure project in Afghanistan will do in terms of building knowledge in country and be clear on how other parts of DFID and the wider donor community can learn from this type of work. E.g. the KNOWFOR programme in DFID is taking innovative steps in investing in learning in forestry – it’s a global public good we should be proud of as UK tax payers. And a call for DFID to be transparent about how it commissions knowledge and be more open whose knowledge attention is being paid to. Large multi-million accountable grants to large think tanks are not the answer. Continue DFID’s investment in areas such as beneficiary feedback, citizen’s monitoring – this is knowledge and influence (of the poor) in action.

    However, we must make sure we do not equate knowledge’ and ‘influence’. Even when communication and sharing of learning between civil society, and with other development actors is resourced, knowledge sharing does not equal influence let alone change. When knowledge and learning are negotiated in socio-political contexts - change can happen at scale and lessons from one intervention / programme can inform other relevant change processes. So, coming back to last week’s exchange – support empowerment and voices from civil society to hold governments to account and challenge the status quo.

  2. Comment by Tom Franklin, Think Global posted on

    Thanks for another thought-provoking blog post – it’s good to see DfID using new ways to consult, on top of more traditional methods. Each week we’re using your questions to prompt some internal discussions at Think Global, before we post a response (which is rather a good activity for August!). So here goes with our answers to some of your questions this week.

    Is our engagement strategic and effective, or are we focused on isolated development issues, making it ad hoc?

    Generally, Think Global’s interactions with DfID are useful and productive, especially around our core focus of global learning. However, what can be difficult is for CSOs like ourselves and our member organisations (particularly smaller CSOs), to always understand the structure of the Department and therefore the best points of contact for different issues. I am sure that we miss some opportunities to share our knowledge and experience because we are not always aware of who we should be speaking to and when. I appreciate this is not an easy issue for DfID – or unique to yourselves. Perhaps there are ways to make available more information about the structure of the department and who is best to speak to on different issues.

    UK public support for development

    We strongly agree with you that UK public support for development is crucial. We’ve been very struck by the Bond research into public attitudes towards development, Change the Record (, published earlier this year, showing the level of confusion in public understanding of the causes of and solutions to poverty and we’ve been working alongside Bond on a project called ‘UK Public Attitudes to Development: Building New Responses’ delivering a course for INGO workers which gives them a chance to reflect on their practice, and respond to the shifting environment in public support. It challenges them to think afresh about how they frame development within their organisation, and how to communicate this with the public. We’ve recently put together a ‘Building New Responses’ toolkit ( which is a starting point for INGOs to continue these discussions back in their organisations.

    Over the years, DfID has supported a number of initiatives to help increase UK public understanding of, and support for, development – and at the moment, much of this is focused on young people. This is particularly channelled through the Global Learning Programme ( (which Think Global is helping to deliver and is currently helping teachers at 3,000 schools to deliver effective teaching and learning about global issues) as well as Connecting Classrooms, and the International Citizens Service.

    These schemes are really good, and we know from our own experience the difference they are making in helping give teachers more confidence to teach about development. From our own research (, we know that there is a strong desire from teachers to have this type of support. But there some specific caveats:

    (i) There should be similar programmes for other sections of the population. Although it makes absolute sense to provide this support for formal primary and secondary education, school students are not the only group where this sort of learning could make a real difference. For example, FE and HE students; young people immediately after education (perhaps when they are newly involved in the workplace, and developing global understanding and skills could also be helpful to them personally as well); and potentially immigrant communities (where there may be skills and experiences which could be specifically harnessed).

    (ii) The programmes that are currently in place are top-down. They have been specified by DfID, based on best practice over previous years. That makes sense – but, there also needs to be room for innovation and bottom-up learning about development. At the moment, there is little room for innovation in terms of dialogue with the public about development. That’s why there needs to be space for a grant programme to fund smaller scale innovative schemes that have clear objectives and rigorous evaluation of outcomes.

    (iii) The basis of dialogue with the public about development should not be either simple promotion messages, or suggesting simple solutions. The public can see through this – people know that development is difficult, and unpredictable, and at times messy. We need to encourage people to think for themselves, and to see the different perspectives around development. In the long run, this will make for more meaningful engagement and support – but in the short run, it can run counter to the immediate needs of either funders like DfID or delivery-focused CSOs, which are under pressure for short term support/donations.

    (iv) There needs to be a stronger link between taking action on development issues (whether that is signing an online petition, or buying fair trade produce) and learning more about the issue. Every time someone signs an online petition about an aspect of global poverty, there’s an opportunity to engage that person at a deeper level about that issue. And every time a young person learns about a global issue at school, there’s an opportunity to suggest that they might decide to take action that issue.

    You ask whether it is better for donors or CSOs to help raise awareness. Clearly both have a role – but in our experience it can often be achieved more effectively by CSOs, including those that are focused particularly at engaging the public on its understanding of development.

    Finally, there’s a great opportunity coming up this September, when the UN will be agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals for the next fifteen years. Think Global has been helping with The World’s Largest Lesson ( on the goals, which is due to take place in schools around the world in September. In particular, we’ve been helping teachers around the world to write a series of lesson plans on the global goals, and putting together a bank of teaching resources, which are now available on our Global Dimension Website ( This offers the opportunity to reach a huge audience with concise messages about development whilst encouraging a deeper understanding about the causes of global poverty. What a great opportunity to engage with the public on development.

