Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Major evaluation of EC aid channelled through Civil Society Organisations

Source: EU News, Issue 1, February 2008

This evaluation, undertaken by a consortium of consultancies, responds to ambitious terms of reference to assess almost all EC aid channelled through civil society organisations (CSOs) in the period 2000 -2006 (except ECHO and CARDS). Over that period, the total amount channelled through CSOs amounts to 5.3 billion €, and a clear increase of CSO channelling can be observed. All in all, 76% of total specified payments have been channelled through Northern CSOs and 24% through Southern CSOs.

The evaluation included 6 field missions to Benin, Cambodia, Georgia, Lebanon, Peru and Somalia with 6 case studies on specific issues. The evaluators interviewed some 350 persons and analysed an estimated 500 documents.

The Evaluation Team found evidence of major gaps between EC policy commitments towards civil society and actual implementation practices in using the CSO channel. In the field, innovative approaches co-exist with traditional ‘top-down’, ‘supply-driven’ and/or ‘instrumental’ approaches to working with CSOs.
These gaps (i) reduce the overall consistency of the EC’s strategy towards civil society; (ii) make it difficult to tap the full potential of CSOs as aid delivery mechanism; (iii) reduce the chances of achieving sustainable impact and (iv) affect the credibility of the EC as a global player and development partner.

Main findings are:

  • The EC participatory development agenda is gradually changing the use of the CSO channel
  • The EC has not yet developed a clear and consistent strategy to using the CSO channel
  • The added value of the CSO channel is not optimally used by the EC who is not well-equipped to properly deal with the question all along the cooperation cycle from the identification phase to the design phase and related choice of modalities.
  • There is a mixed record with regard to results, impact and sustainability. Evidence has been collected of positive effects on a project level. However it is less evident to draw firm conclusions with regard to the sustainable impact of these interventions, particularly considering that broader processes of societal change require a longer time span to achieve results.
  • The prevailing institutional culture within the EC is not conducive to a strategic management of the CSO channel; the overall EC institutional environment is a major bottleneck for a strategic management of the CSO channel. This contrasts with mere instrumental approaches whereby CSOs are primarily seen as beneficiaries of project funding.

Main recommendations are:

  • Provide a clearer political and stronger managerial leadership in pushing for an effective implementation of policy commitments towards CSOs
  • Champion space for civil society in the policy and political dialogue with partner governments; the EC should make more effective use of its political position and leverage to stand up in the political dialogue with partner governments for respect of laws and agreements concerning civil society;
  • Enhance the quality of the partnership through improving dialogue with CSOs and through more adapted CSO support modalities.
  • Enhance, through genuine participatory processes, the overall quality of programming aid through civil society; the EC should improve knowledge of Civil Society within its own institution and develop country-specific strategies to involve them better in order to improve the strategic programming of how to use Civil Society in cooperation.
  • The Evaluation findings clearly indicate that the overall relevance, effectiveness and sustainability of the CSO channel is likely to be considerably improved if the EC seriously rethinks and refines its current implementation strategies using existing good practices as starting point.

(Source: evaluation report and summary of evaluation report).

The outcomes of this major evaluation were presented to Member States and civil society representatives on 4 February. CONCORD FDR, invited on short notice, prepared a short response welcoming the report’s main findings and recommendations and making 8 proposals on the way to reduce the implementation gap between EC policy commitments and actual practices towards CSOs, in summary:

  • Support CSOs in focussing primarily on their accountability towards the people they work with and for, rather than towards donors
  • In evaluating CSOs’ work and funding new projects, reward quality and long-term impact rather than short-term outputs and efficient spending
  • Avoid pitching the Northern and the Southern organisations against each other in competition for funds
  • Involve CSOs in your programming processes – both geographic and thematic – and in-country policy dialogue
  • Support CSOs’ engagement with Local Authorities in governance processes while helping them to protect their autonomy and operational space
  • Make the necessary resources available to build vibrant civil societies in partner countries
  • Explore alternative (to the call for proposals) methods of funding CSOs
  • Support own CSOs initiatives focused on enhancing joint responsibility and mutual accountability for results of all development actors

CONCORD FDR is ready to work on the evaluation recommendations and on these 8 proposals together with EU officials in a constructive way.

Summary and full text of the evaluation report available here.
CONCORD FDR response available on request from Karine Sohet

See also Euforic's newsfeeds on aid evaluation, civil society, CIDSE and APRODEV