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Civil Society Partnership Review: weekly focus on effective collaboration and partnerships

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

The Review, looking at how we will define our future objectives for working with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), as well as associated approaches and instruments for our partnership model is gathering momentum. We’re now into week 3 of our engagement with you online: we’re focusing this week on effective collaboration and partnerships.

Coalesce for success?

There is substantial discussion in development literature about capacity development, but little consensus about what it is, and how to measure it. I think it is important to build capacity across a sector, rather than simply the capacity of individual organisations. This can be done by supporting a network(s) of organisations, or bringing organisations together to coalesce around resolving a specific issue that affects them. By doing this donors could better ensure that a range of actors from all levels, contexts and backgrounds start to develop their own capacity through resolving ‘popular’ or ‘common’ problems.

Do you agree? Do you have examples of where this has worked, and why did you think it was so successful? Have you seen situations where this hasn’t worked, and what could have been done differently to make it successful?

2+2 = a) 3, b) 4, c) 5?

I believe partnerships, networks and collaborations are critical to develop capacity, but do you agree? Should this always be the case? Is it always true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? Can we put 2 and 2 together to get 5, or does this create more problems than it solves? Should donors support the development of existing networks and coalitions of CSO partners at all levels, be that local, national and international,  to increase capacity? If so, how and at which level is best for donors to engage with? If not, what should be done instead?

Do I measure capacity in kilometres, kilogrammes or volts?

The World Bank Institute’s ‘The Capacity Development Results Framework’ suggests in recent years, around a quarter of donor aid, or more than $20bn a year, has gone into technical cooperation, the bulk of which is aimed at capacity development. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) has stated despite the magnitude of these inputs, evaluation results confirm development of sustainable capacity remains one of the most difficult areas of international development practice. But how can capacity be measured: how far an organisation has come; how ‘heavy-weight’ and organisation is compared to before; or how much power an organisation can bring to bear? Let us know your thoughts.

Most official definitions of capacity development are very broad. The World Bank finds this lack of clarity makes it extremely difficult to evaluate the outcome of such work and understand its impact. Do you agree? What can we each of us do to resolve this issue? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

The World Bank Institute sums up the problem in their Capacity Development Results Framework, in practical terms: ‘Most efforts at capacity development remain fragmented, making it difficult to capture cross-sectoral influences and to draw general conclusions. Many capacity development activities are not founded on rigorous needs assessments and do not include appropriate sequencing of measures aimed at institutional or organisational change and individual skill building. What is needed is a more comprehensive and sustained approach, one that builds a permanent capacity to manage sectors and deliver services. Finally, better tools are needed to track, monitor, and evaluate capacity development efforts.’

Comment, share and give us your thoughts

We’d love to see your responses and ideas around these questions. Feel free to respond to other comments whether expressing agreement or an alternative view. Please take the survey for this theme and circulate this to your colleagues, contacts and networks. This survey will remain open until 11 September. If you haven’t taken the first 2 surveys yet, you have until 28 August to complete the first and until 4 September to complete the second.

If you’d like to know more about the review check out our webpage, follow @DFID_Inclusive on Twitter and use #DFIDCSPR to get involved. You can also participate in the DFID and Bond co-hosted Twitterchat this Thursday from 13.00 and follow Matt on Twitter.

We won't be able to offer personal responses to each and every comment, however, we can promise they will be read and considered during the review. Please do not submit written submissions concerning the Lines of Enquiry to the review team, as we are unable to 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 Andrew Clenaghan posted on

    Last weeks discussion focused on capacity development - in fact, the first question posed to particpants was 'what approaches to cap-dev of civ soc are most effective; and which are not?'. Let's take care that this week's discussion is not repetitive of the previous one and that we really address the issues of effective collaboration and partnership.

  2. Comment by Kate posted on

    On supporting capacity: I think an important role for donors is to look at where their own systems and approaches may be constraining organisations - it's about unleashing as well as developing capacity. For example, many small NGOs spend a large amount of their time trying to secure grants and then reporting against them. This takes resources in time, energy and funding that could otherwise be spent on e.g. learning and reflecting. Longer-term grants that cover staff costs and provide more security could be one way to help.

  3. Comment by Astrid Walker Bourne - Practical Action posted on

    I wonder whether anyone will give a straightforward yes or no answer to your question that partnerships, networks and collaborations are critical to bringing about change or tackling issues affecting them. Overall, could we in Practical Action succeed without our ability to be a successful convener, partner or member of different types of coalitions? Of course not.

    What does it take? It takes coalitions beyond the given realms of CSOs (and donors) coming together. We know that the CSO sector often cannot bring change on its own, and that there is a need for much wider collaboration not least with the private sector. DFID has talked a lot about how NGO’s have much to learn from the private sector in terms of efficiency and value for money, however there needs to be more rhetoric about what the private sector can learn from NGO’s, particularly in relation to having social impact. One way of engaging with the private sector at national and local levels is through the Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach where Practical Action has undertaken considerable work to build the capacity of both public and private actors with successful results. The success of this approach has been reiterated through our impact investment work and involvement in the ACRE consortium.