  3. Comment by Dr Peter Hearn posted on

    I am writing on behalf of our small registered charity ''. We have been sponsoring the training of nurses in Cameroon for 7 years working with a local NGO SHUMAS-Cameroon. We select candidates from rural areas, pay for their training in Cameroon & then they return to that rural area to work, often being the sole practitioner in a region where doctors are scarce. The model seems to work well, we have sponsored 42 so far, 21 have qualified & are working, a further 7 will qualify shortly. This model seems to be retaining staff and leading to sustainable healthcare. We would welcome the opportunity to join this consultation and discuss our model and how it could be rolled out to other areas of the world.

  4. Comment by Andrew Devenport - Youth Business International posted on

    Thanks for those posts. It’s good to see the diversity of input. I want to take the opportunity to reflect on how DfID and civil society can work together to develop, share and apply policy and programme evidence and learning.

    It is widely recognised that there is a lack of robust evidence in the youth livelihood field, and that building the global evidence base and encouraging a deeper learning culture among civil society is a pressing challenge. At Youth Business International (YBI), the development, sharing and applying of evidence and learning is high on our agenda. Our diverse global network provides a particularly powerful opportunity to work with a membership to understand ‘what works on the ground’.

    It’s not news that one of the fundamental challenges many civil society organisations face is the development and implementation of a consistent set of indicators to track outputs, outcomes and impacts, particularly across global or regional contexts. The ever increasing focus on impact measurement in international development only strengthens the need to take a hard look at how best we develop indicators with definitions that work across a wide range of contexts, organisation types and diverse network structures. We welcome DfID’s efforts to support more harmonisation here. For example, through engaging with the Donor Committee for Enterprise Development Standard for Results Measurement, and we suggest that they continue to play a leadership role in this area. Having consistent processes in place makes it easier to provide data across a range of partnerships, and also facilitates the kind of meta-analysis that is needed if evidence and learning are to be applied effectively across contexts!
    In order to undertake effective programme evidence and learning, it is important to take a truly entrepreneurial approach. This means embracing set-backs as part of the journey to innovation and success, and understanding that as much can be learnt from ‘what doesn’t work’, as what does. However, publicly acknowledging where something doesn’t work can be a difficult and challenging process to navigate. We need global development leaders like DfID to help create space for civil society to share such examples, and place more emphasis on spending enough time on the types of learning activities that lead to genuine insights. Many of these learnings arise from transparency in or around failure.

    Alliances and networks have enormous untapped potential for knowledge exchange. However, supporting such networks to be good at applying evidence and learning from one other can be challenging and confusing. Here, DfID could play a pivotal role in ensuring that civil society organisations are supported to have the time and space to create effective and meaningful processes for both sharing and applying knowledge. We must find ways to speed up the flow of information within networks; large and small, formal and informal, structured and free-flowing. We’ve had first-hand experience of the power of regional level networks among YBI members, sharing evidence and learning, through regional level knowledge exchange workshops. There may be countless ingenious ways to encourage better knowledge sharing and uptake. For example, through creative use of technology, increased synthesis of lessons learned, and by changing evaluation practice so that it places a central focus on presenting information in a way that is much easier to access, digest and apply – including across diverse contexts, cultures, and languages.

    Finally, we want to see young people directly involved at the forefront of research and evaluation initiatives, by including them in the process of developing evidence on topics that concern them.

  5. Comment by Paul Cook - Tearfund posted on

    Great to see this blog post and the interesting comments in response to it. Here are some thoughts on 'Influencing the influencers'.

    There is much DFID and UK civil society have done well in the past to communicate, coordinate and work well together in “influencing other influencers” in the international community, and some things we could do better. Here are some ideas for both DFID and UK civil society …

    1. Lead by example – DFID and UK civil society are amongst the world leaders in development thought and practice. This gives us significant ‘soft power’ as we fund, influence and model best practice. However, this will disappear fast unless we continually push ourselves both as DFID and civil society to remain at the cutting edge of best practice and development commitment. DFID should expect and welcome challenge from UK civil society on this, UK civil society should also expect and welcome the same from DFID.

    2. Engage with the system – To maximise this leverage and impact it is critical for DFID and UK civil society to continue to constructively engage with the international development system (IFIs, EU, UN etc.) through funding and dialogue. We decrease our political credit and ability to influence the wider sector and thus achieve greater development outcomes when we disengage.

    3. Communication is everything – Regular meetings and direct communication between the right staff at the right level in DFID and UK civil society is critical as we seek to influence the influencers. Sharing intelligence, sharing our plans and coordinating action are all key. UK civil society working with its international colleagues and partners around the world can influence and shape popular pressure on different players internationally in ways DFID can’t. DFID needs to keep on sharing and engaging with UK civil society if it is to be effective in extending its influence on the international system. We need each other, we need to keep talking and keep relationships strong. Tearfund has seen this work well in the past in coordinated engagement between DFID and UK NGOs on the UNFCCC process, SDGs, G8s, G20s and other processes.

    4. Recognise both challenge and constructive collaboration are legitimate and allow space for both – Within this dialogue there is a very legitimate role for UK civil society to challenge DFID and vice versa, and for both to work together to influence the influencers. Realistically both of these are going to come up in many of the same discussions. A highly pragmatic way of dealing with this is to structure agendas and discussion streams so it is clear which mode (challenge/collaboration) we are in, say what needs to be said, then explicitly move into a different mode.

