DSA NGOs in development Study group
The NGO Study Group provides a forum for academics and researchers working on issues around civil society and development. The NGO Study Group has debated themes such as: research collaboration between academics and practitioners, NGOs and migration, local organisations and emergency relief, the ethnography of NGOs, and civil society and counter-terrorism. Regular emails keep members informed of upcoming events. The study group has over 100 members, and welcomes new members from the academic, NGO, and policy-making community.
Dr Ibrahim Natil (Dublin City University) and Dr Emanuela Girei (Sheffield University Management School)
E: dr.natil59(at)gmail.com, e.girei(at)sheffield.ac.uk
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Complex problems, complex solutions: NGOs in a changing development landscape, 8th Sept (DSA2017)
NGOs are facing a new development landscape, needing to respond and adapt to 'disruptive change'. In this panel we seek to understand these responses, and the implications for NGOs as they become one actor working as part of a broader complex system with multiple actors.
Join us at the Study Group panel (P35) at the DSA Annual Conference, Bradford, on 8th September 2017, to hear:
- Julia Schöneberg ‘How can NGOs most successfully derail a social movement?: complex problems, complex relationships’
- Emmanuel Kumi and Albert Arhin ‘Non-governmental organisations' responses to the changing aid landscape in Ghana’
- Blane Harvey, Rachel Godfrey Wood and Roop Singh ‘The changing role of NGOs in supporting climate services: insights from Ethiopia and Burkina Faso’
- Dan Brockington and Nicola Banks ‘Understanding the UK development NGO sector’
See the full details here.
Conference Feedback and Next Steps, WEBINAR, Fri 15th Sept
A chance to catch-up on key discussion points from the DSA Annual conference and shape the future activities of the Study Group.
From Politics and Power to Sustainability Interrogated: advancing our Study Group agenda
WEBINAR: Friday 24th February 2017, 13h00-14h30
At the DSA conference in 2016, the NGOs in Development Study Group convened a very successful panel looking at NGOs, politics and power. Our 11 presenters offered a wealth of new research and reflections on the legitimacy, credibility, accountability and sustainability of NGOs and civil society organisations. We looked at the internal political dynamics within organisations, national policy contexts and the global geopolitical environment, and how these affect and are shaped by NGOs.
Many questions emerged from the panel, as well as potential topics for further research and exploration. These included: the existential crisis facing NGOs; shifting the power to southern organisations; NGO legitimacy and responses to critiques of their practices; balancing contextual particularities with understanding what works in the aggregate; and blurred boundaries between NGOs, social enterprise and for-profit organisations. A considerable point of debate was whether NGOs were viewed as a part of civil society in many contexts.
We invite Study Group members and friends to join a webinar discussion on 24th February. The webinar has two objectives: firstly to explore a research agenda for the Group; and secondly to agree a panel theme for the 2017 DSA Annual Conference.
The webinar will be hosted by INTRAC, using Blackboard Collaborate. To register your interest in the webinar, please email Rachel Hayman on rhayman(at)intrac.org.
Political or apolitical; powerful or powerless? NGOs, Politics and Power
The study group convened a panel at the DSA Annual Conference, Oxford 12-14 September 2016 Details of speakers and abstracts are available here.
Launch of the Civil Society, Democracy and Development Research Cluster, University of Leeds, June 2016
The Cluster aims to establish a collaborative network of academic/intellectual capacity to engage with the themes of civil society, democracy and development and how they intersect. Our focus is not simply the day-to-day practice of large and small NGOs – although those in themselves raise urgent questions around the nature and meaning of both democracy and development. The Cluster will be interested, too, in identifying the broader theoretical foundations of what these terminologies symbolise and the implications of their deployment in service of (often contradictory) goals of economic development, human need and social justice.
The Cluster will draw on the interdisciplinary expertise of colleagues in its host School, Politics and International Studies (POLIS), and the Centre for Global Development (CGD) at the University of Leeds. It will seek to recognise, network with and, ultimately, to strengthen academic-practitioner links.
