Learning by Doing: CSO Transparency and Accountability in North Macedonia
By Marija VIsinova (BCSDN) and Anabel Cruz (Rendir Cuentas)
“Transparency and accountability are both ethical values and indispensable practices to be implemented by those organizations that hold other public or private actors to account”
Judging by the Macedonian CSOs’ interest towards self-regulation and to improving their internal practices expressed in recent activities, 2020 might be a year focused on accountability of civil society in the Balkan region. During the last week of January 2020, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), in partnership with the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC), held a workshop on “How to increase CSO transparency and accountability”, aimed to Macedonian CSO networks. A representative from the Latin American network Rendir Cuentas was invited to act as a resource person for the workshop.
The workshop started with the participants defining concepts such as transparency and accountability and their relationship with public trust, CSO legitimacy, relevance, and effectiveness. Transparency and accountability were pointed out as ethical values and as indispensable practices to be implemented by those organizations that hold other public or private actors to account. Although the civic space in North Macedonia has experienced a wave of positive political change, civil society organizations can still feel the negative consequences from the past, when the civil society was discredited and undermined, including government’s pressure and mistrust of the general public.
The Global Standard for CSO Accountability became a central feature of the workshop sessions, with the participants having the opportunity of exploring the purpose and history of the Global Standard. Several organizations that attended the workshop were exposed for the first time to this global platform, and the training included the practical testing of the Global Standard self-assessment tools. But above all, it was a hands-on approach to learning, where participants interacted all the time with their peers and related the information received to their own environments and spaces, reflecting on how to adapt and/ or implement internal and/ or external changes.
Without a doubt, the diversity of the organizations attending the workshop was a factor that enriched and broadened the contents of the activity. Participating organizations included networks that defend the rights of young people; coalitions that work for a better quality of life of populations in rural areas; associations that protect the rights of Roma communities; groups and networks that work for the LGBT community; alliances that promote a healthy environment, or the strengthening of an independent cultural sector. This rich diversity of formal and informal groups had the possibility of exchanging experiences and identifying common accountability issues, both problems and also potential solutions.
How could transformational relationships and partnerships be built and advance on a more dynamic accountability, on top of necessary compliance exercises?
Some of the questions raised during the workshop included: How could the different networks become accountable to all their different stakeholders, be young people, LGBT activists, policy makers, rural populations or school children? How could transformational relationships and partnerships be built and advance on a more dynamic accountability, on top of necessary compliance exercises? Furthermore, relationships with donors are also part of the required changes, so exploring how reporting to donors can include the fulfillment of the Global Standard 12 commitments is part of the work that remains to be done. Or even the other way around: how could networks make that donors pay attention to the principles of the Global Standard and not just to specific frameworks?
The implementation of the Global Standard’s self-assessment tools helped the participating organizations to evaluate their current situation vis-à-vis the 12 commitments of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability. Honest answers to the different indicators included in the self-assessment tools helped participants to find out where each network was situated in regards to the Global Standard’s commitments.
As we know, the 12 commitments of the Global Standard summarize the critical areas of good CSO accountability practices. With commitment 6, CSOs pledge to develop strong partnerships, working in fair and respectful partnerships to achieve shared goals. When this commitment was reviewed during the workshop, it became clear that the relationships with their stakeholders was an area for improvement for several networks, and that accountability practices should evolve into more dynamic forms.
In turn, the results of the practical testing of the Rendir App, a web-based application recently translated into Macedonian language (app.rendircuentas.org/mk), led to a vibrant debate. The use of the Rendir App was identified as an opportunity to design an internal organizational baseline and improvement plans that can be assessed and followed up on a regular basis.
By the end of the workshop, participating networks committed to sharing the results and acquired knowledge with their members and partners, as well as promoting the use of the Global Standard self-assessment tools.