Oxfam GB in Partnership: A Global Strategic Evaluation 2006/07 | Capacity Building | Oxfam

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Oxfam GB has recently completed a global strategic evaluation of its partnerships in order to understand
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    Oxfam GB in Partnership A Global Strategic Evaluation 2006/07 Full Report 28 September 2007 Acknowledgements This report was produced and authored by an independent team of evaluators: Daniel Start, Marieke Bosman, Victoria Iraola, Suraya Afiff, Sue Upton, Peter Wiles (in an advisory role), and with substantial input and support from Annabel Wilson at Oxfam GB. A wide range of Oxfam GB and partner staff supported the research and are gratefully acknowledged. For further information please contact info@danielstart.com or awilson@oxfam.org.uk  Oxfam GB in Partnership: A Global Strategic Evaluation Full Report Executive summary 1) Introduction to the study and debates Through 2006–2007 Oxfam GB undertook a global strategic evaluation of how it works in partnership. An independent team of evaluators drawn from four continents conducted the review. The objectives of the evaluation were: ! to understand how partners view their relationship with Oxfam GB; ! to identify what is working well and what needs to change in the way Oxfam GB works with all partners; ! to understand how Oxfam GB’s approach to partnership is changing and to explore new and emerging approaches to partnership.   For the purpose of the report and study, ‘partner’ was taken to mean any organisation Oxfam GB was funding between 2005 and 2007. This amounted to almost 1500 organisations. Eleven partnership case studies were chosen to cover a range of types and issues, including one from each region and one each from Oxfam GB’s humanitarian and campaign programmes. In addition a survey was sent to 852 of the partners for whom Oxfam GB had email addresses. There was a 47 per cent response rate.  A literature review, staff workshops, and key informant interviews helped establish five key debates that the study attempts to explore: 1. What is Oxfam GB’s added value beyond ‘donorship’?  In a globalising world where national NGOs are beginning to access funding directly, what is Oxfam GB’s added value to partners beyond being a donor? 2. How deep should Oxfam GB go?  Growing cynicism in the literature around the use of the term ‘partnership’ raises the question: what do we mean by partnership and what kind of collaboration is ‘best’? Should Oxfam GB always seek ‘full’ partnership – with the associated costs entailed – or are there other approaches? 3. How can Oxfam GB reduce the burden of partner accountability?  As concerns about fraud and impact have placed tighter ‘results-based management’ requirements on partners, how can Oxfam GB ensure accountability demands add value and do not become a burden? 4. How does Oxfam GB strike a balance between empowerment and compliance?  In an age of risk management and performance control, how does Oxfam GB balance its need to control with its desire to empower? 5. How can Oxfam GB remain involved without taking the space?  How does Oxfam GB ensure that its relationships are transformational and create lasting, positive changes in the institutions with which it engages, while ensuring that it does not ‘take the space’ of smaller national organisations? These questions are considered throughout the evaluation. Insight into the workings of a variety of partnerships drawn from the evaluation results are summarised in Sections 3 to 8 and conclusions are found in Sections 9 and 10.  28 September 2007 Page 2 of 97  Oxfam GB in Partnership: A Global Strategic Evaluation Full Report 2) Complementarity and added value Complementarity is central to Oxfam GB’s principles of partnership, and this section focuses on partners’ perceptions of Oxfam GB’s added value. While funding support is central, 69 per cent of partners feel that Oxfam GB is more than just a donor. Four key areas are identified where Oxfam GB brings added value. ! Administrative and management capacity  – 60 per cent of partners said they receive dedicated time and resources from Oxfam GB for capacity-building. This is greatly appreciated, but there was a call for more support to help build partners’ financial independence and reduce their reliance on Oxfam GB. Building the institutions of civil society (and pro-poor government and private sector) is one of the driving motives for working through partners and is central to Oxfam GB’s model of sustainable change. It is therefore suggested that a capacity-building strategy is clearly integrated into all partnership agreements. ! Advocacy, influencing, and credibility  – Oxfam GB’s support with advocacy is highly appreciated and should be continued. Few other international NGOs provide the same degree of assistance as Oxfam GB. Partners also greatly appreciate the credibility that association with Oxfam GB brings. There is sometimes weak cross-over between the development and campaigns work in Oxfam country programmes. There were calls for Oxfam GB to engage more with partner-identified country advocacy priorities rather than international objectives. ! Information, knowledge, and networking  – Oxfam GB is valued for helping partners to make connections and access information, but more could be done.  