Consider the organizational life cycle when evaluating the effectiveness of capacity-development support
December 13, 2011 - Heinz Greijn (Editor-in-Chief, Capacity.org)
In August 2011, the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published a report titled ‘ Facilitating resourcefulness’, which presented the results of an extensive evaluation of Dutch support for capacity development, based on the five core capabilities (5CCs) evaluation model. One of the evaluation’s key findings is that Southern organizations exhibit a high level of donor-dependency. For NGOs in particular, donor funding provides a vital lifeline. In other words, without donor support they do not have the capacity to survive, or as it is described in the 5CCs parlance, “the capability to adapt and self-renew.”
Developed by researchers at the European Centre for Development Policy Management the 5CCs model distinguishes five core capabilities that together constitute the overall capacity of an organization or its ability to generate value for others. These are:
- The capability to act and self-organize
- The capability to generate development results
- The capability to relate
- The capability to adapt and self-renew
- The capability to achieve coherence
When viewed from this context, the inability of an organization to adapt and self-renew sounds very alarming indeed. But is it?
From an organizational perspective, as taken by the IOB, it certainly is. These organizations are on constant life support. If support is withdrawn the organisation will cease to exist. Does this mean that the capacity development support was in vain? The IOB evaluation is not conclusive about that. To answer that question it is important to move away from the notion that organizations must survive in order to be considered successful in generating change or value. Just as in the world of the living organisms with millions of species the life cycles of organisations vary. All organizations have an internal drive to survive because they provide employment and meaning to their staff. Nevertheless the life cycle of some organizations is short while other organisations can survive for many generations.
At one end of the spectrum we have projects. The PRINCE II project management tool defines a project as “a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to a specific business case”. According to this definition, the lifecycle of a project can be as short as several weeks or months. At the other extreme are organizations that seem to go on forever, and to evolve into institutions (the 2000-year old Catholic Church is a case in point).
The organizational logic of project-focused organizations usually revolves around a limited set of goals such as, for example, raising awareness on HIV aids, promoting multi-party democracy, or combatting deforestation in a particular geographic area. Hence, the scope for adaption and self-renewal of these organizations is limited by their mission. In such cases, the organization’s life cycle can come to an end ‘naturally’: when its mission is accomplished; when the issue the organization was focusing on is ‘overtaken’ by other events; or when functions pioneered by the organization or project are taken on by more established institutions. In all these cases the organization, albeit short-lived, may have been very successful in bringing about change.
Institutions, on the other hand, have very broad mission statements aimed at fulfilling fundamental societal needs that do not diminish much over time (such as universal access to education or health, macro-economic stability etc). By definition, their societal relevance that makes institutions more resilient than one-issue oriented organizations. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are more successful. In fact from a societal perspective project type-organizations and institutions tend to complement each other. Both types are needed but they have to be evaluated differently.
What lessons can this perspective offer with regard to the IOB evaluation and the M&E sector
as a whole? I would like to suggest a couple of observations:
• The 5CCs model is inclined to take the organizational perspective and as a result organizations that have a “natural” short life cycle are considered less successful because they are less resilient and have limited capabilities to adapt and self-renew.
• When evaluating one-issue, project-type organisations with a short life cycle it is important to also consider the societal perspective and appreciate the innovative and pioneering roles that they have fulfilled.
Related topics: OD, M&E, International Cooperation