Accountability and Feedback Mechanisms in Partnerships

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One of the key challenges of working well in partnerships is ensuring a good level of engagement from all sides, so that everyone feels equally responsible and accountable for the delivery of the project, and ultimately for helping to improve the lives of marginalized and vulnerable people. So, how do we achieve this? This paper examines a specific case of a network that went wrong, and how it was rebuilt more successfully thanks to accountability and feedback mechanisms. Partnering for Impact series To do the work it does, Oxfam works closely with partners at all stages of the programme, in all kind of contexts: humanitarian, influencing, development, etc. But what does it mean for our staff? Each day brings new challenges and opportunities, so how do they do it? Following a reflective and productive writeshop, this Partnering for Impact series was developed to share and explore learning from experienced practitioners about what it takes to ‘work well in partnership’.
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   OXFAM LEARNING PAPER MAY 2016 www.oxfam.org  McDonald Chipenzi, a member of the Civil Society Poverty Observatory Group, speaks during the launch of the Kulinganiza Campaign in  August 2015 in Mansa, Zambia. Photo: Oxfam ACCOUNTABILITY AND FEEDBACK MECHANISMS IN PARTNERSHIPS My experience in Zambia  –  by Mutinta Nketani One of the key challenges of working well in partnerships is ensuring a good level of engagement from all sides, so that everyone feels equally responsible and accountable for the delivery of the project, and ultimately for helping to improve the lives of marginalized and vulnerable people. So, how do we achieve this? This paper examines a specific case of a network that went wrong, and how it was rebuilt more successfully thanks to accountability and feedback mechanisms.  2  ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mutinta has been with Oxfam in Zambia for 5 years, as the Grants Compliance Officer. Her role involves working with partners to manage grants given to them by Oxfam by ensuring that they report on time and according to donor and Oxfam guidelines, provide feedback on reporting and partnership related issues, and work with partners to ensure their development plans are implemented. She also works with other programme staff, particularly programme managers, to manage the reporting processes, as well as facilitate year-end processes at project level. PARTNERING FOR IMPACT SERIES To do the work it does, Oxfam works closely with partners at all stages of the programme, in all kind of contexts: humanitarian, influencing, development, etc. But what does it mean for our staff? Each day brings new challenges and opportunities, so how do they do it? Following a reflective and productive writeshop, 1  this Partnering for Impact series was developed to share and explore learning from experienced practitioners about what it takes to ‘ work well in partnership ’ .   3 1 INTRODUCTION This paper explores two Zambian experiences with regard to accountability and feedback mechanisms in networks. The two civil society organization (CSO) networks presented in this paper, Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN) and the Civil Society Poverty Observatory Group (CS-POG), were specifically selected to demonstrate unique experiences and lessons that have helped Oxfam to build on its current operating model of working with networks in Zambia. The reason for delivering programmes through a network of organizations is to increase the advocacy voice and achieve wider impact. ZCCN is a network of CSOs and individuals engaged in climate change mitigation and adaptation interventions, including research, the creation of citizen awareness, implementation of pilot projects and the undertaking of advocacy on the issue. Oxfam partnered with ZCCN on a project funded by Oxfam America called the Adaptation Finance  Accountability Initiative (AFAI). CS-POG is a network of 30 civil society organizations working across the country, advocating for greater accountability for poverty reduction efforts in Zambia . It provides cutting-edge policy alternatives and perspectives to the Zambian government on poverty reduction in relation to national development planning and sustainable development goals. Oxfam facilitated the formation of the network and the funding of its first campaign on inequality: Kulinganiza , meaning ‘ Even it Up ’ . 2  In 2013, Oxfam in Zambia signed a partnership and funding agreement with the Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN). The partnership was managed through the ZCCN secretariat (the national coordinator, accountant and other support staff) employed by the board of the organization. The ZCCN secretariat was tasked with coordinating implementation of the project activities. The partnership with Oxfam was well established and the contract included sufficient accountability mechanisms, such as agreed reporting dates, involvement of ZCCN membership and other stakeholders, and joint planning of activities between Oxfam and ZCCN as well as the normal routine of expenditure verification. However, this partnership encountered some challenges.  4 2 CHALLENGES One of the key challenges was that the ZCCN network members did not feel that they were equally responsible and accountable for the delivery of project outcomes. The absence of member participation and ownership  –  which was cultivated throughout the duration of the project  –  low participation from the board members, and absence of steering committees and working groups, all made it difficult for member organizations to fully participate in the planning and implementation of the project. Members also felt that they had nothing to gain from the project since no individual member organizations were funded to carry out any of the activities. These challenges led to a disconnect between the members. NETWORK MEMBER EXCLUSION AND PARTICIPATION Network members were not included in the design and implementation of the AFAI project from the onset. Even though the network secretariat worked hard to bring them on board, this was a challenge as they did not feel they owned the initiative and the subsequent processes. The accountability mechanisms at network level were therefore undermined, and the provision of checks and balances, the holding of the ZCCN secretariat accountable for implementation and resource use, was only done by Oxfam, which too k away the essence of ‘working in a network’. The secretariat felt compelled to be accountable only to Oxfam, and not to other stakeholders. Members also felt that there wasn’t any benefit from participating in the network and the project. CLOSED COMMUNICATION/FEEDBACK CHANNELS   The other challenge in the ZCCN partnership was that communication and feedback mechanisms ended at the secretariat level, which meant that member organizations were often excluded from decision making. Initially, information and feedback was communicated from Oxfam and other network members and stakeholders to ZCCN, and the secretariat was expected to disseminate this to network members. But in most cases the secretariat did not communicate to members, leading to delays in activity implementation and the exclusion of some key stakeholders from essential activities.
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