    5. Broaden the conversation beyond the usual suspects – This communication needs to go beyond just the large UK development NGOs. Civil society is much broader: think tanks, academics, faith groups, diaspora communities, social movements and others are key players as well. Tearfund works with and through a worldwide network of 100,000 local churches. Faith groups have huge potential for shaping popular opinion and influence. Faith groups make a disproportionately large contribution to civil society mobilisation and influencing in most nations and in direct engagement with the international system. In the UK we have seen this in Jubilee 2000, Make Poverty History, climate change activism and many other spaces. If we don’t broaden our understanding of and engagement with civil society both DFID and UK NGOs will find themselves being left behind by the real conversation.

    6. Both wider strategic and issue/nation-specific level communication – We would encourage regular senior-level gatherings between DFID and civil society for strategic conversations about the major emerging issues and challenges and where we want to influence the wider global development community as a whole. Alongside this, ongoing forums and communication between staff working on country and issue specific areas should continue. PPA learning hubs and the joint involvement of Tearfund and other actors in the Joint Learning Initiative on the role of faith in development are good examples of specific dialogue streams that are working well.

    7. Invest in coordinators – All of this can be made more efficient if both DFID and UK civil society continue to support and reinforce the role of coordinating agencies like BOND or ALNAP to help facilitate this dialogue.

    8. Engage rest of government – The UK’s development impact obviously goes far beyond DFID. Similarly UK civil society will also be having direct engagement with other parts of government. We share common ground in seeking to represent the development agenda well in this. How we support each other in this should be a regular feature in ongoing dialogue.

    9. Be disciplined in keeping the dialogue specific, relevant, realistic and concise – We can build the appetite for good, open, ongoing dialogue by exercising discipline and ensuring our meetings and communication are specific, concise and timely, with genuine new information that is genuinely relevant to share and understanding what is realistic for each other.

  6. Comment by Emma Harrison - VSO posted on

    On collaboration

    • As we picked up in yesterday’s twitter chat, the DFID PPA learning partnerships and the BOND groups have been a very useful mechanisms for sharing learning among NGOs and setting the basis to shape communities of practice. In order for this to continue, continued investment of time and resources is required. The same forum and mechanisms could help strengthen the conversations with research institutes, academic bodies and think tanks. These are critical in ensuring that reliable evidence forms the basis of organisational learning in CSOs. Regular interactions between CSOs and research bodies will ensure that the evidence produced is relevant and usable (ref practical action response to the blog).

    • Building on Practical Actions’ contribution, it is critical to learn across different organisations and communities of practice about how, where, and why programming interventions work and deliver sustainable development results. Equally as important is understanding failure and being able to analyse the reasons / causes of the failure.
    This knowledge needs to be shared in a safe space to allow learning and support programme adaptation.

    • In terms of influencing, we think there are some good examples that can be drawn from DFID’s engagement with CSOs to influence the SDG process particularly on areas where there was strong alignment on priorities, for example, on championing for a strong goal on gender equality and women’s rights.

    • We want DFID to increase its collaboration with CSOs – of all levels, not just big INGOs- first to ensure its objectives are in line with that communities in which DFID works. Working together to increase peoples participation in development planning and priority setting, supporting initiatives around citizen monitoring of development progress, better and more frequent participatory/ action research to understand development contexts for different groups all would help DFID create a more people-centred agenda from which DFID can draw its credibility to influence international development discourse and action. Influence is not just about how big you are or who you are, but also about how relevant you are. One thing that was seen clearly in recent SDG negotiations was that DFID was sometimes at odds with southern civil society voice in particular and it must do more to understand and engage with the viewpoints of these actors.

    • Another area that would benefit from collaboration and joint influencing from DFID and CSOs is on the follow up of the SDG framework. Much work is still needed to ensure the process of follow up and review is participatory, transparent, people-centred and regular so that it is meaningful. DFID can work with civil society, donors, international institutions, private sector and others to influence national and regional governments to put in place the relevant structure and investment needed to make this happen. In turn, CSOs can work with DFID to monitor the monitoring! We agree with Tearfund that DFID must lead by example here – i.e. ensure that the UK’s own follow up and review processes are exemplary and fund initiatives, for example, to ensure the data revolution can happen!

    On public support for international development:

    • This is critical and we have also been involved in the research on public attitudes to international development with Bond and the Gates foundation. We have found that volunteers can help to communicate the realities of aid in a compelling way which alters people’s perceptions of aid and development. Research shows that people are more likely to have their views of international development changed when they hear positive stories of progress from people that they trust- volunteers like Kate Turner ( or Stephanie Green ( who blog extensively about their experiences overseas.

    • We agree with the comment from Think Global about the need to create space for bottom up learning about development. Last summer, volunteers from VSO and Restless development rode around the streets of Bristol and Edinburgh in Rickshaws to talk to willing (if initially bemused) members of the public about their experiences of volunteering and witnessing progress in development- allowing space for organic conversations and sharing of experiences. Many participants came away surprised that the UK’s aid budget is so small (thinking it was much higher than 0.7%) and by the extent of progress that has been made in the past 15 years.

    • Of course not everyone has the opportunity to live and volunteer overseas, but civil society and DFID need to work together to amplify the voices of those we work with, share positive stories of change and challenge some of the persistent myths and perceptions about international aid and development.

