QuAM’s standards of improvement on performance. Towards a publicly accountable NGO sector in Uganda
Daniel Okello, DENIV
The NGO Quality Assurance Certification Mechanism (QuAM) was started in 2006 as a self-regulatory accountability mechanism by NGOs for NGOs operating in Uganda. Adopted as a result of a wide participatory process through national and regional level meetings, it is aimed at promoting adherence of generally acceptable ethical standards and operational norms in the NGO sector. With 60 standards against which NGOs are assessed for responsible practice in order to promote a more credible and accountable NGO sector in Uganda, QuAM overall implementation is guided by a Council, with the support of a coordinator who heads the National QuAM Secretariat. This work is complemented by a 5-member QuAM committee which is responsible for implementation of the process at the district level.
The Ugandan NGO Act 2016 defines a self-regulatory body “as a body set up by registered organizations that have come together and agreed the body exercises some degree of regulatory authority over them upon consenting or resolving that they would abide by a set code of conduct, rules and procedures”. It further defines a self-regulatory mechanism as a tool, rules and standards that organizations adopt to govern them in an agreed set up. Therefore, QuAM fits in with this definition of a self-regulatory mechanism.
Realizing that the sector has had rapid growth over the years, there is a lingering question of NGOs’ effectiveness, coupled with the declining public trust in the operations and deliverables of the NGOs. This has resulted into donor focus on innovations and impact of NGO projects. In addition, the advent of restrictive laws, regulations and practices in Uganda has led to the overwhelming demand and need for NGOs to conduct self-reflections and adopt their own regulations in order to keep demanding government accountability.
Program or strategy development are often viewed as technical work of the organizations and thus undertaken in isolation of those stakeholder groups mostly affected by them. So, QuAM seeks to foster NGO active listening to and disposition to involving local communities in decision-making which will, in turn, make NGOs’ work more effective, relevant and responsive to their primary stakeholders. However, QuAM was designed not only as an accountability tool but also a mechanism for constant learning, in particular through standards #51-59. In this way, QuAM relates to a Dynamic Accountability approach which is embraced by the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, to which DENIVA – one of QuAM’s two key supporters’ organizations – is a partner of.
QuAM standard #51 validates NGO efforts to reflect on its successes and challenges through participatory program reviews and external evaluations of the entire organization. In doing so, it demonstrates how they have led to changes in its policies, mission and practices, which – if achieved – will show maturity and resilience of an organization.
QuAM standard # 52 encourages CSOs to always learn from other (re)sources available in its operating environment. It can either be from local authorities or donors, others can be cost leveraging through joint visits, or collective activities.
QuAM standard #53 encourages CSOs to always take regular stakeholders reflection events to reflect on its core business and rationale for existence. These events should be geared towards primary stakeholders’ perceptions of the CSO’s relevance as a development organization to its constituency.
Throughout its implementation from 2006 up to 2018, QuAM and its promoters focused more on awarding certification to members who had undergone through the assessment processes. While an organization is expected to re-apply for a re-assessment upon the expiry of the old certificate, experience has shown that many organizations did not re-apply for assessment, instead kept the old and expired certificate.
As promoters of QuAM, DENIVA and The Uganda National NGO Forum agreed on a mandate to facilitate learning and capacity building of the NGOs who found it difficult to realize standard #51-#60. Thus, the QuAM process includes putting in place an organization-wide improvement plan that seek to learn from the QuAM assessment and fill the gaps identified. An NGO is awarded an Advanced QuAM Certificate when it is able to fulfill all the 60 standards of QuAM.