Dynamic Accountability and COVID-19

By June 23, 2020 CSO Standard, News

The world today looks very different from last year. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many countries have imposed restrictive measures to ensure that the spread of the disease can be contained. In this new reality, Dynamic Accountability is taking a different shape. Ordinarily, Dynamic Accountability is already an ongoing process that requires organisation-wide effort, loosely defined as “a systemic approach that is grounded in processes of meaningful engagement with all stakeholders that are inclusive, participatory and continuously practiced.” 

CSOs who wish to remain accountable to the people who they work with and for need to quickly innovate to ensure that their values remain practiced. Below are some takeaways, adaptations and recommendations for practicing Dynamic Accountability while considering the safety and wellbeing of staff, volunteers, and stakeholders. 

  1. Innovative stakeholder engagement. Organisations should not make decisions without engaging constituents, nor assume their needs. Stakeholder engagement builds relationships with constituents, showing an organisation’s willingness to listen, engage and enable participatory decision making; all are key ingredients towards better trust and more accurate activities that result in enhanced effectiveness, impact and accountability.

Platforms like Zoom have become a staple of the COVID-19 era. They are cost-effective, time-efficient, and sustainable tools for stakeholder engagement, and should continue post-COVID. However, in-depth, personal and longer conversations are hard to carry out virtually, and some communities simply lack the internet coverage, information infrastructure, and digital literacy to make online engagement possible.
For less-connected communities, the Compass recommends working with phone surveys, physical mailing and print posters. Other innovations include training constituents and local leaders to act as a bridge between organisation and the community.

2. Recognise and address power and privilege. When planning, facilitating and participating in online engagements, it’s crucial to consider how these issues will affect proceedings, and think about what we can do to make them as accessible and inclusive as possible. This excellent article from Aspiration on Power Dynamics and Inclusion in Virtual Meetings introduces the many factors at play here, and provides a comprehensive list of practical tips for both planning and facilitating inclusive online meetings. 

3. Ensure access to feedback mechanisms and keep reflections alive. Another important Dynamic Accountability practice is closing the feedback loop. Feedback enables CSOs to act and adapt to constituents’ needs by collecting inputs, consider relevance, and prioritise activities. @AfricanNGOs and EPIC-Africa have solicited an online feedback call on how COVID-19 is affecting African CSOs. However, most feedback forms are currently only available digitally, and organisations may need to make feedback mechanisms available through offline formats.

Moreover, the current environment demands fast-paced reprogramming towards emergency and health related issues, but in doing so, CSOs should continue to reflect and learn. The only way to truly close the feedback loop and have meaningful stakeholder engagement is to question decisions internally, and tease out their  impacts. A culture of honest reflection will drive CSOs forward on their accountability journey, increase learning, and improve resilience in the face of future crises. 

4. The power of partnerships. As civic space becomes disjointed due to travel restrictions, collaborations and partnerships are powerful tools to strengthen information sharing and collective bargaining. They can also be used to map the needs of disparate communities, and demand transparency from governments on the use of COVID-19 relief funding.

Accountability within partnerships also is very important for Dynamic Accountability practitioners. Partnerships – with any stakeholders – are relationships that need ongoing communication to manage expectations and maintain trust. To enhance accountability, CSOs need to listen to the needs of their partners (especially Southern partners in North-South relationships), empathise with different contexts, and mutually agree upon the new nature of their collaboration. 

5. Maintain accountability as an organisational priority, and if possible, provide partner organisations with the tools to remain accountable. For many organisations, especially those delivering services and reprogramming towards crisis response, accountability can easily slip through the cracks. But Dynamic Accountability is vital in this time since it helps ensure effective use of limited resources. Rather than dedicating a separate project or focal point  to these practices, CSOs may find it useful to further embed Dynamic Accountability into each step of programming processes. Doing so may be difficult in the short term, but can lower the overall effort. For organisations starting on this journey, the Global Standard can serve as an effective reference framework to embed stakeholder engagement, closed feedback loops, and reflective learning within all components of organisational practice and culture.

Some organisations are also providing support  to partners and stakeholders for remaining accountable at this time. For example, Restless Development is providing its youth community with knowledge and resources to help them engage local communities and inform future programming. Donors too have pledged to loosen grant requirements, and provide further support downstream.

6. Continue to guarantee human rights and civic freedoms. There is a very real risk of governments using lock-down measures (restriction on assembly, access to public space, etc) as a way to further curb civic freedoms. These laws can be practical at a moment where safety considerations are vital. However, any new laws must only be driven by public health needs and removed as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

Furthermore, CIVICUS warns that many activists “are extremely vulnerable in this context” and joins calls to “immediately and unconditionally release these actors, dropping all charges against them in the face of overcrowding and limited access to healthcare already existing in prison systems.” Therefore, the fight for justice and equality must continue during this challenging period, and CSOs should actively advocate for those who are silenced, and provide a platform for citizens to raise their voices.

The global health emergency has presented many challenges to CSOs wishing to practice Dynamic Accountability. But more than ever, CSOs need to remain connected to the people they serve and support, to keep helping them to make a positive impact. The above list is only a fraction of ways CSOs can practice Dynamic Accountability during this time of crisis. There are many key points that we have not mentioned, so let’s continue the conversation and share your lessons and innovations to COVID-19 challenges in the Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice Google Group, or by replying to this email if you are already a member!

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