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Strong accountability is increasingly recognized as a key driver to underpin the effectiveness and legitimacy of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and as such being essential in preparing the ground for a more enabling CSO environment (CIVICUS, 2013). Where implemented well, accountability for good governance, management effectiveness and compliance with self-set values leads to systematic self-reflection, continuous quality improvements and active stakeholder engagement. Against this background, the development of numerous national, regional, global and sector-specific CSO accountability codes is highly relevant. Current literature lists more than 300 partly competing and overlapping codes asking for a number of similar requirements in different formats and referencing language (One World Trust, 2012).
This paper examines the experience of eight CSO networks working together for aligning their accountability codes and practices and devising a collective Global Standard on CSO Accountability. These networks are the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID); the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC); the INGO Accountability Charter; InterAction, USA; the NGO Quality Assurance Certification Mechanism (QuAM), Uganda; Rendir Cuentas, Latin America (nine countries); Viwango, Kenya; and the Voluntary Action Network India (VANI). Their constituencies represent nearly 1500 CSOs across the world and the networks are in the first year of a three years cooperation project, one of which main outcomes aims to be a global reference standard to enable CSOs worldwide to improve and harmonize their accountability frameworks and practice. The global standard is based and will enable to implement the Eight Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness (Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, 2010).
The article’s main questions are: What are the reasons behind the aspiration of a global standard for CSO accountability? Which are its main expected benefits? What are the learnings of applying the standards at national? The codes of the eight CSO networks are an important information source for a systematic mapping of gaps and overlaps.
The analysis tries to identify the benefits of a global standard vis-à-vis national and regional instruments. In depth interviews with the leaders of the CSO networks suggest that the fragmentation of CSO accountability fails to show what CSOs collectively stand for and how they contribute to sustainable development. Furthermore, CSOs in the Global North and South spend a dysfunctional amount of time on accountability reporting, generating information that is less informative as it lacks comparability. According to sources, one strong, focused and globally shared CSO accountability code and practice would significantly help to increase the visibility and recognition of CSOs.
The study reports, among other results, that a global standard would spur the effectiveness as CSO accountability networks build on each other’s expertise and leverage their impact as part of a global collective. The articles analyses the minimum reference standards and dimensions (governance, internal operations, programs, fundraising, among others) that the potential global standard considers that all CSOs should aspire to globally and presents a set of conclusions regarding the first phase of the development of the Global Standard.