Posts Tagged ‘competitive funding for NGOs’

Specificity killed the cat

The Climate & Development Knowledge Network innovation fund has opened to a second round of applications (with an African focus). In order to apply you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Are an applicant group that includes at least two (2) partners; Lead Applicants must be African (and not international institutions based in Africa), with additional partners also being African.
  • Are an applicant group which includes government institutions; if not, you must demonstrate significant government buy-in.
  • Are proposing activities that support an existing network/community of practice to ensure buy-in and sustainability.
  • Have game-changing project ideas/concepts focused on Africa that require development and shaping through an innovation process; provide a forum in which active (cross-sector and cross-regional) engagement, consultation and collaboration can directly take place and catalyse the direction, design and structure of a future project or initiative.
  • Are aligned with the evaluation criteria.
  • Can set up a sustainable uptake pathway for the results of the innovation process, for which a relevant target audience is clearly articulated.

I have two observations. Firstly, this is jargon overkill à la EU for what I imagine should be a wide-ranging call for proposals accessible to as many people as possible. What is an “innovation process” when it’s at home? Opaque language like this tends to restrict applications to the usual suspects who can navigate the linguistic contortions, the very opposite of what innovation is supposed to be about.

Secondly, these are very specific criteria. Why does it have to be 2+ partners, 100% African? Why demand government buy-in when civil society can be a more powerful agent of change? Why should applicants be working through a network and have to provide a forum for engagement etc? The problem with very specific funding criteria is that you encourage applicants to dream up projects specifically to meet your preconceived notions rather than to meet their own priorities.

This gets a thumbs down from me.

Donors: show us your scorecards

A few months ago Lant Pritchett hectored the World Bank Executive Directors to publish their scorecards on the three candidates for the WB presidency. It was a nice idea which unfortunately didn’t get a lot of traction, presumably because WB presidential selection is essentially a political process, despite all the publicly claimed desire to simply find the best candidate.

But why limit this idea just to the WB president’s selection? A lot of aid funding for NGOs comes through competitive calls for proposals. Some donors, the EU comes to mind, define tediously exact criteria by which proposals will be judged, others are rather woollier. Wooliness doesn’t have to be a bad thing – it allows extra weight to be given to proposals which contain that hard-to-define X factor – but for all the fact that judgements are necessarily hugely subjective – often favouring the known, established applicants – precision has a lot of merits in clarifying ranking of proposals. When the number of proposals is high it very probably becomes the only way of effectively comparing the full range of applications, so I assume most donors practice something along these lines.

So why not publish the results? In the age of openness and transparency, why are donor decisions shrouded in mystery? The EU may tell you the score allotted to your proposal, but do not tell you the threshold that was necessary to obtain funding. (When your proposal has averaged over 80% it does leave you wondering exactly how good it needs to be?)

Donor decision-making needs to be final, there is no question of that. Endless appeals against the system, however it is rigged, won’t do anyone any good. But it would still make the lives of NGO fundraisers easier if we knew both what had and had not been successful in the past, and what were the various scores. (It might even save us from writing the odd wasted application.) So donors, how about a bit more sunlight on your decision making? Go on, show us your scorecards!

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