New Agenda – The Way Forward

NGOs can manage their performance better by focusing on factors that are within their control; and on their own performance, rather than other people’s results.

Specifically, NGOs can focus on the contribution they make to people’s own efforts to help themselves. Building on the Two Golden Rules, this leads to a new agenda for management.

Let’s focus more on how NGOs work with people and partners, and whether NGOs are doing a good job, rather than what NGOs and local people are doing.

Impact can be re-framed as ‘the value that an international NGO or donor adds to the efforts of the people and organisations it works with directly, in strengthening their abilities to tackle their own social issues’.

This can help shape an organization’s whole approach to managing and reporting its performance, and using its funds effectively.

  • High-quality interactions
    NGOs can focus their attention on the interactions between their front line staff and the people/organizations they aim to help. This is where NGOs’ performance takes place, so these interactions have to be consistently high quality. In particular, NGOs need to develop effective relationships with people, based on mutual respect.
  • Downward accountability
    Downward accountability provides important, practical principles for managing front line interactions – and making sure they ‘help people help themselves’. It puts particular emphasis on staff and managers’ personal values, attitudes, and behaviors.
  • Resource allocation
    Within a specific project, downward accountability can help make sure that resources can be allocated in line with people’s real priorities. Between projects, resources can be allocated on the basis of our capacity to make a difference, rather than results.
  • Decentralization
    Front line staff needs the freedom to work with the people they aim to help and make careful judgments about the specific situations they face. As each situation is different, NGOs need decentralized ways of working, rather than centralized approaches.
  • Reporting performance
    A central element of reporting performance can be feedback from the people we aim to help: how useful did they find our contribution? NGOs can also manage and report the key factors that determine the quality of their work, like the strength of downward accountability actually achieved, or the skills and experience of key staff. These factors could potentially be reported to donors.


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