  7. Comment by Sara-Jane Brown - Practical Action posted on

    Great blog! I'm just picking up on a couple of your points so I don't make this too lengthy:
    1. I really welcome DFID wanting to engage with key stakeholders. We all want the same end goal and working together is the best way to achieve that. I think the blog and twitter chats are a great way to start. Perhaps a forum (something like mumsnet) with different themes where stakeholders (including some 'general public') can contribute to discussions, strategies and work plans could take this forward?
    2. I came to Practical Action from a non development background and I believe most people don't understand what development is and why it's important. For example my understanding was based on the Slum Dog Millionaire film and Band Aid. I agree that if you educate people their opinions can change. Our UK campaigns have shown similar results. To get the public on board we need to join together (bring in corporate partners, general public and other government departments too) and be really clear about targeting and messaging and promote one big, simple, and clear picture that reaches all of our audiences across several touch points. We'd do this through different themes, stories, brands but ultimately they would all be part of creating the big picture.

  8. Comment by Achala Abeysinghe, Principal Researcher, Climate Change Group & Stefano D'Errico, Monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning manager at IIED posted on

    Good initiative from DFID. Also, great questions in the above post Matthew. This comment mostly complements the previous comments.

    Overall, we believe that effective knowledge and the process of knowledge generation can significantly influence the relationships between local and global, policy and practice, rich and poor, government and private sector and so on. However, knowledge alone will not lead to desirable outcomes. A good combination of research and action — generating robust evidence and know-how that is informed by a practical perspective acquired through hands-on research with partners on the ground - lead to better outcomes.

    Below are some of the principles that IIED has learnt over the years of knowledge generation and from experience on the ground.

    • Explicit recognition of differentiated power relations:
    Open and transparent dialogue between all actors needs explicit recognition of their differentiated power relations. Donors, as more powerful actors, can believe in and seek open and transparent dialogue, but for weaker partners (CSOs particularly in less-developed countries) to participate on an equal (and thus more meaningful) footing “upstream” investments are needed to build their trust, their confidence and their capabilities to join in. Often this is a question of investing in time, and adopting approaches that are not driven by the (time-strapped) donor – e.g. holding “power breakfast” meetings of 60 minutes where invitees have 5 minutes to make their case, may work for certain private sector actors, but it is an alien concept for most African CSOs, for example, where investing in social relations and contact is the prelude to having a meaningful engagement. Reciprocity and respect are also important whereby it is as important for donors to accept invitations from CSO organisations to attend dialogue events they are organising.

    • Influencing the influencers: A twin track approach is needed with DFID investing in the capabilities of citizens through the political process of a given country, on the one hand; and itself engaging in dialogue with relevant national government institutions. Influence is a continuous process and thus a longer-term framework is needed focusing not just on the current issues and generation, but providing an enabling environment for future citizens, development workers, researchers, policy makers etc. to work together toward a shared vision.

    • Co-generation of knowledge between researchers and policy makers: In order for going beyond conceptual understanding to be more practical, the knowledge production must be done through a coordinated effort between the researcher and the policy maker. There is still a huge gap in approaches to engagement between researchers and policy makers in evidence-influenced policy development. More efforts must go into action research activities including building stronger relationships between researchers and policy makers at each step of a project or a programme and analysing various approaches to researcher–policy maker interaction, understanding the nature and impact of these interactions, and identifying strengths and weaknesses of these approaches. Over the years, we have worked with the Least Developed Countries Group in the UNFCCC negotiating process, co-generating knowledge with the government representatives thus giving them a strong sense of ownership to the final product. This model has often proved to be one of the most effective methods of our work.

    • Funding and reporting arrangements to facilitate open and transparent dialogue: Funding and reporting arrangements can also play a role. When accountability and value for money are perceived to be enhanced by the imposition of rigid planning and reporting systems, and the need to demonstrate short-term results, this can impair open and transparent dialogue. More open, iterative and flexible planning systems are needed where CSOs feel empowered to discuss failure as well as success.

    • Encourage participatory approaches. It is important to give due weight to participatory tools and methods rather than privileging so-called “objective” evidence alone. Evidence suggests that learning happens as a result of open debate between different programmes’ stakeholders and intended beneficiaries, especially when there is a clash between different ideas.

    • Set up systems of mutual accountability, where every actor of the aid-chain is accountable to each other, and ultimately DFID and civil society are both accountable to the intended beneficiaries and the British tax payers. This means setting up effective feedback-loops which go upward and downward along the aid-chain. Our work on tracking adaptation and measuring development (TAMD) helped shape and formulate complementary approach for effective feedback-loops (complementary to those used by multi-lateral agencies), and also opened up issues of how to assess effectiveness of climate finance expenditure.

    • Influencing and learning through M&E systems: We also believe that in terms of knowledge generation and influencing, monitoring, evaluation and learning play a vital role. Below are some suggestions on M&E+L:

    o Foster a culture of learning which values flexibility and the ability to change and adapt programmes. Incentives focused on meeting pre-set performance agreements hinder learning. Plans that do not live up to initial expectations should be re-negotiated in light of learning. Feedback loops work well only if plans are allowed to changed.

    o Make M&E a learning partnership not a performance test. ‘You cannot be accountable if you do not learn. And you need to know how well you live up to performance expectations in order to learn. The tug-of-war between learning and accountability is nonsensical. They need each other. Understanding effectiveness requires both. However, that is the theory. The daily reality is that tensions between the two are alive and kicking…’ (Guijt). Resolving this tension involves something of a paradigm-shift towards a more honest and collaborative effort between funders and civil society to learn what work and what didn’t work. So, there needs to be more ME+L. there needs to be an incentive structure for learning. At the moment M+E rewards success and dis-incentivises learning from less successful experiences and failures. Learning needs to rewarded from wherever it comes from.

    o Encourage the use of appropriate M&E and research methodologies to develop meaningful knowledge, rather than establishing artificial hierarchies of evidence. This means adopting methodologies that are suitable to the questions, and the issues to be investigated.

    o Invest resources to convene M&E and research capacities in the Global South. Recent studies from Bond and INASP found that there are still skill gaps in the capacities of Southern civil society and research organisations in data analysis and writing. An investment in innovative approaches to convene these capacities should be made to overcome these challenges.