    And there are also ample examples where CSOs have come together in a meaningful and impactful way, from the Climate Action Network to the more recently founded Alliance of Civil Society for Clean Energy Access. What does it take? A clear and jointly owned agenda developed in meaningful and trusting working relationships. The latter sounds easy and yet is the most difficult aspect. Where there is a strong partnership it makes coalitions look easy, where individuals or institutions fail to build them, coalitions of whatever kind falter at best or struggle along costing a lot of time and energy with little impact.

    As for donor and civil society collaboration we need to learn from the success as well as the limitations of the PPA learning groups. For more effective engagement we believe that collaboration between donors, governments and CSOs needs to go beyond simple learning groups and be geared towards a clearer change purpose. Learning, yes... but also what change could be jointly leveraged as a result?
    DFID must also be aware that working with bigger CSOs does not necessarily translate to value for money. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, as national CSOs grow their overheads grow and they may start being less effective.

    In order to tackle the issue of measuring capacity development we need to address the ambiguity of what the aims and thus intended outcomes of capacity development should be on a case by case basis. We also need to look at the bigger picture: Our current system of accountability and justifying funding can mean that we often place too much attention on only measuring activities, inputs and production of outputs. To really measure capacity building we need to look towards how institutions have changed. Are they now stronger, more resilient as a result of the intervention? Do they have an improved capability to deliver/to adapt? How does this translate to change to beneficiaries?

  4. Comment by Sarah Williams posted on

    I’m Head of Programmes here at Think Global and my role involves a lot of partnership working. I’ve seen it all the good, the good enough and the very ugly, so this is a relevant topic for me. I’m interested by the phrase 'Coalesce for success', immediately this makes me think how essential it is to have a shared understanding of what success will look like. So much of partnership working is about the journey, but if we don’t agree on a final destination how will we ever get there and how will we even know if we’ve got there? Within a partnership or coalition there could be different specifics for different organisations, but the partnership or network needs to have shared objectives that sit alongside personal/charitable aims. This involves planning, clear communication and a degree of honesty. Capacity building can be an intentional aim of a coalition and clearly the core of most coalitions is to temporarily increase the actual capacity of an organisation. The long-term development of capacity or learning for organisations from successful partnerships can be invaluable.
    I’d point to our recent collaboration with Bond to develop our ‘Building New Responses’ toolkit ( project was delivered through a very successful partnership, which relied on planning, communication and importantly a shared understanding of success. Building New Responses also relied on some well-planned collaboration from a number of other participatory INGOs who came together with the very clear shared purpose of learning. I could also point to examples of partnership working that haven’t been successful, without dwelling on the details, many of the problems encountered can be largely attributed to not having a shared vision of success and poor communication.
    Coalition and networks that exist without a purpose often dwindle or become unmanageable. I’d like to think that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’, but I think it is dangerous to assume that this will be the case. Partnership, networks and collaborations can be very useful for developing capacity, but should not be seen as the Holy Grail. Capacity can be increased temporarily and learning can be embedded within organisations through collaborative working, this relies on the hard work of all the partners involved. We shouldn’t forget that capacity building across (and even beyond a sector) can take many other forms. What about the role of 1-1 support, how about creating mentor opportunities? How about the process of learning skills and knowledge? There are other ways to develop capacity, this can in fact be from the actual process of doing ‘something’.

    For Think Global the core of our work is about building capacity, in our context this is the capacity of people to create a more just and sustainable world. We believe that armed with knowledge and skills people are able to develop the capability to make decisions and take action to create a more just and sustainable world. The form in which this learning can take place differs, it could be through a supported network or it could be a targeted lesson plan for students, both are valid within their own contexts.

    The question of how to measure capacity is a tricky one. I’m assuming the terms ‘heavy-weight’ and ‘power’ are used intentionally to be controversial. An organisation’s capacity should not be measured on those terms, it surely must be measured on its ability to achieve its objectives within whichever context or setting it exists. Its ‘sustainable capacity’ would therefore be its ability to achieve its aims for as long as is necessary. It is worth remembering that an organisation should only last for as long as it is useful and contributing to the lives of its beneficiaries. We need to be wary of developing the capacity to exist beyond our useful remit. We also need to be careful of creating a one-size-fits-all idea of what capacity building means.

  5. Comment by Ashleena Deike, VSO posted on

    At VSO, we’d agree with the comment above. Whilst we would agree that it is important to build capacity across civil society, strengthening our ability to be more responsive to change through partnership working should be the focus here.

