NGO PROGRAM ACCOUNTABILITY INCREASING PARTICIPATION THROUGH ACCOUNTABILITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
Timothy Farrell, PHD faroglobal, inc. Guatemala City, Guatemala
October 2001 Introduction 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 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 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 primary distribution of summary reports.
Figure 1Generalized “Standard” Accountability Report Distribution
Well-informed and perceptive program managers, on other hand, are aware that 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 definition of “accounting”:
Accounting: bookkeeping: activity, practice, or profession of maintaining and checking 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 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 previous page, you will see that these “stakeholders” are all represented in “traffic circle or roundabout” as separate “roads” radiating from “hub” or Program Manager.
The “client” remains undefined in Patton’s definition and unrepresented in Figure 1. Who, then, is 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, people who we serve are decision makers and information users, and this applies to even 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 people who we serve.