    Finally, it would be great to see how DFID improves its approaches to its relationship with CSOs in future. Currently, a key issue is the way that DFID and the programmes it creates treat CSOs as part of civil society, but also ‘service providers’ that have to compete for contracts. The incentive structure for collaboration of a government department with civil society groups is difficult to get right if the CSOs depend upon the government department for the bulk of their revenue. It would be interesting to compare a set of ‘CSOs’ across a range of funding model and purpose to learn more on this point.

  9. Comment by Liz Carlile, Director of Communications, IIED posted on

    Firstly, thanks very much to DFID for this consultation – it is both interesting and timely. I am noticing a definite buzz, appetite and interest growing in our sector for doing things differently or learning from the experience of our 40-year development experience. Let’s keep that going !
    Among other things, I have been a head of comms in a research think tank – in IIED where I am now - and previously for Panos London where our work was more focused toward strengthening the capacity of a plural media. Both types of organisation have had critical roles to play.
    I have been in development communications throughout my working life and have seen our understanding change from viewing communications as linear and end of pipe, to recognising a much more complex nuanced mosaic of stakeholders and different impact pathways.
    The following four points are a personal view and I am also aware that other IIED colleagues have made great interventions but I wanted to add something on the importance of investing in good communications.
    Communications is a vital ingredient in the recipe for change. Behavioural change – locally, globally, anywhere - simply cannot happen without significant investment in relevant strategic communication and engagement activity. Our current project-based development delivery model that ties every activity to a specific project outcome makes realistic investment in communications work very challenging and less likely to get the best impact.
    In the future I believe DFID will need to work more closely with its civil society partners to communicate in the UK and Europe. We need to do a much better job at mobilising a collective understanding about why sustainable development is so important and a key component of things like migrants dying in the Med.
    We will need to bring the stories and perspectives of our southern partners and work with communications intermediaries in the UK and Europe to build support in DFID’s constituencies about our connected world and the UK’s contribution to a more secure future. Our function of being based in the North will be to build an enabling environment of collaboration and support for a universal responsibility for change. We can do this through better communication at home.
    Supporting a learning culture and how we can communicate that learning. We know that there is no one solution to any of the problems we face so any progress we make will rely on bringing together different experiential knowledge from communities and the available global scientific evidence. Solutions will need to be tried and tested over and over again at local level with results shared – we will need to prioritise communicating our learning more than our solutions.
    Flexibility and speed. We need to invest in communications skills so that we can react quickly and in context. A recent example for us in IIED in responding very quickly to a global issue in the UK press was around the Cecil the Lion story: the responses to our blog were greater in four days than our previous most popular blog achieved over 11 months. Funding support rarely covers the ability to communicate in this way - there is not enough to cover communication activity that is not already earmarked in very tight budgets for specific outputs.
    Supply and demand communications. We are funded to “supply”. Project funding identifies outputs and identifies the times by which it should be produced. This has little to do with impact – we know we might produce a press release for a project but we don’t know when a Cecil the Lion moment will come along and it might not be relevant anyway. We must be supported to respond to demand, we must be able to use the best of communications skills and channels to share the knowledge when the audience is listening and not when the project report needs to be delivered.
    There is more! But in summary I challenge us to be more courageous about using the fantastic communications methodologies and technologies we have to really achieve change – corporations do it, so why can’t we? Usually because of a lack of workable investment, a fear of failure and genuine inability to say which communication piece was the one that achieved a change.

  10. Comment by Rosalind Goodrich, research communications manager at IIED posted on

    How can DFID and civil society collaborate more effectively on global influence for sustainable development?
    Think tanks such as IIED work with local organisations and together we take what we learn from the context in which we work up to the global level to influence policy decisions. Local lessons are obviously context specific and IIED sees its role being to aggregate the different solutions, the actions, the specific local-level policies to make them relevant for influencing global debates. This involves detailed analysis and also detailed communication – tailoring messages to resonate with the right audience – both in terms of content and format. But we don’t necessarily get funded for this activity – this is where DFID could provide greater support to enable a quick, detailed and multi-pronged approach. Some communication activities will work better than others and there needs to be room for experimentation and adaptation in funding support.
    UK public support for development is crucial. How could DFID and civil society deepen public understanding of and support for international development.
    The narrative in the UK around developing countries has to change from a broad brush story of helplessness to something much more nuanced. So we should use evidence from our programmes to tell how countries are progressing – on their own initiative but also with the assistance of international partners such as DFID and northern and southern CSOs. The roots of UK ‘bad news’ stories should be explained in development terms if that is relevant: why has there been an increase in migrants and how might this be changed through long term development policies? What encourages young people to join groups such as IS – why are they disillusioned and seeking power through violence? Again, what role can development assistance play in reversing this behaviour?
    Communications through effective and evidence based storytelling has an important role to play in building UK public understanding. This storytelling must be done in partnership with the southern civil society organisations working where these issues are pertinent, using existing and new channels to get the story out. Responses will need to be quick and grounded in evidence – acknowledging the similarities of problems experienced here and sharing the learning that local civil society organisations in the south, have collected through the years.
    This kind of in-depth, nimble response requires appropriate support from DFID, and demands collaboration between organisations such as IIED which can contribute evidence and civil society and media organisations in the UK.

