Posts with the tag
“Accountabilty”

ICSOs and intergenerational fairness: Why long term thinking is important and empowering in today’s whirly world

28th July 2021 by Vicky Tongue and Julie Jenson Bennett

The Centre’s new Scanning the Horizon Sector Guide on ‘Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World’, explores five main strategic pointers for civil society decision-making and adaptation in complex, uncertain ‘never normal’ futures. To further explore the fifth strategic pointer, ‘Rethink adaptable strategies to embrace emergent change with-in a long-term view’, we recently ran leadership and strategy events with two of our strongly recommended resources, including the School of International Futures (SOIF)’s exciting work on intergenerational fairness.

In this blog, Vicky Tongue, the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, and Julie Jenson Bennett, Practice Lead, Intergenerational Fairness, School of International Futures, reflect on how ICSOs can contribute to and benefit from long-term intergenerational thinking and practice.

Intergenerational fairness as an important skillset for a whirly world

Embracing the ‘Long Now’ is one strategy to help navigate a ‘whirly’, uncertain world, stretching responsibility over longer timescales – beyond a human lifetime – and giving a bigger picture to short-term turbulence. It helps crisis decision-making to elevate long-term equity and extends ‘legacy’ thinking to help identify what should be kept from the past, what should be unlearned in the present, and what is still needed to avoid future-loading major risks from important decisions made today.

All big current global issues have huge intergenerational fairness and equity dimensions, both between different generations alive today but also not yet born. Intergenerationally fair policies and strategic decisions allow people of all ages to meet their needs, and meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ICSOs have an important role in ensuring that decision-makers take such considerations into account beyond current political cycles. But they also have a responsibility to ensure that their own organisational decisions are also fair for all generations.

The intergenerational fairness topic is particularly fascinating. As an organisation embarking on its strategy, this is particularly relevant in order to ‘disturb/disrupt’ current decision-making, to ensure long-term strategic choices for an alternate future.

Shahin Ashraf, MBE, Head of Global Advocacy, Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Interest in intergenerational fairness as a growing trend

Signals around equity between generations as a growing issue have been getting stronger since the 2008 financial crisis, further amplified by increasing mobilisation on climate change, and with the global pandemic. Younger generations have been getting more active in suing their governments to establish rights and duty of care towards the future. There is increasing interest from citizens, politicians and policy-makers around intergenerational cohesion and solidarity – rather than conflict – and different national ‘next or future generations’ initiatives are emerging. The OECD published a landmark report on intergenerational justice last year challenging the global policy community to be more systematic about this.

But this can come with major challenges which make it hard to accomplish. Future and younger generations have no vote, there isn’t much reliable information available to decision-makers about the long-term impact of most public policies, and the issue can quickly become polarised and make constructive discussions difficult. So how can we move from good intentions to true accountability, and ensure that (in Gaston Berger’s words) we’re looking at the future to disturb the present, and taking informed decisions today to design better, equitable policies and programmes?

A practical, flexible framework for assessing intergenerational fairness

The School of International Futures (SOIF) and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s ‘Framework for Intergenerational Fairness’ is a practical framework which any organisation – without prior futures or foresight experience – can use to assess whether any strategic, policy or investment decision proposed by others, or itself, will be equitable for people living today and tomorrow. This can be a very empowering process to support informed action-oriented conversations with what could otherwise remain an interesting, important but remote and hazy theoretical discussion.

The framework consists of three key, flexible elements:

  • A policy assessment tool to analyse whether decisions on what is fair and unfair for all generations, exposing specific dimensions of unfairness, identifying unintended consequences and making trade-offs more explicit.
  • A participatory national, or community, dialogue to define collective goals of what a fair and desirable future looks like – including conversations with future generations by proxy – for the policy to be assessed against,
  • Institutional ownership to determine how the methodology will be resourced, used and evaluated in government and society, so that it has independence, accountability, political legitimacy and administrative commitment.

Check out this introductory presentation from this year’s Global Foresight Summit for more.

Assessing decisions in as little as two hours

Any strategic, funding or policy decision can be assessed in five ways, to see if it:

  • Disadvantages people at any particular life stage
  • Disadvantages people at any period in time, present or future
  • Increases the chances of inequality being passed on through time
  • Restricts the choices, agency and freedom of people in future
  • Moves society further away from its vision of the future.

