IN ACTION. Assessing & Strengthening the Sustainability of Community Development Organizations

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1 World Neighbors IN ACTION Assessing & Strengthening the Sustainability of Community Development Organizations Sustainable development requires strengthening the capacity of community groups and organizations. These participatory tools help members of community organizations assess their level of long-term viability. SUSTAINABILITY The importance of strengthening communities capacities to implement their own development projects is now commonly acknowledged. Programs that focus on providing services without investing in community capacity are not likely to continue once external funding and support are withdrawn. If, on the other hand, a capacity building component is included, then local people can be empowered to gradually take over responsibility for running their own development projects. By helping local organizations develop their ability to assess community needs, formulate action plans, mobilize the necessary resources, implement development activities and then evaluate the results, intermediary NGOs and donors can ensure that the development process is truly a hand up rather than a handout. Over the last ten years, World Neighbors and our partners have developed a series of tools and methods designed to help members of community organizations assess and strengthen their ability to be effective, responsive and sustain- Fall/Winter 1999 These drawings from a recent self-assessment workshop in Segou, Mali illustrate the five stages of organizational development: Embryonic, Emerging, Growing, Well Developed and Mature. able. This process recognizes that, like all institutions, community organizations go through progressive stages of development. No organization comes into existence fully mature and able to perform all the necessary tasks; organizations gradually develop their capacities through a process of experiential learning and reflection. The guided self-assessment process helps organizations identify at what development stage they are currently and what actions they can take to evolve. Extensive field tests of these tools show that using the analogy of a tree is an effective way to help participants conceptualize these stages. A tree, when it first emerges from the ground, is particularly vulnerable and requires nurturing to survive. As it matures, its roots grow deeper, and it is more capable of fending for itself. The more mature the tree becomes, the more fruit it can bear. Likewise, an organization gradually develops to become more effective, less vulnerable to external threats and less dependent on outside support. Subject: Sustainability of Community Organizations Volume 6, No. E

2 The organizational self-assessment process helps participants to: Diagnose and prioritize their organization s strengths and weaknesses Develop locally appropriate indicators for continuing to measure these capacities Identify concrete actions that will help the organization to mature These tools and methods can address a broad range of organizational issues, including questions of purpose and vision, issues related to effectiveness and viability, and administrative capacities such as leadership, financial management and communication. This issue of World Neighbors In Action focuses on ways to assess and improve the level of sustainability of local development organizations. We present three exercises designed to help participants examine the issues their organization is facing with regard to long-term viability. These exercises are: Sustainability Assessment Transfer of Responsibilities Threats to Sustainability It is important to remember that these exercises are meant to be conducted as part of a larger selfassessment that includes gathering program information, assessing organizational capacities in a variety of areas, examining trends and formulating concrete action plans. Equally important is the need to adapt these exercises to meet the specific issues and context of the organization with which they are being conducted. SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT To determine the characteristics of a sustainable organization. To enable participants to assess their organization according to these characteristics. To identify key issues that need to be addressed to make the organization more sustainable. Necessary Materials Flip chart paper, cards (colored paper cut into strips), ballots, markers, pencils and tape Steps 1. Develop as a group a common understanding of the term sustainability. Sustainability of an organization can relate to core costs being met, the ability to continue after external funding or support ends, and/or efficient program management.. Ask the participants to name the characteristics or qualities of a sustainable organization. Write each characteristic on a card. Suggest other qualities if necessary.. Have the participants sort the cards into three groups: Most Important, Important, and Less Important. Then prioritize the characteristics within each category. 4. Write the rank number on each card and place them in descending order of importance on the vertical axis of a grid (see example). Along the horizontal axis there should be one column for each participant and one column at the end for totals and/ or averages. 5. Explain the scoring scale (i.e. 1 to 5) using the analogy of a growing tree. Hand out ballots and ask participants to score their organization for each of the characteristics listed. Once all the ballots have been completed, collect them and write the scores on the grid. Characteristics of a Sustainable Organization Effective Leadership Good Information Flow High Level of Participation Strong Strategic Plan Capacity to Raise Funds Good Financial Management Good Documentation Systems Clear Program