  11. Comment by Kate posted on

    Just want to support the comment from VSO on using PPA learning hubs to open up the conversation with researchers and academics. This may be just my inadequate googling skills, but it seems surprisingly hard to find out about the PPA learning group conversations if you're not in a PPA organisation (I'm currently in a university). It would be great to open up the dialogue, as I'm sure there is potential for sharing ideas and mutual learning.

  12. Comment by Jonathan Simpson posted on

    Tearfund is seeing an increasing demand and trend for fast real time data for multiple stakeholders. This could be for donor reporting, engaging supporters, programme improvements and learning and communication purposes. We see a great deal of value in digital data collection and sharing and the future trajectory is to be able to embrace such technologies, where appropriate within our programmatic and policy work. We see evidence and data as critical for driving learning and quality, but not at the expense of damaging trust and increasing security risks for users at the frontline. There needs to be a recognition that digital data collection and utilisation is important where it can lead to improved decision making and learning by CSOs and DFID. For example the data Tearfund is collecting in this way can contribute to the Joint Learning Initiative on faith and local communities which is an international collaboration on evidence for faith groups’ activities and contribution to community health and wellbeing. A recent study by DEC on the use of technologies highlighted some key areas that CSOs and DFID should be considering:

    Define the data needs, uses and value before choosing the technology. Design and planning are critical for success: 80% of any data collection, analysis and utilisation process/ system is about people, behaviours and values; 20% is about the technology. Focus on the context and capabilities when utilising and implementing technology solutions.
    Future trends on the rise of technology across societies. There is no option not to develop our technological capacity and understanding to use them for data collection, learning, accountability, and other purposes, if our organisations want to remain fit for purpose and be able to operate in the wider humanitarian & development 'ecosystems'. Data and technologies will shape the way we are set up as organisations and our ability to be fully flexible and adaptable to the changing contexts we work in.
    Whose data and evidence is it? We need to think carefully about who the data is for, who benefits, who wants it and why they want it. We also need to think about data protection and ethics around data collection. Guidance from DFID on information protection and security would be helpful rather than CSO creating their own standards.
    Do we understand enough about the power of data and in particular the use of digital technologies? Linked to the point above, who is it for and why but also how does using digital data collection methods change power dynamics, break or build trust and contribute to building or affecting relationships? Having a collective view across CSOs and DFID would be good.
    Piloting technologies, and be willing to learn and fail where necessary. Don't go for full scale roll out, but test and learn. Consider the lean process model: build, measure, learn. Learn for scale up and replication. We therefore need support from DFID to enable trial and error and to allow for early testing and adoption of new innovations, but recognising we may not fully succeed but will learn and adapt for future situations. .
    There is not a one-size fits all tool. We have to be ready to accept that we will have a 'layering' of technology solutions and innovations. However are there any points of commonality and standardisation that we can bring to these solutions eg standard assessment forms, surveys etc? Could this be a role for DFID, Bond, ALNAP and other networks to work towards and in doing so improve the quality and consistency of data and evidence with the aid ‘ecosystem?
    Technology solutions need to be contextually appropriate. Recognition also that digital solutions are not always appropriate in some contexts; sometime we have to stick with paper based systems. We need to be careful not to see technology as the silver bullet. We also have to be cognisant of how the use of technology also has an impact on the environment as the demand for hardware and electricity increases with the use of such devices.
    Dedicated resources, skills and commitment to technology solutions. In order to implement and scale up work there needs to be a coming together of IT specialist along with M&E and programme specialists to utlise the technical skills of both - the what and why (M&E specialist) and the how (IT specialists). Have internal capacity helps with scale up and adoption.

  13. Comment by Krisztina Tora posted on

    How could DFID and civil society work together better to develop, share and apply policy and programme evidence and learning?

    The Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN) consists of organisations supporting social entrepreneurs in 50 countries, to improve the reach, quality and sustainability of support for early-stage social entrepreneurs. We are responding to this forum as we are convinced that DfID should have a broad conception of civil society which include social entrepreneurs and social innovators, who may not automatically consider themselves CSOs or be treated as such by the donor community.

    According to GSEN’s forthcoming report – “From Seed to Impact” - social entrepreneurship is generating increasing interest as an innovative and sustainable approach to development, job creation and poverty alleviation. However the report notes that the ecosystem of support for social entrepreneurship remains fragmented, hindering its development. Activities are disconnected and lack comparability, and best practices are difficult to identify, evidence or learn from.

    We know that social entrepreneurs often take the form of a CSO, particularly in low and middle income countries, but there is little or no data available on their prevalence, and little support for them to measure their social impact. The Overseas Development Institute has done some scoping work in certain countries on donors’ approaches to social enterprise. One of their conclusions relates to impact measurement, noting “striking gaps... [in] approaches undertaken to measure and demonstrate impact.”