The programme began with the launch of Negotiating Knowledge: Evidence and Experience in Development NGOs, a new edited collection published by Practical Action Publishing Limited. The discussion was lead by its editors: Rachel Hayman (INTRAC and DSA NGOs in Development Study Group); Sophie King (UPRISE | School of the Built Environment, University of Salford); Tiina Kontinen (Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä); and Lata Narayanaswamy (POLIS/CGD, University of Leeds and DSA NGOs in Development Study Group). This edited collection represents an academic-practitioner collaboration, drawing together critical analysis and lessons for practice on the relationship between the growing pressure by a range of development stakeholders to underpin practice with evidence.
The book launch was followed by lunch and then a World Café style networking event to explore how we might promote more academic-practitioner collaboration, taking into account critical reflections on the key themes of the book and other issues raised by participants.
NGOs as Knowledge Hubs and Brokers of Expertise in Tomorrow’s World?, Bath, UK, September 2015
Download the report (PDF)
NGOs in the new global context, DSA2014, London, UK, November 2014
International, national and local NGOs are increasingly considering the implications for their work of the changing global context of development. The post-2015 agenda is part of this context, as is the rapidly changing funding landscape, new actors in development and the changing power dynamics between the traditional global North and South. NGOs find themselves needing to respond to this changing environment in the way they work and how they conceptualise their role and future. However, NGO agency is also evident in this process as their responses to the new global context have the potential to re-shape our understandings of development. International NGOs in particular are exploring new ways of working in response to a range of factors, including pragmatic donor and funding imperatives and challenges from southern NGO partners who want to fundamentally shift the nature of their relationship with International NGOs. This panel presented three papers all based on new empirical research with international NGOs, ICCO, Action Aid and Oxfam GB. They raised important questions about the agency of NGOs in shaping the new global context, as well as responding to it; and about the impact and effectiveness of the NGO responses.
Dr. Willem Elbers & Dr. Lau Schulpen: Reinventing international development NGOs – the case of ICCORead the abstract - Download the presentation (PDF)
The need for international development NGOs to reinvent themselves in light of contextual changes and increasing challenges has been brought forward with increasing vigour. Yet, in-depth empirical research on the topic has remained scarce. This study contributes to the small number of in-depth empirical studies on INGOs by analysing the change process undertaking by one of the largest Dutch development NGOs (ICCO) in the period 2004-2010.
Four question demarcate our analysis: (1) which (external and internal) changes and challenges triggered the ‘reinvention’ process within ICCO?; (2) what strategic consequences did ICCO attach to these changes and challenges?; (3) what factors determined the successful completion of the change process?; and (4) to what extent do the implemented changes represent a break from the past? To examine ICCO’s process of organisational change, this study draws on a large number of (internal) documents produced during the change process and semi-structured interviews with a variety of (former) staff-members.
Besides enriching the literature with empirical data concerning INGO change processes, this paper answers the call in the recent literature on INGO change and adaptation to not only focus on organizational structure but to also incorporate culture. By adding a specific focus on the changes in ICCO’s beliefs, values and accompanying practices, it shows that ICCO’s change process, whilst appearing to be a major overhaul, in many respects turned out to be a continuation of the existing organizational philosophy. The study not only shows the importance of culture in processes of organizational change, but particularly of cultural continuity.
Dr Sinead Walsh: Plus ça change...A Call for NGOs to Go Back to Basics on AccountabilityRead the abstract - Download the presentation (PDF)
In the context of major new challenges in the global context related to poverty, inequality and climate change, the need for NGOs’ work to be relevant to, and shaped by, the views of those they intend to serve is more critical than ever. However, rather than calling for new and innovative approaches to enhancing NGOs’ downward accountability, this paper – based on PhD research - argues that the constant search for new approaches, a common feature of the contemporary development sector, can actually be counter-productive to enhancing NGOs’ performance in this area. My empirical research with the NGO ActionAid in Uganda and globally brings out ‘trend-jumping’, the tendency of NGOs to ‘jump’ between new approaches and initiatives, as one of the key obstacles to the organisation improving its accountability systems. This research is further informed by my ten years experience as a development practitioner within NGOs and my five years experience with a donor agency.
I find that the continuous processes of change within ActionAid work against organisational learning and serve to distract from the reality that the organisation is coming across fundamental blockages in some of its work that may require serious structural shifts. This paper thus argues, perhaps controversially, that rather than seeking new solutions in this area, NGOs should go back to basics and confront the obstacles that continuously and consistently hinder their attempts to strengthen their accountability to intended beneficiaries.