3 #1 Effective Leadership # Capacity to Raise Funds # Strong Strategic Plan #4 High Level of Participation #5 Good Financial Management #6 Clear Program #7 Good Documentation #8 Good Information Flow Sustainability Assessment Characteristics of a participant participant participant Sustainable Organization #1 # # MOST IMPORTANT IMPORTANT A C B D E F G LESS IMPORTANT H Averages Scale 1=Embryonic, =Emerging, =Growing, 4=Well Developed, 5=Mature Semi-Structured Interview Questions Lead a group discussion using these or similar questions:? What factors have enabled your organization to score high in some of these qualities?? On average, to what extent does your organization meet the criteria of a sustainable organization?? What factors have hindered your organization from becoming more self-sustaining?? What critical factors need to be addressed to help the organization become more sustainable? Tips If there are large inconsistencies among the different participants scores, ask them to explain how they assigned their scores to confirm that there is a shared understanding of the criteria. Ask the participants to justify their scores with concrete examples. To guard anonymity, collect all the ballots before transferring the scores to the grid. Before handing out ballots, assign each characteristic a letter code (A,B, C...). These codes can then be used on the ballot for scoring. If the group is made up of more than five or six participants, scoring can be done in pairs or small groups, rather than on an individual basis. By working together, participants can further discuss and clarify the criteria used for assessing their organization. Members of the intervillage organization, Sininesigiton (Timissa, Mali) generated this chart assessing the sustainability of their organization. These exercise results revealed strengths in building team spirit and weaknesses in collaborating with other groups.

4 TRANSFER OF RESPONSIBILITY Building the capacity of local organizations is not enough to ensure a self-sustaining development process. If the support organization strengthens the capacity of the community group, but does not progressively hand over responsibility for program activities, the capacity will go unused and may be lost. On the other hand, if the support organization hands over responsibilities without ensuring that the community organization has developed the necessary capacities, there is a risk of failure. For the capacity building process to become effective and self-sustaining, there must be a progressive equilibrium between the degree of responsibility and the organization s capacity. The organizational assessment process can help ensure that this occurs. This exercise helps participants identify the degree to which the community organization has taken over program responsibilities. TRANSFER OF TASKS & RESPONSIBILITIES To identify the degree of responsibility held by the different groups. To assess the degree to which responsibility has been transferred to the community. To establish objectives and indicators for the continued transference of tasks and responsibilities, in response to the growing capacity of the community group. Necessary Materials Flip chart paper, cards, small stones or beans, markers and tape Steps (1-5) 1. Ask the participants to name all the tasks and responsibilities of their development efforts. Sugest other responsibilities if necessary. Write each response on a card and place them on the vertical axis of a grid.. Have participants name all the major groups or actors directly involved in running the development program. These could include the community, the support organization, donors, technical support, etc. Suggest other interest groups if necessary. Make one column for each actor in each of the sections (past, present and future) of the grid. (See example on next page). Tasks & Responsibilities (Functional Literacy Program) Fundraising Scheduling Trainings Follow-Up Ongoing Evaluations Designing Training Tools Choosing Trainers Organizing Participants. Look at the current situation first. Explain that for each task, there are ten beans (or stones) to distribute among the various actors. Ten beans represent the total amount of responsibility for each task. Verify that the participants understand this concept. 4. Take the first task on the list as an example. Ask the participants to distribute the ten beans among the different actors in a way that reflects their relative levels of responsibility. For example, if the task is now shared equally between the community group and the support organization, the participants would place five beans under each. Alou, one of the facilitators, presents the results of the Transfer of Responsibility exercise. 5. Ask the participants to repeat Step 4 for the remaining tasks and responsibilities, looking always at the present situation.