    Development issues are complex and therefore require complex solutions. This necessarily requires civil society to be entrepreneurial enough to build alliances that will enable them to strengthen their impact beyond the siloes in which they are able to best affect change. These alliances also need to be flexible, drawing in new actors as required and adapting quickly as situations evolve. Targeted support from donors, like DfID, to support umbrella organisations and build the ability within our sector to evolve with an ever moving landscape will be key to sustainability in our collective agenda to reduce poverty.

    At VSO, we strongly believe that partnerships are the key to sustainable change. We are at the heart of two collaborative programmes, the International Citizenship Service (ICS) and a new initiative launched on 1st July 2015, VSO Knowledge Exchange. More than just a volunteering scheme, VSO Knowledge Exchange aims to use volunteering as a catalyst to new forms of deeper and more equal collaboration between NGOs and the private sector.

    It also aims to be financially self-sustainable within 3 years, which was only possible with seed-funding from DfID. This support enabled us to invest in developing a new idea with a wide range of both civil society and private sector partners before we had the revenue to sustain it independently. Targeted and relatively small-scale funding to ‘de-risk’ new opportunities like this is something that could transform the way in which civil society is able to work in partnership, and something we’d encourage.

    Space also needs to be afforded to think through how larger NGOs, INGOs, donors and DFID can support smaller, local level CSOs through effective partnerships. It is these organisations that so often represent the poorest and most marginalised individuals but need long-term and sustainable support to grow the work they do.

    An example of how to do this has been a partnership between the British Council and VSO in Myanmar, where we’ve been working together to provide a complimentary set of support to build capacity in local civil society organisations. Additional to grant and short-term consultant support, the need for a longer-term presence within local civil society organisations to support a range of organisational development issues was recognised, and has now been provided by VSO volunteers (See link below).

    Coming to the question of measurement, it is indeed difficult to effectively capture the value of capacity building and partnership working. VSO has a Partnership Monitoring and Learning Tool (PMLT) that captures data for each of our partners on areas such as improved organisational capacity. But, we recognise the limitations to systems like this as they are not able to reflect the dynamics of networks that partners belong to, nor change achieved through collaboration. To really understand how change has taken place, it’s therefore important to focus not just on what you measure, but how you go about evaluating the change process over time. There are a few ways to do this, including longitudinal evaluation exercises.


  6. Comment by Dominique Airey - Youth Business International posted on

    We welcome this week’s line of enquiry exploring effective partnering and collaboration. More broadly, the enhanced focus within the proposed SDGs to revitalise the global partnerships for sustainable development challenges us all to act.

    We’d be keen to explore whether it’s ‘more and diverse partnerships’ that are needed or whether a stronger focus should be put on exploring which partnerships and collaborations (and why) support more efficient, effective poverty reduction and for the development of more robust evaluation at the partnership level.

    As a global network of initiatives supporting young entrepreneurs through a multi-stakeholder model, Youth Business International (YBI) recognises the importance of mobilising groups of interconnected interdependent actors to tackle major development challenges. This week, we would like to reflect on three dimensions of partnering relevant to our work and this Line of Enquiry: (1) Partnering through global networks; (2) Partnering to strengthen national eco-systems and (3) Effective Cross-sector Development Partnering.

    We believe that our network approach is critical to how we achieve impact - working collaboratively through locally-based and locally owned in-country initiatives enhances the legitimacy, relevance and effectiveness of our work, while our London-based Network Team coordinates and nurtures global activity, supporting network growth and quality.

    There is increasing consensus that models of networks, alliances and coalitions are important for sustainable development, but the challenge for us all is to effectively evaluate their impact and ‘value-add’. YBI wants to build the evidence around effective networks. We are currently commissioning a study to determine the scalability, impact and sustainability of our current network model, in order to maximise support to under-served young entrepreneurs around the world.

    We hope that this study will not only guide our own thinking - in terms of our governance structure, our approach to expanding our network, the degree and type of coordinated support we offer in collaborating with our network members, and the extent to which we build on our emerging approaches to regional working and the development of sub-networks focused on specific issues - but also be of value to the wider sector in proposing an effective means of capturing network value.

    The recently launched Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE), a multi-stakeholder coalition between governments, the private sector and civil society, is another promising example of a network that has the potential to meaningfully advance and accelerate the development of effective, scalable solutions for youth employment. In particular, the coalition has already gained significant traction in mobilising a leading group of private sector actors, which has the potential to support the private sector to both structurally align and influence broader youth employability agendas.

    Understanding how, and when, to engage the right stakeholders is critical to delivering sustainable, effective and scalable support. Our experiences in supporting youth entrepreneurship initiatives across a range of contexts, is that taking a long-term eco-system approach is key to enacting this systemic change. YBI hosts its initiatives with leading national-delivery partners, and supports program growth by forming and strengthening existing linkages with key programs, organisations, initiatives and actors who form the wider value chain of support services for youth and entrepreneurship. We convene our global strategic partners, corporate initiatives in region and government actors around our programs, driving visibility and sustainability.