    There is a great opportunity for DfID to embrace the burgeoning interest in social entrepreneurship, and to invest in mechanisms for mutual learning and sharing of best practice between social entrepreneurs and the institutions that support them. Specifically, we propose the following:

    -First, funds specifically for learning, identifying best practice, and capacity building, are difficult for locally rooted, early stage social entrepreneurs to access. DfID could provide funding for this specific purpose, which would enable socially entrepreneurial, sustainable, CSOs to share and learn from best practice.

    -Second, as recommended by the Taskforce on Social Impact Investment (established under the UK’s presidency of the G8), greater links should be made between DfID’s work with CSOs and its work on social impact investment, rather than treating these policy areas in isolation. This could create more synergies between programmes which try to achieve similar goals, and allow best practices to permeate different areas of expertise.

    -Third, DfID should establish social entrepreneurship as a key topic addressed by the Donor Committee on Enterprise Development, in order to advance and disseminate knowledge about social entrepreneurship support between donors, development agencies and field programmes, and to make greater links between DfID’s work on private sector development and CSOs respectively.

    -Lastly, evidence to support and inform the above is sorely needed. In order to build the data and to influence critical stakeholders including impact investors and policy makers at the national level, DfID could work much more closely with networks and CSOs operating in this space, including the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network and its local members.

    Krisztina Tora
    GSEN and International Manager, UnLtd

  14. Comment by Mary Friel, Trócaire posted on

    There is much that DFID and CSO’s can do to increase public support and awareness of international development.

    Transparency - Greater ease of access to information on the expenditure on and impact of aid is vital to effectively increase public support and awareness for international development. DFID’s investment in the ‘development tracker’ is a great tool for increasing transparency. Trócaire have incorporated a similar style of visual representations of the impact of our work in our annual report Promoting visual, infographic style results of impact in more digestible forms via social media platforms and investing in digital accessibility eg. mobile friendly content, is a vital way to increase transparency with the public.

    Visible collaboration for the public with DFID and CSO’s - The public in Northern Ireland have positively responded to the visible collaboration of DFID and Trócaire through the match funding scheme. To date Trócaire has participated in delivering 3 match funding programmes, with significant reach to the public in Northern Ireland through above the line marketing, significant media engagement and community outreach. Independent research was carried out by NFP Synergy in which 800 people were surveyed and asked the question ‘How aware were you of the matched funding aspect of Trócaire’s Lenten appeal?’ The results were very positive. 18% of the general public in Northern Ireland were aware of UKAM for the appeal and 42% of Trócaire supporters in NI. Additionally a recent Trócaire Supporter Survey (which received responses from 450 people in NI) asked if awareness of UKAM led to a change in behaviour. 43% of respondents said they were inclined to donate more, 56% said it made no difference and less than 1% were inclined to donate less. Through the match funding scheme DFID and CSO’s, effectively communicate the benefits and need for international development and this collaboration continues to motivate increased public engagement.

    Grass roots community engagement – CSO’s, particularly faith-based agencies are well positioned to communicate the impact and awareness of international development. Trócaire supporters in Northern Ireland are most inclined to receive communication on Trócaire’s work in a parish setting or for youth in their schools. Our focus on face to face community engagement through parish talks or development education in schools means we have a unique opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation on what international development is, the challenges and the impact. These settings offer the opportunity for a two way interaction with the public and leads to greater awareness levels with our supporters and the general public on Trócaire’s priority campaigning issues. Through our development education programme, Trócaire has also invested in experiential learning programmes such as Trócaire’s climate change challenge weekend. This is targeted at youth audiences 16-18 years old to experience a climate change shock simulation as part of a weekend of development education learning. This has proved to be a successful model and impactful method to deepen understanding and engagement for participants in critical development issues. Previous participants are currently acting as ambassadors within their schools and communities to raise awareness of climate justice and international development.

    Volunteers – Building on VSO’s contribution, Trócaire also invests and sees enormous value in building the capacity of local volunteers to communicate with the public on international development. From feedback from parish talks delivered by volunteers as part of Trócaire’s lent campaign, it is clear the power that local volunteers have to connect with the public by telling positive stories (particularly for those who have travelled with us overseas to see projects first hand). Investing in volunteer development has been a key priority for Trócaire and has lead to growth in our outreach levels through parishes and schools. This has allowed Trócaire to reach more people to communicate face-to-face the benefits and impact of international development. It would be really interesting for DFID to consider supporting volunteer development in the UK as key ambassadors to promote public awareness on international development issues.

    Story telling – Telling compelling stories of impact, from developing countries is incredible important. However, effective story telling should also invite the UK public to shift from passive consumers of information, to understanding the unique role they can play in championing international development. Jonah Sachs ‘Winning the Story Wars’ talks about this shift in effective story-telling, that compelling awareness campaigns casts the supporter/member of the public as ‘the hero’, who through action (donating and/or campaigning) they are contributing to a meaningful transformation of the world. This has been incorporated into Trócaire’s Lent campaign, putting the supporter as the activist/change-maker This is also really important in communicating successes, that it is the public who are achieving this success through their contribution and secondary is DFID and CSOs are the vehicles for achieving this.

  15. Comment by Juliet Milgate, Sightsavers posted on

    The increased and sustained participation of CSOs in national-level SDG discourse, implementation, monitoring and review will be critical to its ultimate success as CSOs hold their governments to account. However in many countries the legal, institutional, political and social contexts in which CSOs are operating are becoming increasingly diverse and complex. Frequently the policy or legislative frameworks in country are weak or not fully developed and forums for participation either non-existent or not inclusive. In terms of collaboration, there is no one-solution-fits-all approach, but DFID must continue in its bilateral dialogue with countries and in its own policy approaches to champion inclusive engagement with CSOs, promote open access to information and knowledge and provide mechanisms for CSOs to engage, particularly those that lack resources.