5 Transfer of Responsibilities Tasks Fundraising Choosing Trainers Scheduling Trainings 5 years ago (1994) Present (1999) Future (004) Village Group Support NGO x Extension Office Village Group x Support NGO x Extension Office Village Group Support NGO x Extension Office Organizing Participants x x Designing Training Tools x x x Follow Up Trainings Ongoing Evaluations x Totals Percentages 1 18% 44 64% 1 18% 16 % 4 61% 11 16% 8 54% 6 7% 6 9% Semi-Structured Interview Questions (Steps 1-5) Lead a group discussion using these or similar questions:? For which tasks, if any, does the community group have 100% of the responsibility? Why?? Which responsibilities are shared between the community and other actors? Why?? Is the program bringing in other actors for support (i.e. technical training centers, local government)? Why or why not? How successful are these partnerships?? In your opinion, which tasks and responsibilities are the most important to transfer to the community?? What capacities need to be developed to successfully transfer these responsibilities to the community organization? Steps (6-7) 6. Now repeat the exercise to reflect the situation five years ago (or whatever time frame is agreed upon). Use a different type of bean or stone to distinguish between then and now, and have the participants distribute them among the actors under the past section. 7. Ask the participants to envision what the situation will be like five years in the future. Have them distribute the beans among the various actors under the future section of the grid. Semi-Structured Interview Questions (Steps 6-7) Lead a group discussion using these or similar questions:? For which tasks has there been the largest transfer of responsibilities from other actors to the community? The smallest transfer? What are the factors contributing to this?? Are the predictions for the future realistic? Why or why not? What capacities must be strengthened in order to achieve this transfer of responsibility? Tips After the exercise is complete, write the participants votes directly onto the paper.

6 ETERNAL THREATS TO SUSTAINABILITY Community organizations do not operate in isolation; their effectiveness and success are greatly influenced by larger forces and trends. It is therefore important to examine not just the internal capacities that affect sustainability, but also the external factors and how the organization responds to these forces. The following exercise helps participants identify and prioritize the external threats to their organization s sustainability, and to identify concrete actions that can be taken to overcome those challenges. Threats to Sustainability Donor Withdrawal of Support Climatic Conditions Late arrival of funds from donor Lack of Qualified Personnel Conflicts with other NGOs Lack of Access to New Donors Change in Donor Policies Political Instability THREATS TO SUSTAINABILITY To help participants identify and analyze the main threats to their organization s ability to become more viable and self-sustaining. To identify critical issues that need to be addressed to strengthen the organization s ability to overcome these threats. Necessary Materials Flip charts, cards, markers and tape Steps 1. Review the results of the Sustainability Scoring exercise, including the qualities of a sustainable organization and the scores given.. Clarify the term threat. Emphasize that threats are ETERNAL to the organization, but can none the less lead to its downfall.. Ask participants to list key external threats to the viability of the organization. Write these threats down on cards (color A). Suggest other possible threats if necessary. 4. Discuss the difference between a large threat and a small threat to ensure a common understanding and acceptance of the criteria for each. Have the participants group the threats into these two categories based on their potential impact to the organization. Write codes on the cards to identify in which category they were placed. 5. Ask participants to explain why they categorized some threats as large and some as small. Allow time for participants to modify the lists based on this discussion. Then ask participants to prioritize the threats within each category. 6. Tape the cards to the vertical axis of the matrix in descending order of importance. On the horizontal axis, label one column Partially within the organization s control and another column Completely out of the organization s control. Mark an in the column that corresponds with the nature of each threat listed. 7. Identify which threats are both large AND partially within the control of the organization. Ask the participants to think of ways the organization can address these threats, and write their responses on cards (color B). Tape these cards to the side of the matrix. 8. Ask the participants to identify the factors that constrain the organization s ability to address or control threats to its sustainability. List these on cards (color C) and tape them to the bottom of the flip chart.