    We have a number of insights from our recent work mobilising a new national youth entrepreneurship initiative in Tanzania. We are continually mobilising the private sector in the scoping, design and implementation of a youth entrepreneurship initiative that will see the creation of thousands of new jobs. Central to this is engaging local institutions along with their skills and expertise in entrepreneurship development to develop a long-term programme of support that we envisage the Government of Tanzania adopting and applying nationally. We recognise that the national and district level Government’s ongoing engagement is essential for achieving buy-in and that the private sector provides the up-front catalytic investment needed to help demonstrate the value such a programme can bring to tackling joblessness and poverty reduction more widely.

    Finally, we wanted to reflect on the changing role of Cross Sector Development Partnerships (CSDPs). There is broad consensus that CSDPs have the potential to address complex social issues and there is increasing expectation and support from funders, local communities and policy makers for their formation. Although there is increasing recognition of their potential value, there is still limited ‘CSDP-specific’ analysis and evidence. Given their complexity and investment of time required to develop, we again emphasie the need for more evaluation at the partnership/collaboration level.

    We are particularly focused on the evolving role of the private sector in entrepreneurship support/SME development and what is required to partner most effectively. We have engaged with private sector partners to support young entrepreneurs in a number of different areas, including: provision of access to finance, mentorship or business training; organisational capacity development and access to markets (via integration with value chains).

    Our experience has been that private sector partners can be major sources of technical innovation, act as catalytic investors and have a real willingness to take on shared accountability. The potential for market-based solutions to poverty that effectively mobilise private sector actors is significant but, with a few noteworthy examples, have yet to achieve real scale and impact. If we are to realise the full potential of these partnerships, we believe it is important to continue to radically evolve our approach to private sector engagement. We must consistently consider and engage with the private sector as stakeholders not just donors and have a greater understanding of, and solutions to support, the challenges associated with embedding and mainstreaming new activities into their core business. We must continue to include and encourage such private sector actors to collaborate more widely across different sectors – public, private philanthropy, civil society – to both shape and support coalitions that have the capacity to take transformative action.

    • Replies to Dominique Airey - Youth Business International>

      Comment by HelpAge International and Age International posted on

      HelpAge’s and Age International’s partnerships with our affiliates and partners are central to our approach as an international network. We could not achieve the results we do on our own. From experience our network does provide the space for smaller and larger organisations from the across the world to work in partnership on common issues at the global, national and local levels. Leading the Ageing and Disability Capacity (ADCAP) consortia, HelpAge with its partners are pioneering more inclusive approaches to ensure age and disability are mainstreamed with humanitarian responses. Such partnership approaches allow CSOs to reach greater scale and actively promote inclusive approaches, essential if we are to fulfil the SDG commitment to ‘leave no one behind’.

      We should avoid trying to identify a single approach or oversimplify what partnership can achieve. Recognising the value of different types of partnerships in different contexts allows a more realistic and nuanced understanding of how partnerships work. Donors can actively support CSOs to use the most effective approach to achieve results, be that direct support to a small older women’s group or through global actions for global change.

      We need to ensure that informal social movements, often representing the most vulnerable in society, also have the space and independence to lead the changes they want to see. For example on October 1 The International Day of Older Persons, campaigners of all ages from over 60 countries take part in holding duty bearers to account. Through the action/2015 campaign, partners have been making valuable connections, for us that has meant connecting with organisations to collectively support the inclusion of people of all ages in the post-2015 framework. We have seen how supporting a vibrant and grassroots civil society ensures visibility and gives voice to those facing discrimination and stigma within their communities.

      The development of civil society is a legitimate development goal in its own right and in stable development contexts we should focus on collaborative approaches to developing skills and building knowledge with local civil society organisations. However for humanitarian purposes, the case is not as clear cut. The imperative in humanitarian action is to save lives and alleviate suffering by whatever means is most timely and effective. In some circumstances local CSOs will be the most timely and effective means – in some rapid onset natural disasters, for example. But in other circumstances local CSOs are compromised in many ways and direct intervention is required by international CSOs (many civil conflict situations, for example).

      Capacity development is an ambiguous term and it is applied liberally in our sector. Both CSOs and donors need to be clear what they mean when they use it, both to ensure transparency within partnerships and to effectively measure the, sometimes not so tangible, changes. Defining measurable changes in capacity highlights the inherent complexity of initiating and sustaining changes in organisational and individual capacity. Flexible, adaptable measurement tools are required that allow for such complexity and also for partners to define the changes that are relevant to them.

  7. Comment by Liza Stevens, Traidcraft posted on

    It makes sense to coalesce for success and DFID has a key role to play in ensuring that actors at all levels are working coherently to bring solutions to common problems. That’s the ideal – the reality is more messy and complicated.

