Operationalizing the Global Standard in an international network of affiliates. The Experience of Accountability Lab.
Interview with Jean Scrimgeour, Accountability Lab’s Director of Operations and Growth. March 17, 2020
Founded in early 2012, Accountability Lab is a global network of Labs that are finding new ways to shift societal norms, solve intractable challenges and build “unlikely networks” for change. The Accountability Lab makes governance work for people everywhere by supporting active citizens, responsible leaders and accountable institutions in an effort to reimagine accountability and support a world in which resources are used wisely, decisions benefit everyone fairly, and people lead secure lives. It works across various regions and countries, including Mexico, Liberia, South Africa, Nepal, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Given that accountability is at the center of its work, Accountability Lab (AL) committed to monitor and track progress on its own accountability by adhering to the framework of the Global Standard on CSO Accountability. In November 2019, Accountability Lab joined the Accountable Now network to whom it reports against the Global Standard’s 12 commitments.
I recently talked to Jean Scrimgeour (JS), Accountability Lab’s Director of Operations and Growth, in order to learn more about how Accountability Lab is going about implementing the Global Standard.
GS: How did Accountability Lab learn about the Global Standard?
JS: The Lab sees itself as a value-driven organization. In an effort to both live and demonstrate these values, we were looking for a way to measure, share and improve our own accountability. We came across the Global Standard on CSO Accountability, and had a conversation with staff from Accountable Now in Berlin. We decided that the Global Standard would be a useful tool for the Accountability Lab to adopt for two reasons: to measure our own accountability as an organization, but also to share with others the challenges of establishing and maintaining standards across nine affiliates with different levels of resources, socio-political environments and proximity to power, etc.While the Global Standard serves as a reference, I believe that there is an important role for us as an organization to operationalize the Global Standard based on our own context.
GS: Why did Accountability Lab decide to adopt the Global Standard? Why are you as director of operations of an organization interested in it?
JS: As part of my job, one of my responsibilities is to look internally within the organization at ways to improve who we are and what we do on a daily basis – beyond our programming. For me, it is important that we walk our talk. For this reason, we need to understand what we all mean by accountability and have a common understanding of what it expected from ourselves and from each other. If we are supporting organizations to promote accountability, we also need to support ourselves to do this.
GS: How is the Global Standard being operationalized by Accountability Lab?
JS: AL was very keen to report on the standards as a global organization, i.e. not just the DC office, therefore all the country directors needed to buy into the process. With their agreement, we built the Accountable Now self-assessment – which is based on the Global Standard 12 commitments – into the annual signing of the cooperation agreements between AL Global and each country affiliate. Practically, the self-assessment process is a 2-hour recorded conversation between the AL Executive Director, the Country Director and one member each of the global and local boards. Each country team will have its own mini-report, which will contribute to a bigger report that will be submitted to Accountable Now. Beyond our commitment to Accountable Now, this exercise also helps us identify where the gaps or needs are within our teams and where they need the most support, or where they can support one another. So, we may find out -for instance- that we are spending a lot of time on organizational financial accountability, when we should be focusing on supporting teams to work on accountability and people with disabilities, or on gender and environmental accountability. While there is a minimum standard which every Lab must meet, they are also free to decide which Global Standard commitments they would like to focus on for the coming year, so not everyone has to do everything all the time.
This year was the first time that Accountability Lab went through this process; all conversations have been held and reports are written up, the final validation report will soon go to the Accountability Lab board for validation.
GS: Are there any early lessons learned and/ or recommendations for other organizations that might be considering embarking in the same journey of adopting the Global Standard in the future?
JS: Our country directors are usually quite busy with donor-driven reporting and engagement, it is crucial to give them time to reflect on their own behaviors and priorities and why they started this in the first place. It is however important to make this process as easy and accessible as possible for the teams to go through, so they don’t feel like it is just one more thing that they are asked to report upon. That is why we chose phone conversations, instead of sending the report to our country directors for them to write it up themselves. Phone calls allow for us to ask specific questions and pick up on innovations (even when the team might not think what they are doing is that innovative). Also, by having the Executive Director lead the conversations with board members from the global and local Labs, we are able to further strengthen the community and create linkages. All these things have been very helpful.