7 External Threats Climatic Conditions (L) Donor Withdrawal of Support (L) Conflicts with other NGOs (L) Lack of Qualified Personnel (L) Political Instability (L) Threats to Sustainability Partially within our control Completely out of our control Ways to Address These Threats Seek to collaborate with other orgs. Communicate better with donors More staff training & development Semi-Structured Interview Questions Lead a discussion using these or similar questions:? How do these threats impact the organization? What is the organization doing to protect itself from these negative forces?? What are the critical issues your organization must resolve in order to strengthen its ability to deal with threats to its sustainability? Late arrival of funds from donor (S) Change in Donor Policies (S) Lack of Access to New Donors (S) Constraining Factors Staff workload too large/stressful Project tends to be donor driven Participate more in NGO network Lack of local donor base Tips Agree on a clear definition of a threat before you begin the exercise. After the exercise is complete, code the cards with their appropriate categories before storing the flip chart. CONCLUSION While capacity building and change can be externally stimulated, the driving force must come from within the organization. The effectiveness of these organizational self-assessment tools comes from the fact that participants generate and analyze the information themselves. These exercises are designed to help community organizations recognize their own potential and decide for themselves how to best address the challenges they face as they move towards autonomy. In order to be effective, however, the results of these activities must lead to changes in organizational behavior. This requires synthesizing and analyzing the information generated through the exercises, prioritizing key issues to address, and then formulating concrete action plans with specific actions, time frames and persons responsible for following through. When the organization members carry out this analysis and planning themselves, they will have a greater sense of ownership of the results, improving the chance that the assessment process will lead to positive change and increased sustainability. This article was adapted from the facilitators guide From the Roots Up: Strengthening Organizational Capacity through Guided Self- Assessment (World Neighbors, 1999). Please see the back page of this issue for more information about this field guide.

8 Organizational Self-Assessment Guide Available from World Neighbors From the Roots Up Strengthening Organizational Capacity through Guided Self-Assessment This practical field guide contains over 50 group exercises to help grassroots organization members assess and strengthen their organizational capacities. From the Roots Up includes tools for addressing how an organization functions internally, how it relates with others and how to better understand its activities within the larger context. These participatory exercises and methods are designed to help an organization become more effective and sustainable. World Neighbors 417 N.W. 1nd Street Oklahoma City, OK , USA Telephone: (405) Fax: (405) The guide s format makes it user friendly and easily adapted, while providing guidance at every stage of an organizational self-assessment, from preparation and team building to analysis and documentation. (1999, $15.00) World Neighbors In Action is a how-to-do-it newsletter designed for development program workers. It is published two times a year in English, Spanish and French. Subscription price is US$10 for two years (four issues) for readers in industrialized countries. Copies are available at no charge to subscribers in developing nations. World Neighbors is a people-to people, nonprofit organization working at the forefront of worldwide efforts to eliminate hunger, disease and poverty in Asia, Africa and Latin America. World Neighbors purpose is to strengthen the capacity of marginalized communities to meet their basic needs. We affirm the determination, ingenuity and inherent dignity of all people. Working in partnership with people at the community level since 1951, World Neighbors is recognized as a leader in participatory community development. Program priorities are food production, community-based health, reproductive health and family planning, water and sanitation, environmental conservation and microenterprise Founded in 1951 and rooted in the JudeoChristian tradition of neighbor helping neighbor, World Neighbors is a non-sectarian, self-help movement supported by private donations. World Neighbors does not solicit nor accept U.S. government funding. Please send me a copy of From the Roots Up: Strengthening Organizational Capacity through Guided Self-Assessment ($15 plus $5 postage in North America, $7 postage Internationally). I would like to subscribe to World Neighbors In Action ($10 for two years (four issues) in industrialized countries, FREE to subscribers in developing countries.) in English, French or Spanish (please circle one). Name: I have enclosed a check ($US drawn on US bank, payable to World Neighbors) for the amount of: Organization: Address: City/State/Zip Code: $ Please charge my Mastercard or Visa (please circle one). Country: Phone Number: Fax Number: Card # Expiration date: Please send this order form with payment to: World Neighbors 417 N.W. 1nd Street Oklahoma City, OK , USA Fax: (405) Signature of Card Holder: These and other materials can also be ordered online at or by ing

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