How has the change to the new reporting framework helped Educo’s approach to accountability reporting?
Educo is a global NGO that works to promote and protect children’s rights, especially the right to a quality and equitable education and the right to live in safe and protective environments. We work in Spain and in 12 countries in Asia, Africa and America, both directly, via our country offices, and through local partners. Educo became a member of Accountable Now in 2012 and since then our approach to accountability has evolved significantly, both in terms of how we report, and in terms of how we define accountability as an organisation. Last year we published our first report using Accountable Now’s new accountability reporting framework, based on the Global Standard for CSO Accountability. Moving to the new reporting framework has been an integral part of how we change our approach to accountability.
Educo’s size and structure mean that we are in a position to be able to gather and use input from all of our country offices and head office divisions in the reporting process. This has been our approach for the last few years: we have tried to use the reporting process as a means of promoting a culture of accountability across the organization, taking into account the added complexities, time and workload that this implies. Accountable Now’s previous reporting framework was based on a series of profile disclosures and performance indicators, with specific requirements that organizations had to demonstrate compliance with. The new framework is based on the 12 accountability commitments of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, divided into three clusters, with guiding questions for each cluster which indicate how organizations could show the ways in which they are meeting the commitments.
In preparation for moving to Accountable Now’s new reporting framework, we took the opportunity to carry out an internal consultation, discussing with each department what kind of information they could provide in relation to the different accountability commitments, whilst at the same time raising awareness of the new framework and its implications. During this process, we found that the more open, less prescriptive structure of the new framework triggered conversations and creative thinking around what we could do to fulfil the commitments, and what things we were already doing that were relevant to this process and could be prioritized and consolidated.
For Educo, this change has opened up more space for seeing how the commitments can connect with the mission and context of the organization and therefore offer more scope for us to take ownership of the process. It is clearer that accountability reporting can be useful for us, rather than simply an exercise in compliance. Under the new framework, we are not only asked to show what we have done during the reporting period, but also we need to provide plans for improvement, demonstrating that this process is about continuous revaluation, adjustment and improvement, rather than a box-ticking exercise.
This has prompted us to see the reporting process as a tool for ongoing learning and improvement across the organization, an approach that we have incorporated into new organizational tools and strategies. We are currently working to promote an integral and dynamic organisational learning culture, in the framework of our new MEAL approach, for example, which will help us make evidence-based decisions that contribute to fulfilling the commitments reflected in our mission, vision, values and theory of change. At the same time, the new reporting framework gives more space to peer exchange and mutual learning between members, by sharing examples of good practice and external resources. This is something that has inspired various aspects of our work, including institutional policies and reporting practice, but that also encourages us to see the accountability reporting process as something that we need to work on collectively, as a sector, in order to foster stakeholder trust in our work.
Learning from others naturally means recognizing and sharing the things that haven’t gone according to plan, as well as the success stories. This is something Educo is trying to encourage at all levels of the organization, so we welcome the emphasis that the new framework gives to reporting on difficulties and failures, and the learnings that have come from them. Last year, for example, we introduced a new quarterly strategy monitoring report, which brings together information from all of our country offices on the progress made towards our strategic goals and the problems encountered, with the aim of fostering internal accountability and learning. We believe that being transparent about our failures and how we are learning from them will build trust with our stakeholders, and this is something that we prioritize and are gradually building into our external accountability reporting, whilst at the same time understanding that it is complex process. Clearly being able to open up about our failures is still an important sector-wide challenge, which is why we feel that the shift towards understanding accountability reporting as part of a continuous learning process is so important.
The new reporting framework has also helped us ensure that accountability information is reported in a simpler language and format to support our work towards overcoming the key challenge of making accountability reporting relevant and user-friendly for all of our different stakeholders, not just to those who regulate or fund us. To make progress in this, as of last year, we have integrated elements of the accountability report into our annual activities report, so that this information reaches our different stakeholders in a more user-friendly format. Having the information in our accountability report presented in a simpler way is something we will need to give further attention to, since in addition to making the report more accessible, it will make it easier to promote the report externally and internally and to incorporate extracts of the report into other publications or use the information in other formats. As a child-rights organization, this is particularly important for us because we need the information to be accessible to children, as our primary stakeholder group.
The other key change fostered by the new accountability reporting framework is that Educo has focused on building dialogue and participation with the different stakeholders involved in the organizations’ work, especially those who we work for and with. This is an approach that we continue to prioritize and integrate into all areas of what we do, both at an internal level, with staff, and at an external level, with stakeholders like the children who are involved in our projects. It’s also something that has helped shape how we define accountability as an organization, moving to an accountability approach based on ongoing, meaningful engagement with stakeholders, in order for them to be able to collaborate with us in working towards fulfilling our mission. This approach is now at the heart of the new strategic frameworks that we have drawn up over the last few months, that will guide the organization for the coming years.
Ultimately, the shift in focus when reporting on our accountability, from a reporting process that is based on compliance and transparency towards a model that empowers all of our stakeholders to meaningfully participate in our work and hold us to account for our commitments, has initiated important changes in our own accountability reporting, and in our approach to accountability as a whole. We are now much more aware of the relevance of the process as a tool for making our work more efficient and effective.