    Traidcraft has worked in collaboration and partnership at a number of different levels and with different kinds of actors. With our focus on fair trade, our partnerships are often around specific supply chains (for example, tea in India, horticulture in Kenya, smallholder agriculture in Bangladesh) where we collaborate with the different supply chain actors as well as public/private sector service providers, seeking win-win solutions that will result in more effective and efficient supply chains where the risks and benefits of trade are shared fairly, with increased returns to the poorest in those supply chains.

    From our experience, identifying the “common problem” for all supply chain actors is a core challenge, as is identifying incentives (the win-win) for some of the private sector actors higher up the supply chain to engage, especially if they are already making good profits. Without an enabling environment with appropriate governing mechanisms in place, our concern is that just coalescing will not lead to any sustainable impact.

    While we have achieved some significant results in these supply chains (eg representation of Indian smallholder tea growers in national/international tea policy fora, improved services and greatly increased incomes for smallholder farmers in Bangladesh, increased dialogue between horticulture supply chain actors leading to some improvements for growers and workers), another key challenge for us is taking such approaches to scale.

    More visibly in the UK and Europe, we have also worked in partnership to advocate for changes in trade policy and practices that enable fair trade and ensure that businesses are held to account for their impacts. One notable example was our EC-funded collaboration with five other UK and European CSOs to raise awareness of problems within supply chains providing goods sold in European supermarkets, in the interest of supporting better supply chain practices to improve livelihoods for producers and workers in the South. In the UK, this work contributed to increased levels of awareness and understanding amongst decision-makers at national/EU level, EU CSOs, supermarkets and citizens/consumers, and also to the establishment in 2013 of a Groceries Code Adjudicator in the UK.

    Some of the learning generated by this collaborative initiative will be common to others:
    • Partners have different capacities, perspectives, working styles, and objectives (and often also languages and cultures) – it takes time to get to know and understand each other in sufficient depth, to collectively identify the shared focus (the “common problem” issue again) and get senior management buy-in for shared objectives
    • It is important to develop a clear shared strategy and plans, but flexibility also needs to be built in to change those plans according to policy and political opportunity
    • Also important to develop clear roles for all partners, reflecting their organisational characteristics – the roles of coordination, information-sharing and leadership are especially important, and it makes sense to budget for a dedicated coordination role
    • Give it enough time – it is difficult to work all of this out in a three-year project cycle
    • Give it enough budget – need to build in sufficient staff time and have the budgetary scope to include Southern partners.

    Picking up on some of the thoughts shared in last week’s blog, DFID is in a good position to play a convening role, bringing together organisations working on similar issues, supply chains or sectors to share knowledge and learning but also to facilitate the first steps in forming partnerships that can, for example, take successful approaches to scale.

    DFID also plays a key role as a funder. CSOs often bring attention to and try to address complex systemic problems. More strategic and flexible programme funding over a longer term (rather than the constant chase for 3-5 year project funding) would support more effective and sustainable collaboration that can respond to change and opportunity as it arises. We also need the budgetary freedom to target relevant powerful institutions in the interests of the poor, whether this means the UK government, EU or companies, amongst others.

    Finally, on measuring capacity, it is difficult to see how we can arrive at a universal measure of capacity as it depends what you are building the capacity for. Capacity assessment needs to be tied to organisational purpose – ensuring that CSOs have a clear purpose is in itself a challenge, but once it has been established, it is then easier to assess their capacity to implement/achieve. However, the challenge here is the need to remain responsive to changing context and need – therefore, sufficient flexibility needs to be built-in so that CSOs (and associations, networks, coalitions) can evolve and change in response to the needs of those we are ultimately trying to benefit.

  8. Comment by Kate posted on

    I think there were some twitter comments yesterday about what donors could practically do to help support a diversity of civil society organisations. Here are a few specific ideas that could reduce barriers to funding (and probably make the process more efficient for all applicants)

  9. Comment by Clare Walton posted on

    GAIN finds collaboration and partnership with different kinds of partners is essential for overcoming systematic development challenges. It is important for sustainability and capacity building too.

    We’ve been surprised to find just how underequipped governments feel in the food and nutrition security area to understand how best to work with business/private sector and how non-governmental bodies can play a catalytic role accelerating efforts. GAIN has found that business often find it challenging to contribute meaningfully to a growing nutrition agenda. Supporting businesses through Scaling Up Nutrition Business Networks helps meet this challenge as it provides a platform to increase commitments and be held accountable (

    At the same time, we have also found that there is a need to go beyond pure business networks and for public and private partnerships or alliances to be established. They can forge new relationships and trust, level the playing between organisations or businesses and help pool resources or effort among stakeholders. We’ve used partnerships with public and private dimensions to bring new financing and expertise for development such as through the Amsterdam Initiative Against Malnutrition.

