Evaluations, strategic planning and log-frames – donor-imposed straitjackets on local NGOs?

Evaluations, strategic planning and log-frames – donor-imposed straitjackets on local NGOs?

Evaluations, strategic planning and log-frames – donor-imposed straitjackets on local NGOs?

Driven by concerns to demonstrate ‘value for money’, bilateral donors and major Northern development agencies are becoming more selective in the types of organisations and activities they will fund and the types of account keeping they demand from recipients. New requirements are forcing small non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in developing countries to change the way they work. They might be becoming more efficient, but are they also losing their ability to respond to the needs of the communities they serve?

Research from the University of Natal examines the influence of donors on SouthAfrican NGOs. It shows how the concept of the ‘aid chain’ can be used to trackthe flow of funds and also the transmission of ideas, standards and managementpractices.The research is linked to a wider DFID-funded study, co-ordinated by Tina Wallace at Oxford Brookes, examining the impact of UK funding streams on organisations and projects in the UK, Uganda and South Africa.

Interviews, fieldvisits and programme documents from forty organisations working in South Africa highlighted new donor-recipient tensions andconflicts between donor’s strategic concerns and local NGO priorities. Theauthor reports that many NGO managers:

  • suspectdonors do not read reports as they receive little feedback from them
  • regardmany reporting requirements as needlessly time-consuming
  • resentdonor pressure to attend ‘capacity-building’ courses which may take littleaccount of their existing organisational procedures or management experience
  • feelobliged to use the logicalframework approach (a management tool linking inputs to outputs to objectives) regardlessof potential incompatibilities with participatory, experiential and people-centred development
  • feelpressured to participate in networks and umbrella groups by donors who fail torealise that the members of such groups often lack any commonality of purposeand maintain their own ideological stances and political allegiances
  • think somedonors naively promote advocacy without understanding that local organisations mayhave competing policy objectives and that political processes may not bepluralistic, transparent and open to debate or reform.

They are alsotroubled by new financial procedures, particularly the trend towards‘retrospective’ or ‘invoice-based’ financing. Since funds are only releasedupon approval of submitted invoices, only large organisations with sufficientcapital to pay for projects up-front can access donor support.

‘Core funding’ isbecoming a dirty word as donors say they are only willing to pay ‘project’costs. NGO managers who have not acquired the writing skills to ‘bury’ corecosts within project proposals complain that key functions are no longerfunded. Organisational development, experimental pilot approaches and long-termimpact analysis are being abandoned. Many see the rejection of core funding asindicative of a patronising Northern assumption that giving discretionaryfunding to a developing country NGO will automatically lead to wastage orcorruption.

Financialuncertainty is forcing many South African NGOs outside the donor loop to diversify income sources. They areredefining their relationships to the state and the market, taking ongovernment contract work, selling services to the private sector and charginguser fees. Some have had to downsize and depend on short-term contract staffwhile others are experimenting with their legal status and turning into‘non-profit’ companies.

Proceduresdesigned to enhance control, accountability and effectiveness carry costs. Theselective incorporation of some organisations anddevelopment interventions into the international aid industry whilst otherissues and groups continue to be neglected is alarming not just to SouthAfricans, but to all who are concerned about the democratisationof development.


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