In my research, I found both operational-level, as well as more fundamental obstacles to NGO being downward accountable. Operational obstacles related to: the quantity and quality of NGO staff and partners, leadership within the NGO, and donor dynamics. Trend-jumping was identified as one of the four underlying obstacles to ActionAid being accountable to its intended beneficiaries, the other three being power dynamics at community level, the interests of and pressures on individual NGO staff members, and NGOs’ desire to retain control over their programming, despite having objectives relating to community empowerment.
My research suggests that trend-jumping can distract NGOs from these obstacles and hence also the possible ways that they might work towards overcoming them. More positively, a frank acknowledgement of the persistent obstacles to accountability to intended beneficiaries would be the first step to NGOs making incremental improvements that would have lasting impacts on their relationships with those who they exist to serve.
Susannah Pickering-Saqqa: Why work “at home”? Domestic poverty programmes and their challenge to Northern Development NGOsRead the abstract - Download the presentation (PDF)
Development NGOs based in the global north working with the poor in the global south, often referred to as Northern Development NGOs (NDNGOs), have been working for the past 20 years in a context of contested understandings of development. This debate has taken on many forms in scholarly literature from the definition of poverty, development ethics to the more recent blurring of boundaries between the global north and global south. In addition, questions about the legitimacy and credibility have led to an anxiety by NDNGOs about their identity and roles. Scholars and practitioners have called for a radical re-think of their mission and strategies if they are to survive in the 21st century. This study brings together these literatures to interrogate Oxfam GB’s decision in 1995 to establish a UKP Poverty Programme (UKPP) and consider the significance of the decision for Oxfam GB in 2014.
This paper is based on an empirical study using 35 interviews, conducted in 2010 and 2011, with Oxfam GB staff, partners and beneficiaries in the UK and India. Oxfam GB archive material from 1974-2012 (now in the Bodleian) provided additional data. Using an analytical framework informed by Bourdieu’s concepts of doxa and practice, the wider study explores the hypothesis that there were four main drivers behind the decision: a theory of poverty; development ethic; anxiety over the future of NDNGOs, and institutional practice.
This paper considers the empirical evidence that one of the most powerful drivers of decision-making in NDGOs is the concern over their own future, specifically Oxfam’s rationale to work “at home” with deprived communities, in what became known across Oxfam International as ‘domestic programmes”. To this extent, NGO literature has explanatory power in its commentary and analysis of NGO practice. However, what is so far missing from the literature is the recognition, via empirical evidence, that domestic programmes have significance beyond being another country programme. The paper suggests that work “at home” is an explicit articulation by NDNGOs of a new domain of development in which binary divisions across the domains of space, actor, process and identity are ruptured, changing the shape and space of the development debate.
Knowledge(s) in civil society organisations in development (Joint DSA and BISA NGO working group meeting), University of Leeds, UK, April 2014
NGOs and Development Communications in the 21st Century - DSA Annual Conference, London, UK, November 2013
NGOs, Evidence, Policy and Practice, Webinar, May 2013
Download the report (PDF).
Kate Gooding (University of Leeds): Research and advocacy: ideas from NGOs in Malawi
Tiina Kontinen (University of Jyväskylä): Towards contextual evidence of empowerment in a development NGO
Rachel Hayman (INTRAC): Experiences from a systematic review of aid for maternal health: a reflection on why NGO studies rarely made the grade
Jo Jeans (CAFOD - representing PPA Empowerment & Accountability Learning group): The Evidence Principles: experiences from a pilot tool
The Accountability, Legitimacy and Credibility of International Development NGOs, London, UK, November 2012
Cracking Collaboration – A new look at partnerships in international development research (One day Workshop), N/A, March-June 2012
The Study Group was awarded a small grant under the New Ideas Initiative. Run by researchers from INTRAC, the University of Bradford and World Vision UK, the project explored research collaboration between academics and NGOs. A one-day workshop, attended by Study Group members and representatives of NGOs and DFID.
Full details and Project Outputs - read more.
New Book from the NGOs in Development Study group
Negotiating Knowledge: evidence and experience in development NGOs, edited by Study Group members Rachel Hayman, Sophie King, Tiina Kontinen and Lata Narayanaswamy will shortly be published by Practical Action Publishing. The book has contributions from Kate Gooding, Kai Matturi, Erla Thrandardottir and Swetha Rao Dhananka.