A systematic approach to relationship management, and the development of thematic newsletters and updates and distribution of key resources and publications would go a long way to improving contact and information flows. Involvement of partners in joint events would also go some way to make partners feel more part of an Oxfam GB family and community. There may be lessons from the way Novib supports its counterparts from a distance. ! Facilitation, reflection, and moral support  – partners generally identify Oxfam GB as having a facilitative and listening approach to partnership with a strong emphasis on coaching, reflection, and mentoring. Oxfam GB’s moral support and encouragement is also greatly valued. The Project Officer (PO) is key to building strong partnerships, especially those who go beyond an audit and monitoring role. In most situations POs are greatly respected and are doing an excellent and often complex and difficult job. Increasingly they also act as organisational development consultants, advisors, and coaches. Rarely are their ‘softer’ skills explicitly supported in training or performance review. There is sometimes little to guide the new PO in partnership style, other than observing other staff members around them. Partners highly value the support of the POs during their field visits. These provide an opportunity for rich learning and reflection. Most partners want more of these visits and want them to be longer. They feel these visits are being eroded by time spent on internal management and accountability systems, and ask for them to be protected. Related to this, several partners also feel that Oxfam GB staff sometimes lack understanding of poverty   on the ground   and call on them to spend more time in communities, understanding partners’ perceptions of the causes of poverty. 28 September 2007 Page 3 of 97  Oxfam GB in Partnership: A Global Strategic Evaluation Full Report 3) Clarity around roles and responsibilities Results of the survey reveal that 78 per cent of partners agree there is clarity over the roles and responsibilities of each party. Suggestions about how Oxfam GB can improve its clarity around roles and responsibilities include: ! more consistency in its policies and strategies (25 per cent of established partners say that Oxfam GB changes its mind about what it asks of its partners as a result of its own changing priorities; ! stronger internal co-ordination; ! fewer staff changes (re-investing in new relationships when existing Oxfam GB staff leave is a major cost for partners, so longer-term contracts and longer hand-over periods might help). The section goes on to introduce a range of partnership typologies and a simple framework for considering the breadth of collaboration (i.e. number of functions which are co-operative) and the depth of joint decision-making (i.e. how much autonomy each side has to act independently). It is important to recognise the potential costs and risks of an intense (deep and broad) partnership model while also ensuring key decisions are jointly made. It is also important to clarify what degree of influence each party will have over different decision-making domains early on, in order to reduce the potential for conflict. Several management and organisational structures for partnership are reviewed. 4) Partner accountability to Oxfam GB Most of the partners involved in the in-depth evaluations feel that Oxfam GB’s reporting requirements are less onerous and more reasonable than those of most funders. Most also see them as a necessary and reasonable requirement in our modern ‘high accountability’ funding environment. A few said they add value to the management of their projects by providing a chance to reflect on their work. Some also mentioned improvements in their own accountability practices from working with Oxfam GB. However, there is no doubt that reporting requirements feel heavy and are costly, taking approximately 4–5 days per month for each partner staff member. Some partners suggested it takes 30 per cent of their time, and many work long hours to complete them. Reporting also consumes large amounts of Oxfam GB PO time. There was a call for ‘decent’ requirements and the following suggestions were made: ! Increase responsiveness and feedback  – reporting without feedback has limited learning value and gives the impression that the time spent reporting is not useful. In the best-case scenario, written reports are a catalyst for verbal dialogue. ! Use verbal debriefs and field visits  – most partners deemed these to be more valuable than written forms of reflection, particularly those from cultures with a more oral tradition. Field visits were also identified as a useful time to support partners with financial reporting and capacity-building. ! Improve report usability and consistency  – all partners prefer short, consistent, easy-to-complete formats with clear guidelines on what information is needed, for whom, and why. 28 September 2007 Page 4 of 97
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