    On UK public support, we must continue to make the case for aid in a coherent, so-called ‘grown up’ manner. There is a strong moral as well as strategic reason for UK development assistance, but the public appears to know much more about humanitarian disasters or crises.

    Developing, sharing and applying programme evidence and learning requires a learning culture within organisations. We should all begin thinking about how evidence and learning will be used throughout the programme cycle – and this starts at the proposal stage, allowing space for learning and reflection to allow for programme adaptation. What sort of learning is needed and by whom? This could help determine what we then do to achieve it, who does what, and what tools and mechanisms are appropriate. Developing these tools in a participatory way will ensure learning initiatives are an integral part of the project process owned by, and useful for, relevant stakeholders. It also helps to close the loop between evidence generation and programme design. At Sightsavers we have several learning initiatives in place to increase the accessibility and usability of evidence and learning. However, providing processes is only one part of the answer: there also needs to be a culture of learning within organisations and this is where, through strong leadership, we can all play a part.

    Over the past 18 months, the BOND Disability and Development Group (DDG) and DFID have been working together to strengthen the UK’s approach to disability-inclusive development. This work culminated in DFID publishing its Disability Framework in December 2014. Sightsavers is a member of and co-chairs BOND DDG. The framework is critical because for the first time it begins to embed disability inclusion within UK development policy and calls on other actors, from NGOs to multilateral partners, to do likewise. Throughout the process the BOND DDG – and others – have worked together to share evidence and learning (Sightsavers drafted a paper on the experience of other donors in disability inclusion to share our learning with DFID). The process worked well because we worked constructively together, discussing opportunities and challenges in an open manner, sharing experience and expertise and working with a common goal around disability inclusion.

  16. Comment by Michel Gary, Transparency International posted on

    Ensuring that the partnership is strategic is not necessarily about focusing on a small number of issues, but about allowing flexibility in the way civil society uses funding, thus enable them to align their actions with their strategy. The partnership should also be based on sound MEL systems that, while focusing on results, also give flexibility to adapt, innovate and learn.
    The PPA Institutional Effectiveness and Learning Group (IELG) “suggestions on key characteristics of a future strategic funding mechanism in the UK” highlights some key elements, based on evidence, that DFID can refer to in their review. For example, a long-term partnership is crucial: development challenges such as those presented by BOND in its recent publication “Fast Forward” cannot be addressed through short- or medium-term initiatives only, and this should be reflected in the way DFID and CSOs collaborate. There should also be strong working links between DFID’s relevant departments and CSOs in relation to policies and programming in their respective fields of expertise. It seems to make sense for DFID to have the capacity in place to engage effectively with their strategic partners, to ensure that DFID, HMG at large and UK taxpayers get the best return on that strategic investment and that (where it makes sense) strategic efforts by DFID and civil society are aligned.

    The PPA learning groups are very valuable channels for horizontal learning (agencies learning from each other), but it is also important to record and analyse the information that comes from these exchanges, so that it is actionable. Building an evidence base on corruption (what interventions work, what do not) is an important aspect of TI’s work, and we would be happy to contribute to the knowledge base on this issue. But beyond the learning groups, as IIED puts it very well in their comment, the whole MEL framework should be a learning partnership, not a performance test. That is how learning and innovation can be fostered. Strategic funding has been crucial for innovation – ‘flying kites’, discarding what does not work and scaling up what has been tested to promise most success is much more difficult under alternative funding arrangements. This is corroborated by INTRAC's recent study (, where they conclude that:
    - "Short-term project funding usually does not allow the time or the resources for learning and grantees are often focused on implementation, reporting and securing further funding".
    - “Project funding can constrain organisational learning by creating silos within organisations and undermining the coherence of organisational strategy.”
    - “Grant agreements which are tied to specific plans and related indicators can undermine grantees incentive to learn as they do not have the flexibility within the grant to adapt and improve their approach.”

    Collaboration between donors and CSOs can be very valuable and strengthen our voice. The global event jointly organised by DFID and TI in New York in the margins of the UN General Assembly is a case in point. In this meeting Prime Minister Cameron and TI Chair Huguette Labelle both supported the inclusion of a governance goal in the post-MDGs framework. In the end the push from TI and other CSOs, as well as the leadership of the governments such as the UK, contributed to its adoption. Another good example are the DFID / TI Working Groups on Anti-Corruption, whose thinking will be discussed at a second high-level DFID / TI conference in the autumn.

    Storytelling has been a focus area of TI’s citizen engagement approach for the last few years. We have compiled more than 60 stories that reflect how corruption affects people’s lives and how TI has helped them (; see also e.g. These can be a powerful illustration of the outcomes of DFID’s funding. TI’s topic – the fight against corruption – is by essence a transnational issue and gathering public support in the UK and in developed countries can be done both by showing how it particularly affects the poor worldwide and by highlighting its effects in developed countries, closer to people’s lives. In a globalised world, the interlinkages are also becomingly increasingly clear – e.g. money that the corrupt steal from their people gets funnelled to developed countries, and the insecurity facilitated by corruption (from Iraq to Ukraine, from Nigeria to Mali) contributes both to people having to flee their homelands to save their lives, undermining and reversing important development gains, as well as to various challenges that developed states have to address such as terrorist attacks or an increased influx of refugees.