    GAIN has also established national fortification programmes using an alliance model in many Asian and African countries to fortify foods that improve public health. We’ve convened and facilitated complex processes with civil society, government and businesses to deliver national food fortification programmes. GAIN’s role has been described by some as a ‘back-bone’ organisation. A Stanford Social Innovation Review article describes the role of ‘backbone’ organisations: shaping global partnerships for a post 2015 world

    We’ve learned that unusual partnership and broad collaboration are often necessary to achieve change but need to be encouraged by policy, advocacy and funding instruments. The processes of partnership building often take several years to yield meaningful results.

  10. Comment by Bill Vorley (IIED) posted on

    Capacity building for policy engagement?
    The blog is right to emphasise that effective collaboration and partnerships relies on capacity for policy engagement across a sector, especially if the intention is to encourage more diversity and smaller, non-traditional NGOs. That's not just a question of capacity to lobby, but also to generate evidence in a way that is convincing to policymakers. For example, in the hands of networks of slum/shack dwellers, community-based monitoring and mapping have been effective in developing effective partnerships with local governments, and thus in contributing to more inclusive cities.

    The point about partnerships, networks and collaborations to develop capacity is also well made. For example, in the energy access sector, civil society capacity to engage in policy, in support of sustainable local solutions or to hold government to account eg around new energy access/SDG commitments -- is often quite weak. There are actors with decades of experience in delivering energy access in remote and difficult contexts, but their voices are often unheard. But networks of civil society organisations and practitioners are beginning to self-organise. ACCESS – the alliance of CSOs for clean energy access – is a relatively recent initiative around national energy access platforms. As the blog states, building national platforms from the grass-roots, and coordinating across countries to bring issues to global discussions -- such as operationalising an energy SDG -- takes time and resources, and impact can be difficult to measure. But ACCESS demonstrates that there is a strong willingness and interest in doing it.

    The blog asks what level of civil society to engage with. Far more is achieved with fewer resources where CSOs work with existing groups formed by the poor. There are many examples of local organisations that are remarkably effective at supporting sustainable development in their localities on very small budgets. But very little development assistance reaches these local organisations. So just as important, but missing from the blog, is the funding mechanism. We agree with the earlier comment from Kate that DFID will need to adjust funding mechanisms and technical expertise to support a diversity of civil society. Fewer numbers of larger grants drive funding towards large consultancies with the resources to manage the demands of results-based financing and to manage risks. CSO 'participation' in their proposals may be little more than 'social washing'. And reduction in DFID staffing can lead to a loss of knowledge, networks and expertise around the role of civil society in development necessary to spend funds well. A mechanism which has been successfully tested at scale is the Urban Poor Fund which channels funds through federations of the poor while being managed by the organised the urban poor.

    CSOs are rightly encouraged to work with the private sector. Some forms of engagement with the private sector – such as multi-stakeholder partnerships and processes – can be quick ways to reach scale, but carry risks. MSPs have gained widespread popularity, because they bring much of a system into a room to address complex issues. MSPs acknowledge that complex social problems require expertise and understanding that are rarely found within companies themselves. Large scale mining companies are increasing looking to partnerships with communities and governments to address social risks. But NGOs can see partnerships as ethically compromising. MSPs involve – but are inclined to gloss over -- substantial power differentials. These differences can be amplified by social and cultural aspects such as meeting formats and language, style of dress, ways of sharing information and communicating. To be effective it’s important to recognise these differences. Donor funding could provide a neutral space and resources for building local NGO capacity to engage on a long-term basis.

    Development agencies typically frame the ‘private sector’ as operating within the formal economy. But many small-scale economic actors in developing countries operate in informal sectors. Collaborating with these players can be difficult, especially in sectors and geographies where informality is considered illegal, and presents risks to both parties. CSOs can be an important bridge to this huge but hidden private sector.

  11. Comment by Mousumi Saikia - Islamic Relief Worldwide posted on

    To promote the support for a diverse range of CSOs and diverse collaborative partnerships, DFID and civil society partnetships need to, amongst others focus on:

    - Having different funding models to support a wide spectrum of CSOs – small, medium, big to address the diversity and complexity of development issues and context.

    - Having long-term ongoing relationships with CSOs that have proved the successful delivery of effective long-term results.

    - Open communication and consultation between DFID and CSOs

    - Respecting independence of CSOs and protection for the freedom of CSOs to contribute to public debate without impact on their funding status

    - Appreciation and recognition that there is a great diversity within CSOs, both within and outside the UK and this could be a significant strength that responds to the needs of the varied communities living in poverty

    - Equity: ensure that different perspectives and needs, including those of women, young people, people with disability and ethnic minorities, are taken into account when developing policies and delivering services.

    - Promoting shared learning and share relevant information and data to help develop sound policy and program approaches, and to help us all evaluate and learn from our efforts and produce even better results in the future

    - Strengthening local systems and ensure sustainability. Increase support to organisations that are embedded locally in the developing countries DFID works with, either through their local partners or by providing assistance directly to local organisations.

    - Investing in building and promoting the capacity of CSOs to empower citizens to participate and take intentional action in development and also to take up democratic ownership.

