Equitable Partnerships Accountability Toolkit
"The way that we communicate, the mechanisms for communicating, as well as the messages that are shared from some organizations to others, or from donors to others can be key for a partnership to be successful, and/or, for it not to work."
- Anonymous, an RLO partner of Asylum Access
The project in brief
The project is implemented by Asylum Access Global.
In early 2023, Asylum Access underwent a 7-month-long independent, external review process (“Review”) of 11 of our current and past partnerships (dating back to 2019) with host community NGOs and RLOs (including with our national organizations in Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico). This review led to a revised definition and elements of Equitable Partnerships that was developed iteratively with Asylum Access staff and partners, as well as the Equitable Partnership Accountability Toolkit, which is shared as the Good Practice for Global Refugee Forum 2023.
The current version is an initial “beta” or Version 1 that is ready for use by stakeholders interested in equitable partnerships. We plan to revise/update the toolkit after we receive feedback from our partners and peer organizations in the next year.
Asylum Access developed this Accountability Toolkit to offer a framework to strengthen accountability in partnerships with local civil society in ways that are rooted in equity, power-sharing, and uplifting local and refugee leadership. While this Toolkit is mainly tailored towards peer INGOs in their partnerships with local CSOs, it can also be used by donors, multilaterals, regional and global networks and even by CSOs (host community-led NGOs and RLOs) in their partnerships with each other.
Asylum Access defines equitable partnerships as “partnerships where systems, processes, and daily interactions help to rectify the power imbalances that enable exclusion”. We understand Equitable Partnership should be based on the elements of:
- Shared understanding Context, Culture & Power in the Partnership
- Shared Ownership & Voice
- Trust & Transparency
- Mutual Learning & Accountability
This Toolkit aims to provide a framework for stakeholders with relatively more resources and power to build partnerships with local civil society organizations, especially RLOs, based on the five elements of equitable partnerships mentioned above.
Main activities of the Good Practice
This Accountability Toolkit is comprised of two accountability “tools” that serve different, but complementary functions:
- The EP Self Assessment Tool (EP-SAT): The EP-SAT is an internal, self-assessment tool which centralizes all the questions you need to ask in order to ensure a partnership is equitable. It verifies whether specific and important conversations, actions, tasks have been completed as a partnership develops. Each partnership / potential partnership benefits from an EP-SAT, which can be used to reflect on each stage (i.e. inception, during, and end) of a partnership.
- Joint Partnerships Assessment Framework (JPAT): The J-PAT is an accountability tool that provides an opportunity for both / all partners in a partnership to appraise or critique the partnership at jointly agreed intervals. Each partner will complete a separate J-PAT initially, before the individual responses are consolidated into a shared J-PAT following a joint meeting.
The toolkit provides links to both tools and a step-by-step guide on how to use them.
Elements which helped facilitate the implementation of the good practice
Asylum Access understands that institutions led by those most affected and those most proximate are undertaking foundational and transformative work for and with their communities. In our sector, those institutions are local civil society organizations, especially refugee-led organizations (RLOs).
This understanding stems from our day-to-day engagements, where we see these organizations identifying and breaking down the barriers that prevent dignified life and long-term well-being in a cost-effective and culturally-aware manner. It is reinforced by our review of available research and our direct experience of working with proximate actors, which shows those most affected are likely to lead responses that are accountable, legitimate, transparent, and ultimately, impactful.
We recognize that structural racism and bias in our sector have led to the systemic exclusion of local civil society—and in particular refugee-led groups—within funding streams, as well as strategy development and decision-making processes. This exclusion continues to happen even as the international community’s most dominant actors have committed to localization and meaningful participation. As a human rights organization working with forcibly displaced communities, and as a refugee-led international organization.
From our ongoing learning, we understand many things must happen to achieve this sector-wide reorientation (for example, realized commitments to representation and inclusion, fundamental changes to funding flows, and the realization of community accountability over donor accountability, to name just a few), and equitable partnership is one key element of this systematic change.
Equitable partnerships are crucial because they address the dynamics that lead to imbalances in resources, power and opportunities between global and local actors. By shifting power to those most proximate, we expect that projects will be better designed and implemented, work better toward community interests, and ultimately, result in greater impact.
However, based on our knowledge, our sector was missing a framework or a tool that can guide and help institutions with resources and power to work together with proximate actors in equitable ways. That gap facilitated the creation of this toolkit and, hopefully, will also facilitate the worldwide implementation of it.
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
Since it is a newly developed toolkit, so far, we have only encountered two challenges, which are:
- Capacity Challenge: A significant hurdle we encountered was the capacity constraints within our partner organizations. Given their existing commitments and priorities, integrating the new accountability mechanisms in the toolkit demanded an additional allocation of time and resources. Implementing the tool necessitated specific steps, requiring the commitment and capacity of the individuals or teams responsible within each partnering organization.
- Bias Concerns in the Self-Assessment Tool: Another challenge was the potential for bias in the self-assessment tool. As the Equitable Partnership Self-Assessment Tool (EP-SAT) requires the institution with more resources and power to self-assess their approach to the partnership, a need to address and mitigate any inadvertent biases that could affect the accuracy and fairness of the self-assessment process has emerged.
How they were overcome
To address the challenges encountered, ongoing efforts with our partners are focused on identifying effective solutions. One potential approach under consideration involves seeking additional funding from donors. This extra financial support would enable the seamless integration of the toolkit into the existing Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning (MEAL) framework within the partnership.
Moreover, a proposed strategy is to allocate these funds to appoint an independent third party. This independent entity would be tasked with assessing the partnership using the toolkit. By doing so, we aim to overcome the challenge of capacity constraints, as the dedicated resources from donors would alleviate the burden on our partners already engaged in other priorities. Additionally, involving an independent party in the assessment process helps mitigate the possibility of bias in the self-assessment tool, ensuring a more objective and comprehensive evaluation of the partnership.
© Skoll Foundation / Gabriel Diamond
Results of the Good Practice
The toolkit was recently developed and it is still in the pilot phase. It is too soon to measure the impact of the tool on partnerships between Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders.
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
This toolkit is crucial because it addresses the dynamics that lead to imbalances in resources, power and opportunities between global and local actors. By shifting power to those most proximate actors, which is a term we use to signal those who are conducting their services while embedded in communities the services are meant to support, we expect that projects and commitments across all four objectives and all thematic areas of GCR will be better designed and implemented, work better toward community interests, and ultimately, result in greater impact.
This Toolkit is an initial “beta” version that is currently being piloted internally in Asylum Access until mid-2024. During this phase, we invite other organizations who are interested in using, adapting, or replicating this tool (or who are developing your own accountability tools) to reach out to us to collaborate, share your learnings and questions and offer critique and suggestions on how it can be strengthened or broadened in scale. Following the pilot phase, we will review the learnings and make revisions to strengthen its accessibility and utility and release a revised V2 of the Toolkit externally. We are keen for a V2 Toolkit to be a joint effort with other organizations to support cross-sector learning and accountability towards equitable partnerships.
Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?
At this stage, we would appreciate any feedback on the effectiveness of the tool and the gaps that are missing but could make the tool more impactful. Following the pilot phase, we will review the learnings and make revisions to strengthen its accessibility and utility and release a revised V2 of the Toolkit externally. We are keen for a V2 Toolkit to be a joint effort with other organizations to support cross-sector learning and accountability towards equitable partnerships. Therefore, we welcome any stakeholder interested in working together on V2 of the toolkit to reach out to us.