Nimbus Blog, Openness and Transparency

Openness and Transparency: No looking back now

Since the beginning of the year I have read many news articles and blogs covering a wide range of subjects affecting both charities in the UK and global NGO’s.   They all agree on one thing. The world is changing and there is no looking back.

The British government have announced massive cuts to address the UK spending deficit at the same time as launching the Big Society. Whilst it may appear that the Third sector has gained favour with David Cameron and is his answer to all society’s ills, as we take a look beneath the shiny veneer all is not well. “A third of charities nationally that receive state cash say they will have to reduce the level of services they provide, while over a quarter expect to make staff redundant” says a survey by the Charity Finance Directors Group, consultants PWC and the Institute of Fundraising found.

There is no doubt that the Sector is being reshaped but, what it will look like in a couple of years? No one is quite sure. Internationally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “seeking to connect the private and civic sectors with America’s foreign policy work by bringing new resources and partners to the table.” In this resource depleted sector, it is unavoidable that business disciplines must be embraced by development organisations and that they cannot be less accountable than corporations. Situations such as the misappropriation of $4 million of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, that was meant to fight disease in Mali, is just not acceptable. Mrs Clinton said in summary that “USAID must be more nimble, more effective, and more accountable”.

This sentiment is echoed by DFID in the UK where two of the key objectives of the recently completed spending review were “Value for money” and “Transparency, accountability and evaluation”.  When the Coalition Government came to power in 2010, they made a commitment to keep the UK aid promises to the world’s poorest people by providing 0.7% of our Gross National Income as aid from 2013. But they will change the way aid is given. Last week’s statement announcing the review results stated “We will scrutinise every pound spent to make sure it goes to the people it is designed to help”.

Surely this is great news and long overdue but, how will Aid organisations ensure they can provide the level of openness and transparency in their reporting to enable this pledge to be delivered?

Let’s take an example of what happens now and what might need to change to meet the new standards. A sum of money may be given to fund mosquito nets for families in a particular community, with the end objective being that children are healthier and thus school attendance improves. Currently the Donor (DFID or any another grant funding body) could reasonably expect to receive a report at the end on the year detailing how the money was spent and with some assurances that the objectives are being met.

In the new world this will no longer be enough as the Donor will rightly demand and expect much more detail in shorter reporting cycles to ensure they are devliering against their stated aims of scrutability.

Below is an example of how the process might look moving forward by utilising the ubiquitous low end mobile phone.

Firstly, evidence will need to be provided that the agreed field activities have been completed. This can be easily done with mobile applications such as POImapper (http://www.pajatman.com/poimapper) which was developed in conjunction with international development agency Plan. Such applications allow field workers to take photos, using a standard mobile phone, of the mosquito nets being delivered and then also a couple of months later to evidence that those families are using the nets they received. The photos can be stamped with the date, time and even location at which they were taken. Visits can then be made towards the end of the year to local schools to collect outcome data on attendance rates using mobile based forms.  Both the photos and forms can be easily uploaded to a web portal where all the programme information can be collated into dynamic reports that Donors can access online to track progress and achievements.

Yes there are costs to setting up such a process and running costs to continue collecting the data, but, the truth is that those NGO’s that don’t adopt such schemes will soon find funds harder and harder to come by. Furthermore, keeping track of funds, activities and outcomes will ensure that “every pound gets to the people that need it most” and at the end of the day that means that your programme budget has been well utilised.

Nimbus is an Independent Mobile technology for Development consultancy.  We understand that each development programme has its own nuances and as such we work with NGO’s, development agencies and their stakeholders to understand both the needs and constraints of individual programmes. We then make recommendations on appropriate solutions and support the team on the ground to ensure successful implementations.

Call us now on 03303309813 to discuss how we can help you adapt to the new challenges.

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