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Between Flexibility and Rigidity

Pyae Phyo Maung says that donors are changing, and local organisations may need to as well. I was talking to international experts from a very flexible donor who told me that things are changing in donor organisations, “Our taxpayers are becoming more and more demanding. We need to show the outcomes and results”, they said.

They said that the problem for the donor is that they know that partners have been doing excellent work. And that it might have a really large influence on changes in the country’s political system. But when taxpayers ask them about the specific evidence (what specific results, and how and why/why not) they don’t have a concrete answer.

Previously their partners primarily reported the reach, for example, the numbers of community groups supported and strengthened, but now there is pressure for more than that.

They said “We had a very flexible approach but now we might need to demand more from partners.”

I heard a similar thing from a local program officer from another donor saying ‘Local organisations need to show more to convince our funders. We’re now in a situation where it is very difficult to defend our approach’.

From the other perspective, I was asked to work on a monitoring and evaluation system for a local organisation working on social harmony issue. The project staff are very committed and actively working at the front line dealing with issues and community. But the project managers showed little interest in monitoring and evaluation systems and said that was the sole task of an ‘M&E focal person’.

When reviewing their reports, I saw that it only covers the output level achievements such as the number of people trained.

Although the organisation did a lot of other things, there is little mentioned about the progress on the target issue, or how and why changes happen, the role of their program and roles of other contributors in making progress, etc.

Learning may happen internally but is not documented, which is not enough to convince other people.

So the question is, donors are changing but what about the civil society organizations, and the organizations supporting them? Is it time for them to improve their internal learning systems to be able to track the changes that they have committed to and contributed?

The solution is not easy. It needs a system that balances between overly-rigid—which makes the program less able to respond against changing context—and overly flexible—which lacks accountability and proper learning mechanism.

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