For the past year, I have been fortunate enough to be on a journey with the Global Standard, working at the Secretariat hosted by Accountable Now for a partnership of 10 civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world. Along the way, I’ve learned so much about meaningful engagement, partnerships, and how to embed dynamic accountability into my own practices. For Global Accountability Week 2020, I want to share some takeaways from my time thus far in the hope that they can shed light on why meaningful engagement is important for a partnership, and some steps that our partnership has taken thus far to implement it.
- First and foremost, meaningful engagement in a partnership equals communication. Yes I sound like a self-help book, but hear me out: listening (and I really mean listening) and empathizing with your partners will bring about a range of positive outcomes. Partners who communicate well can identify more synergies in their work, and thus each partner in the partnership can advance different areas without duplication. Through meaningful engagement, partners can understand and learn more about each others’ strengths, areas to improve and operational context – leading to better specialisation of tasks and further understanding of each others’ constraints.
At the Global Standard Secretariat, we hold monthly bilateral calls and once every two month Partnership calls to further understand each other’s context and current work. These calls culminate in an internal newsletter, allowing for the Partnership to have a clear record of our mutual progress. We also have an (unwritten) open door policy to encourage our Partners to seek mutual support and collaborative opportunities.
- Secondly, meaningful engagement is about actively enabling spaces for exchanges that lead to collaborative decision making. In embedding dynamic accountability practices like meaningful engagement into a partnership, the goal is to shift the power towards partners and facilitate an environment where people are put in the drivers’ seat of the decisions that affect their work. Meaningful engagement can support the ability of stakeholders to arrive at informed decisions, and enable the establishment of shared goals and expectations, which enable partners to hold each other accountable, and drive the partnership forward.
And it is in co-creation where a sense of ownership is also strengthened. In meaningful engagement, partners arrive at decisions together, giving everyone an equal stake in actualising common goals. Not only that, collaborative decision making can foster mutual support and enable convergence between partners whose initial opinions may differ. At the Global Standard Secretariat, we do this by convening meetings to collaboratively decide on strategic and partnership-wide matters, by providing frequent opportunities for evaluations and by revisiting policies and decisions from time to time to make sure that the partnership is in sync, achieve the results we want, and enhance the common trust since everyone will have clear rules of the game.
- Lastly, reflective learning can be activated through meaningful engagement. Reflective learning is a process whereby an organisation or a person reflects upon their past actions either by themselves or with feedback and improves upon the realisations/suggestions they have received. As partners are the key internal stakeholders within the partnership, strong feedback mechanisms are crucial to respond to needs, to learn what has worked well, and to identify what can be improved.
For us at the Secretariat, this means setting up evaluation surveys to solicit feedback from Partners throughout the year, providing partners with summaries of results, and outlining steps towards improvement as our own way of learning and closing the feedback loop. Additionally, reflective learning can also be triggered internally, and this means as an organisation within a partnership, we continuously monitor, evaluate, learn, adapt and innovate with a focus on lasting results for strengthening our common initiative.
Ultimately, meaningful engagement fosters trustful relationships. The trust that partners have towards each other will go a long way in strengthening our common goal. This trust, built through meaningful engagement and collaboration between the Global Standard partners, constitutes a shared understanding of the partnership, and paves the way for us to work together to achieve these expectations. When all partners meet their own expectations, the whole partnership earns credibility and externally, stakeholders will collaborate with them more closely and frequently.
If you are looking for an interesting tool to begin to practice meaningful engagement and dynamic accountability in a partnership, why not check out the Rendir App for Networks? While you’re at it, let us know how you are practicing meaningful engagement by tweeting us @CSOStandard!