How to Be More Accountable in your Projects
In my work to embed decolonised and participatory approaches to our work, I often work to improve the transparency and accountability of our work. We need to better think through how our projects are meeting our communities' needs and to whom we are really accountable.
Here's a compilation of some of my lessons learned, which I regularly share with clients. I hope they're useful for you - try one of these four ideas and tell me how it works for you!
Improve transparency with your key people
Think about who your main communities are. How transparent are you? What of your PMEL work do they see, and do they understand what you are doing and why?
So often, NGOs go to communities and ask them to share information that goes into their forms and reports. Sometimes these forms come from the NGOs' donors, so there's an extra layer of separation between what's being asked of people and what it's used for. Being open with this can go a long way towards getting around the extractive issues of our PMEL work.
Try sharing with your communities that what they tell you during a focus group will go into your donor reports so that you can answer questions about your progress towards objective 5C. Show them how their time and effort and taking the time to share their expertise with you is 'translated' for others. Be open about why you're asking certain questions, and you are likely to see deeper relationships, better engagement during your PMEL activities, and a level of openness in their analysis than you had before.
Align your work with national or international standards, or best practices
How does your WASH programme compare with UN standards? How are you working toward these standards or using the best practices that others in your region have uncovered? How are you making use of it? Your own organisation's institutional knowledge and recommendations? This is likely not the first time your NGO has ever implemented a WASH programme in this area. If it is, check with your trusted partners or others who have worked there for a long time.
Make sure from the planning stage onwards that your work contributes to international standards and is learning from others' lessons and best practices. Build off each other, compile your best practices, and share them publicly so others can learn and do better.
Improve the responsiveness of your project
Think about how decisions are made at your organisation or in your programme. Who makes them, and why is this? How are you incorporating feedback from your community, other partners, colleagues, other teams, senior leadership, your Board, and donors? Whose voices are disproportionately represented?
Use this scenario to test your responsiveness: say a local election brings a new party into power that could threaten the success of your work. Whose perspectives do you listen to in preparing for this? How quickly would you be able to respond? How quickly would your communities be able to respond? How easy would it be for you to resource them - send them whatever they need to secure their offices in case of physical threats?
Related to everything above, this is a great area to improve your relationships, ensure accountability, and close your 'feedback loops'. Think about how you encourage feedback and contributions to your projects.
At what point in your timeline is the community involved, and what is their role? What is your role? In which situation is your role to sit and listen and give your power to your partners or communities? When they share their feedback, what do you do with it? How do you honour their effort in sharing their thoughts with you?
Think about how you can open up more of these spaces to be accountable to your people, to listen to their perspectives, and find specific moments in your work to listen more and be more transparent.
Try these out - even just one idea will change how you look at your project, your role in change, or your context! Let me know how it goes and if you need any support to improve your PMEL processes.