Getting feedback in North Kivu, DRC Getting feedback in North Kivu, DRC Photo credit: Julien Harneis (via flickr)
A framework for strengthening partnering accountability and effectiveness
by Mike Wisheart and Amy Cavender November 1999

World Vision has developed a framework to strengthen the organisation’s accountability and effectiveness when partnering with other organisations or institutions. The approach is built on the understanding that an NGO is accountable to its core constituency (i.e. the communities it serves), its partners in development work (from all sectors of society), its donors, its staff and volunteers, states and public authorities and other actors in the public sphere (such as other NGOs and the media). In addition, NGOs are accountable to themselves – to their goals, values, and mission.

Being accountable means that we have a shared commitment to learning as the path to excellence and to integrity in fulfilling commitments to stakeholders; we measure and report on our performance against agreed principles, policies and practices; regardless of our position in the organisation, we acknowledge we have responsibility to others and accept the responsibility for our actions and their implications.+From World Vision International’s Accountability Framework, which can be found in WVI’s Accountability Report 2010 (

Participation and partnerships/relationships are a key focus area for accountability. When partnering with external organisations, it is recognised that, more often than not, attempts by single organisations (or single sectors) to deal with poverty and carry out humanitarian action in this complex world have failed. Collaborative approaches that include all sectors of society are essential. This is particularly important when seeking greater impact, influence, innovation and adaptive capabilities by leveraging complementary competencies, roles and perspectives. While the transaction costs and risks (loss of reputation, co-optation) are significant, World Vision is nevertheless committed to adopting a deliberately collaborative approach.

The Framework

Effectively embedding core principles is critical to driving successful and accountable partnerships. The partnering principles World Vision has adopted, drawn from a review of best practice, are contained in Table 1. They are fundamentally influenced by the Principles of Partnership endorsed by the Global Humanitarian Platform and those emphasised by The Partnering Initiative (TPI).+See and

3249_tab1It is sometimes difficult to translate lofty principles into concrete actions and behaviours. This framework therefore concentrates on embedding the partnering principles by aligning a series of pragmatic guidance statements to each of them (Table 2). The guidance statements are based on promising practice from internal and external sources (particularly from AccountAbility’s Partnership Governance and Accountability (PGA) Framework+See and key learning reported by The Partnering Initiative (TPI).

[TABLE 2 – p29]

Complicating factors

In developing this framework, several organisational realities and/or complicating factors had to be taken into account.

Learning rather than compliance

Discussions with leaders and staff highlighted reluctance to adopt what was at first called a set of standards. Concern was expressed over the organisation’s ability to effectively build and seek compliance to a set of standards without first having developed a deeper body of experience and knowledge. Therefore, an alternative approach was adopted which avoids compliance and standards terminology at this stage. It instead builds on the ‘commitment to learning’ articulated in the organisation’s approaches to both accountability and partnering. The framework has been positioned in the context of ‘learning’, and the adoption of ‘promising practice’ through a series of guidance statements. A period of learning based on the proposed framework is planned, after which a set of standards may emerge.

The collaboration continuum

External relationships come in all shapes, sizes and forms, including supplier–vendor, donor–grantee, networks, coalitions, strategic alliances and partnerships. These collaborative forms differ in their key characteristics and in their accountability requirements and imperatives. It is expected that the framework will be very relevant for partnerships and more integrated collaborations, like coalitions, but significantly less relevant for networks, for example. As the use of the framework is reviewed, applicability across collaborative forms will be explored.

Life stages

External relationships, like relationships in general, are dynamic rather than static. As the parties involved grow in mutual understanding and trust, relationships and behaviours can deepen and mature. This framework identifies three life stages: New (0–1 year), Growing (1–3 years) and Mature (3 years-plus). These categories, which will be reviewed as experience is gained on their usefulness, are meant for guidance only. The three columns on the right of the table indicate which of the guidance statements are expected to be in place depending on the collaboration’s level of maturity. Practitioners will be expected to use their judgement, in dialogue with the other parties, in applying these life stages to their particular collaboration.

Local versus global

World Vision, like many INGOs, is a complex organisation. One of the complexities is the number of levels it works at: local/community; sub-national/provincial; national; sub-regional; regional; and global. Developing a series of frameworks tailored to each of these levels is not a realistic proposition. Instead, for now, one framework has been developed. Practitioners will therefore need, in the vast majority of cases, to interpret/adapt each of these guidance statements for their situation – whether that is a global multi-stakeholder partnership or a local-level bilateral collaboration. Clearly, the resources, infrastructure, systems and protocols will vary significantly across these two domains.

Moving forward

Organisations that work successfully in collaborative arrangements have learnt how to deal with issues of power and control. Working effectively with others means developing joint understandings of approaches, concepts, tools and systems. Imposing these understandings on others is disempowering and harms the partnership. With this in mind, the framework will need to be introduced to partners in collaborative arrangements with sensitivity and a flexible attitude that is open to adapting it. How this should be done will be explored in the next 12–24 months – a period of adopting, adapting, testing and retesting assumptions.

Mike Wisheart is Associate Director, Collaboration and Partnering, World Vision International. Amy Cavender is a Consultant at Shared Profits.