Strengthening accountability practices in the Western Balkans in times of pandemic

By November 29, 2021 CSO Standard, NMedia

Biljana Spasovska, Executive Director

Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN)

November 25, 2021

As we are getting near the end of our project, “Towards strengthened accountability practices in the Western Balkans”, we are taking a moment to reflect on the challenges, opportunities, achievements and lessons we learned during the past year. Like the previous one, 2021 was not an easy year to focus on strengthening accountability as our societies struggled with the Covid-19 pandemic, and our civic space continued to narrow. Nevertheless, we still have several achievements to celebrate. Our focus in the past year has been on the following three objectives:

1. Reflecting the Global Standard for CSO Accountability further in BCSDN internal accountability practices

By the end of 2020, we prepared a comprehensive Accountability Report for 2020, based on our Accountability Framework, to serve as a baseline assessment for our own accountability practices. This year, we devoted time gathering feedback from our members to improve the framework and prepare an Action Plan with mid-term and long-term goals. Following a review and feedback by our newly elected Accountability Committee, the Action Plan will be our guide for the next steps we will take to further improve our accountability.

The main challenge during this exercise had been to motivate our members to provide feedback on a matter they believed we were already doing enough. For this reason, the collection of inputs through a survey were not successful. However, we conducted individual consultations, while also integrating the conversation around our accountability aims within our strategic planning discussion, thus allowing us to collect more meaningful feedback for fine-tuning the Action Plan.

2. Embedding the Global Standard for CSO Accountability into national efforts for promoting CSO accountability

In 2021, two of our members, Partners Albania (PA) and The Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC), facilitated a process for the development of a national Code of Standards for CSOs. After a series of consultations with other CSOs, the national Code of Standards for Non-for-profit Organizations in Albania was finalized in March 2021, while the Civil Society Code in North Macedonia was launched in September 2021.

Based on the Global Standard, and in partnership with its members, BCSDN contributed to strengthening CSOs’ capacities and understanding of accountability by providing mentorship and facilitating peer-to-peer exchanges between the organizations leading the processes in the two countries. In May 2021, BCSDN contributed to the workshop devoted to consultations on the Civil Society Code in North Macedonia and provided recommendations for specific improvements and better alignment of the Code with the Global Standard. Considering the needs and the stages of these processes, in July 2021, BCSDN held a workshop on self-regulation mechanisms: “Reflections on the Self-Regulation of Civil Society by Sharing Regional and Global Experiences.” The event gathered more than 60 participants, not only from North Macedonia and Albania but also from the other countries in the region. The discussion focused on the key principles, opportunities, and challenges CSOs should consider in developing and implementing self-regulatory mechanisms to be more effective, accountable, and credible. In addition to sharing the Macedonian and Albanian experiences and views, the event served as an opportunity for learning and inspiration for the participating CSOs from the other countries in the region.

In both countries where the Codes were finalized this year, similar ideas for developing national codes had been discussed in earlier instances. It seems like a combination of other circumstances, such as the external context, increased awareness of CSOs about the need to improve their legitimacy, and the experience of our members with the Global Standard via BCSDN, as well as the opportunity to learn from each other, have all contributed to the successful completion of the national codes this time. We are very proud that our network and the Global Standard for CSO Accountability could contribute to that.

Our main takeaway from this experience has been that the development of national codes of conduct requires a dedicated organization to lead the process, sufficient time and an inclusive approach, and involvement, understanding and ownership of a broader number of organizations.

3. To advance dynamic accountability through the Regional Civil Society Development Hub

Our aim to advance the dynamic accountability of the civil society in our region and to contribute towards more effective, transparent and accountable CSO work for protecting the civic space has been embedded as one of the two key objectives of our Regional Civil Society Development Hub. For this purpose, through the Hub’s programme, BCSDN has provided grants for CSOs to advance their accountability and constituency building efforts. Furthermore, we have linked our work with the Global Standard to integrate a capacity-building component into the Hub.

Namely, we organized an Accountability workshop for the CSOs and the regional networks we support through the Hub to get them familiar with the concept of dynamic accountability and with the Global Standard and to explore ways for its implementation in practice, as well as offer tools for self-evaluation and self-improvement. The workshop also served as an opportunity to discuss the interest of participants for establishing a mechanism within the Hub for sharing good practices and lessons learnt on how organisations can implement a more dynamic approach to accountability. Inspired by our positive experience with the Dynamic Accountability Community of practice (DACoP) group, we are setting up a Regional Community of Practice platform where the Hub’s beneficiaries and partners can benefit from networking, capacity building, and knowledge and information sharing.

The topic was very well received by the participants. A valuable discussion emerged about the need for CSOs to expand the way they understand and practice accountability towards mobilizing citizens and those affected by CSOs work and, thus, improving CSO legitimacy and public trust. The idea for establishing such a regional platform devoted to exchange accountability practices, tools and lessons learned as well as monitoring and self-assessment methods was explicitly welcomed. To take this idea further, BCSDN is preparing a survey that will be used for assessing more concretely and identifying the needs of the participants for setting up the Regional Community of Practice platform that should be launched by the end of the year.

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