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Social Program: Management & Evaluation

NGO PROGRAM ACCOUNTABILITY INCREASING PARTICIPATION THROUGHACCOUNTABILITY AND SUSTAINABILITYTimothy Farrell, PHDfaroglobal, inc.Guatemala City, GuatemalaOctober 2001 IntroductionNGO Program- and Proje...


Timothy Farrell, PHD
faroglobal, inc.
Guatemala City, Guatemala

October 2001

NGO Program- and Project Accountability are acknowledged as being necessary – but often as an unavoidable burden – to NGO operations. Usually “accountability” is thought of as an upward response to oversight as with to Donors or Boards of Directors, and most frequently is thought of in financial terms as in the case of audits, unit costs, or numbers of people benefiting from a project or activity. Local and national governments also occasionally request such summary information where NGOs operate.

These summary reports are valuable and useful to the intended audience for a variety of accounting, sponsorship and public relations purposes and are intended to support corporate sustainability. Indeed, without a “record of accomplishment”, it is often difficult for an NGO to enter a new country or new region where local control and autonomy is high. Figure 1 provides a generalized view of the primary distribution of summary reports.

Figure 1Generalized “Standard” Accountability Report Distribution

Well-informed and perceptive program managers, on the other hand, are aware that the concept of accountability is far broader, more inclusive and more useful than upward or even lateral reporting. They acknowledge that for program purposes, accountability translates easily into evaluation, planning, program participation and sustainability.

Accountability and Stakeholders
The dictionary defines “accountable or accountability” in two ways:

1. Responsible: responsible to somebody else or to others, or responsible for something
2. Able to be explained: capable of being explained (formal)

Compare this with the definition of “accounting”:

Accounting: bookkeeping: the activity, practice, or profession of maintaining and checking the business records of an individual or organization and preparing forms and reports for tax or other financial purposes

These are clearly two very different words and have vastly different meanings. Accountability can certainly include accounting, but it is noteworthy that accounting deals with finances, while “accountability” simply refers to responsibility “to somebody else or to others” for “something”, and that it be capable of being explained.

These differences should affect how we perceive and behave with respect to the concept of accountability:

·To whom are we responsible?
·For what are we responsible?

Stakeholders, classically defined by M. Q. Patton (1986:43), are:

“…people who have a stake – a vested interest – in evaluation findings. For any evaluating there are multiple stakeholders: program funders, staff, administrators, clients, and others with a direct or even indirect, interest in program effectiveness.”

This is a broad and general definition is somehow unsatisfactory for evaluation purposes because except for one reference to “clients”, this is upward looking. If you compare it to Figure 1 on the previous page, you will see that these “stakeholders” are all represented in the “traffic circle or roundabout” as separate “roads” radiating from the “hub” or Program Manager.

The “client” remains undefined in Patton’s definition and unrepresented in Figure 1. Who, then, is the client and what roads of information pathways are available to him?

Fortunately, Patton goes on to make a very important point about stakeholders:

Stakeholders are decision makers and information users who have questions about a program.

By any definition, the people who we serve are decision makers and information users, and this applies to even the most “passive beneficiaries” , say, those who simply receive direct donations such as food or medical assistance.

Regardless of whether or not we are talking about “clients” or “beneficiaries” and sustainable vs. unsustainable program and project activities, we do need to talk about “responsibility and accountability with respect to the people who we serve.

The “people who we serve” are the major stakeholders in all of our planning, strategies, programming, activities and evaluations.

By any definition, the “people who we serve” are decision makers and information users, and this applies to even the most “passive” beneficiaries. In over 30 years of international development work all over the world, I have yet to find a “client” who didn’t make some sort of decision about participation in a program or have questions about it.

These are the key decision-makers in any program activity. In English, there is a saying, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. The horse makes the final decision. As an analogy, you can provide all the program and program support you wish, but the final decision to participate or “benefit” comes from the “client”, not the program, sponsors, donors, or the boards of directors.

Certainly a good deal of information comes from program implementation staff, and most programs provide as much information as possible for “clients” to be able to make those decisions with respect to participation or “acceptance” in the case of beneficiaries .

Nevertheless, once a program is accepted and activities begun, there is often little if any systematic effort to maintain the participants informed, and even less in terms of on-going activity decision-making.

The concept and definition of accountability and responsibility to “stakeholders” requires that our local decision-makers be fully informed about the progress and interim results of program or project activities. Most NGOs submit a variety of monthly, quarterly and special reports to their donors and internal (executive level) stakeholders. They mostly do a poor job, however, of maintaining their principal stakeholders – participants and beneficiaries – informed.
Stakeholder Information for Participants and Beneficiaries

Client-stakeholders – participants, beneficiaries, customers or whatever term is appropriate to your organization – can be informed and consulted with a minimum of resources but it takes considerable internal political will to achieve.

Figure 2 is a generalized diagram of how a more complete stakeholder system might appear.

Figure 2.
A more robust model of stakeholder accountabilities and responsibilities.

It should be clear that participants and community leaders are not always the same group, and in many instances, project or program target populations and community leaders are at odds with one another. That is, their interests may not coincide or overlap and in some cases may be opposed .

One Strategy for Getting Participants into the Accountability - Sustainability Circle

A. Plan for it
1.Develop an agenda
2.The main thing is to invite them

B. Design for it
3.Outline the main points of the project or program

C. Hold the Meeting
4.Specify in detail what your organization wants do, why and when
5.Specify in detail what you expect of the participants

D. Find out what the attendees think
6.Establish a schedule for feedback and decision-making meetings

E. Review their opinions, doubtsHealth Fitness Articles, objections and observations
7.Review your operational plan with participants and get their opinions and advice
8.Make appropriate changes in your current activities if possible

F. Hold review meetings
9.Review your operational plan with participants and get their opinions and advice

G. Determine how the program or project activities have progressed to this point
10. What to participants think of progress
11. What suggestions do they have for improvement

H. Review the results and make decisions on remaining activities of the program
12.How can this information plus the technical findings of your regular work plan be used to improve the rest of the activities planned under the project or program?

I. Implement the changes and maintain the accountability system.

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Tim Farrell is an expert on strategic planning, management and evaluation of voluntary, non-governmental, social development programs.
He is a private consultant and lives and works in Guatemala, Central America.

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