    In pursuance of the above, it also important for DFID to more effectively encourage collaboration of CSOs for the benefit of people living in poor countries. Some practical ways of doing this could be to:

    - Promote shared learning and share relevant information and data to help develop sound policy and program approaches, and to help us all evaluate and learn from our efforts and produce even better results in the future

    - Share experiences of complementary programing work, build on this shared experience for increased synergy and expanded development outcomes

    - Promote development of shared case studies of experience on specific issues - practical implication of VfM, gender mainstreaming, age and disability inclusion; M&E for HTMB etc.

    - Promote joint programming between CSOs to address specific development issues.

    - Promote peer support e.g. larger organisations with better resources supporting smaller organisations to build capacity, processes etc.

  12. Comment by Dan Collison, War Child posted on

    Our experience in developing effective partnerships and collaboration with civil society partners often raises the question of whether agencies are interested in promoting a stronger civil society as an end in its own right, as a means of building civic action and accountability, or in pursuit of more specific outcomes. We often attempt to do both, so one thing at the outset is to be clear on the purpose of the collaboration and partnership.

    Efforts to strengthen civil society often encounter shrinking or constrained political space, and in this case we have found that locally convened networks provide a much better platform than a series of isolated relationships. A great example (not from War Child) has been the growth of the Paung Ku civil society network in Myanmar, which emerged during the era of tight authoritarian rule, and which provided an incredible spark of energy, ideas and resources to a wide range of civil society actors at a critical time. Although funded through a number of international agencies it was locally convened and managed and has been transformational in the civil society landscape. The real key to the network has been dynamic and visionary leadership, challenging accepted ways of working, and an element of risk taking.

    A challenge for DFID is the tension between the desire to support civil society through such networks and the risk thresholds that it sets in terms of accountability. It would be interesting to challenge these this risk aversion a bit. An example is the development of the START network which has long term ambition to channel resources direct to a global network of local and national humanitarian response agencies, but faces challenges in the form of the compliance and accountability requirements attached to some of the funding.

    We find strong civil society partners in some unlikely settings, currently working with one or two very active, vocal and determined partner agencies in CAR. It has been difficult to scale up work with these partners because some donors see their low management capacity as to risky bet. INGOs do have a role to support capacity strengthening. While there are some good examples of this, INGOs are often not well equipped to provide really effective capacity support, and we need to find new avenues to address this. Interesting to note that the Keystone Accountability report consistently finds that while partner agencies often highly appreciate the quality of partnership relationships, trust, resource sharing etc, they consistently report that efforts to support capacity strengthening are less effective. We need to find some better ways of achieving this objective. Strong local networks provide part of the answer.

  13. Comment by Krisztina Tora posted on

    The Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN) is a network of locally-based organisations supporting social entrepreneurs in over 50 countries, to improve the reach, quality and sustainability of support for early-stage social entrepreneurs.

    Our response to blog number two has already proposed a number of ways in which DfID could support a more diverse range of CSOs – including social entrepreneurs – to flourish. Namely:

    First, DfID could provide funding for capacity building, which would enable socially entrepreneurial, sustainable, CSOs to share best practise.

    Second, as recommended by the Taskforce on Social Impact Investment 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.

    Third, also recommended by the Taskforce on Social Impact Investment, DfID should establish social entrepreneurship as a key topic addressed by the Donor Committee on Enterprise Development.

    Fourth, 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.

    In addition to these points, we particularly welcome DfID’s desire to support a more diverse range of CSOs and non-traditional NGOs. We would, again, like to emphasise here that DfID should go further in developing a broad conception of civil society which includes 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 recent report – “From Seed to Impact” - social entrepreneurship is generating increasing interest as an innovative and sustainable approach, but the ecosystem remains fragmented. Activities are disconnected and lack comparability, and best practices are difficult to identify, evidence or access. If we want to harness the full potential of social entrepreneurship, we need to address these challenges.

    GSEN would be pleased to work with DfID to tackle these challenges and to develop the capacity of social entrepreneurs and of the local institutions that support them.

    Krisztina Tora
    GSEN and International Manager, UnLtd

  14. Comment by Juliet Milgate, Sightsavers posted on

    Smaller, newer and non-traditional NGOs have a significant amount to add to the development discourse, but where they lack resources, access to information or capacity they can be unintentionally overshadowed by more established NGOs. The legitimacy of smaller NGOs stems from the lived experience of their members and their rights-based approach to community development. There is a huge potential for greater partnership between different NGOs (and in partnership with DFID) to achieve more development impact; this is why Sightsavers has focused on building partnerships with Disabled People’s Organisations and in fostering inclusive civil society campaigns like Beyond 2015, which we have co-chaired for the last two years. Sightsavers is able to bring experience of financial management, global reach and technical expertise to these partnerships, while smaller domestic NGOs represent legitimate voices of the people who will drive change in their countries.

  15. Comment by Michel Gary, Transparency International posted on

    Coalition building is one of Transparency International’s guiding principles. The organisation is itself a network of independent national NGOs fighting corruption all around the world. The local reach and expertise of these national chapters have been essential to achieve collective impact. Many changes in policy and practice have come from chapters, supported by the secretariat through the design of anti-corruption tools, capacity development, etc. The secretariat also complements national work by advocating for global and regional reforms. For example, the collaboration with Global Witness and ONE boosted our visibility and reach ahead of last year's G20 summit, and our work with the OECD has shed light on how well its convention against foreign bribery is enforced. National chapters also build partnerships at the local level.

    Supporting networks or coalitions is certainly a good idea, as long as it is strategic and long-term. “Bringing organisations together to coalesce around resolving a specific issue that affects them” sounds like a very targeted short-term action. It is fine if it has a framework, if it is part of a strategic, PPA-like partnership between DFID and CSOs. This may be what you meant, but it is a bit unclear.

    The relevance and usefulness of partnerships depend on the context and issue, which is why flexibility should be one of the key principles of DFID’s support. An advocacy organisation like TI and its national chapters should always seek to collaborate with other CSOs, with governments and with the private sector as appropriate. But it is important to be nimble: a specific issue might require a very broad coalition with little integration, while another one might require very close collaboration of a few players for an extended period of time. An organisation may work with a couple of partners on a specific advocacy objective, and with completely different ones on another objective.

    I would argue that there is no single answer to the question on whether partnerships are critical to build capacity. It depends on where the organisation is in its lifecycle, what the identified need and the ultimate purpose of the capacity development effort are. Only if need and purpose are sufficiently well understood can the right response be developed, and the capacity development effort be successful and sustainable.

    Regarding building capacity across a sector, it depends on the specific need identified. We do consider ‘horizontal learning’ as an effective approach to capacity development, especially where it involves face-to-face activities to enable direct experience sharing – in order to then evaluate whether or not this experience is relevant and helpful to them, or not. Many capacity development challenges are indeed ‘popular’ or ‘common’ – but there will also be situations where a specific need requires a very bespoke, tailored response that is best addressed through other channels.

    Partnerships are important at all levels, but where the role of donors like DFID is most prominent is probably at the international and national levels. International NGOs have the expertise and capacity to work with their peers, to engage people and advocate for change globally. At TI, the main role of the international secretariat is also to support our national chapters and help build their capacity. These are national NGOs, which know the political and social context of their country, and can mobilise people and work with the government and others to promote reforms. In turn, they can have impact locally by allying with and supporting grassroots organisations, or by reaching out to citizens at the local level. National and local organisations can also work together towards a common strategic objective, thus dramatically broadening the geographical reach and impact of national and international initiatives. A case in point is Niger, where TI’s national chapter has contact groups in more than 260 municipalities in the country. These groups have been trained to collect data from citizens that have grievances related to corruption.

    But if we are to “leave no one behind”, individuals from traditionally marginalised groups must be at the centre of the resulting SDG policies, from their design to their implementation. Getting these different actors involved will require the collective action of a range of traditional and non-traditional actors. Rather than look at who the actors are and their intermediaries, it is important to focus on whether they are able to fulfil this commitment of the SDGs and how they are able to work together. This means moving beyond North/South divisions and global/national/local. DFID could pay more attention to how CSOs are rooted in their contexts/ communities to ensure that their legitimacy is based locally (at least for those CSOs who claim to be coming from the grassroots as opposed to expertise-type CSOs).

    In terms of measuring capacity, if clear capacity development objectives are set, based on an effective needs assessment and documented in a capacity development plan, it is possible to develop progress/ success indicators. And even where direct attribution beyond increased capacity and increased impact is nearly impossible, an evaluation of the outcome of capacity development activities (through self-assessment or conversation) is often possible. At a broader level, TI has developed an Organisational Capacity Assessment Tool to assist TI national chapters in developing a sound understanding of problems, issues, and challenges that they are facing through a systematic organisational self-assessment. The CAT helps to systematically ‘take stock’ in a participatory process, e.g. in periods of significant organisational change. Results from the assessment help guide discussions on organisational choices and help build a common understanding of any organisational challenges. It is a self-assessment tool focusing on five areas: ability to organise, to be, to achieve, to relate and to adapt and learn. I believe we’ve already shared it with DFID but we can make it available to the review team if it is helpful. TI-UK’s global Defence and Security Programme based in London has developed an MEL system called MEKANIC, which examines capacity through a (collective) learning approach. INTRAC invited the programme to produce a ‘praxis note’ so that it could be shared with others in civil society and beyond. The praxis note is available on the INTRAC website:

    Finally, I strongly agree with the fact that we need “a more comprehensive and sustained approach”. Capacity development needs space for ownership, flexibility, and long-term rather than ad-hoc interventions.