 

 

In a couple of hours, you can use the tool to make clear judgements and support risk analysis, contingency planning and policy design. Diagnostic prompts help you scan and assess policy impacts and trade-offs in detail, stress-test the decision against alternative future scenarios, and scrutinise the policy-making process itself for unfairness. You can adapt the lenses and depth and breadth of analysis for different issues and audiences.

Pilots over the last three years have successfully used the tool on a range of live policy issues and with diverse assessor audiences, including citizens. It enables nuanced understanding of the dynamics at play in complex policy areas, and can identify specific cohorts worse off under a policy scenario, and recommendations for additional policy areas and communications toaddress issues and perceptions of unfairness.

How ICSOs can use it and find out more?

There are two main angles for CSOs:

  • Holding governments to account for difficult issues of intergenerational fairness – ICSOs can use this framework in their advocacy work, or with concerned citizens and media actors, to scrutinise the work of governments e.g. during policy design, parliamentary scrutiny, spending reviews.
  • Shining a light internally – Organisations can use these principles to assess any of their own strategic policy or financial decisions – especially around spending and granting – to objectively establish whether they are fair for the long term, or just responding to short-term interests.

Our conversations also identified two exciting potential wider applications:

  • The domains and assessment criteria in the tool can help facilitate conversations ‘by stealth’ about entrenched power interests and inequality structures in the present. This can generate new kinds of conversations outside of traditional framings which come with political/polarised debates, divisions and rhetoric. So it could also be a useful model to support difficult ‘power shift’ conversations in our sector and agree the desirable fair, legacy outcomes we want to collectively achieve.
  • An interesting starting point for global conversations around the post-2030 SDG successor agenda, which runs out soon!

What’s next for the framework and how to stay involved?

SOIF is interested in expanding networks and coalitions to upskill and scale these processes, including ICSOs. They are open to providing support if you are interested in adapting it for your contexts or policy issues.

As a starter, they will be running more webinars from August to introduce new audiences to the framework, and also hands-on participatory sessions to use the policy assessment tool on live issues – in as little as two hours. For updates and opportunities, visit https://soif.org.uk/igf/.

Vicky Tongue

Head of Futures and Innovation

International Civil Society Centre

Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, leading our core initiatives on future trends, horizon scanning and civil society innovation. Vicky has more than 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.

Julie Jenson Bennett

Practice Lead

School of International Futures

Julie Jenson Bennett leads the Intergenerational Fairness Observatory at the School of International Futures. Her futures practice developed over twenty-five years as a researcher and strategist in technology and product design. Alongside her work at SOIF, Julie co-directs The Generation Poetry Project, exploring new communication systems emerging amongst younger people, and is an Associate Lecturer at Central St. Martin's in the Product, Ceramics and Industrial Design programme.


To Remain Relevant, CSOs Need to Fix the Architecture

19th February 2021 by George E. Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz

This is the first of two guest blogs and an upcoming podcast interview which will explore longstanding challenges and new dimensions of deep drivers of change for international civil society organisations (ICSOs), from a group of academics and practitioners who have long explored the questions of power and relevance that influence the future of these organisations. 

In this first blog, the authors explore the major long-term trends and questions already challenging the sector before the new complexities highlighted and surfaced by the big developments of 2020.

Long before COVID-19 disrupted the lives of billions and raised new, urgent challenges for the sector, many ICSOs were already grappling with existential questions about their futures. In many ways, the global pandemic is amplifying a longstanding need for change, not just for future-looking ICSOs but for the whole sector more broadly.

Geopolitical shifts, increasing demands for accountability, and growing competition have been driving the need for change within the sector for decades. ICSOs have been responding with specific initiatives intended to secure their future effectiveness and relevance, but their efforts have been constrained by institutional and cultural legacies—forms and norms—that inhibit their ability to successfully adapt. As ICSOs confront unprecedented challenges to their survival and future relevance, leaders and change managers must keep the long-term future in sight while addressing the immediate needs of their organisations and stakeholders.

New agency within old architecture

The longstanding problem facing ICSOs is that over the past half-century they have evolved into new kinds of organisations, while the architecture in which they operate has remained largely unchanged. Most ICSOs today do more than alleviate the symptoms of deprivation and injustice, seeking instead to address root causes through fundamental social and political transformations. As such, they are no longer conventional charities and instead agents of transformation focused on achieving long-term sustainable impact.

But ICSOs still operate within a legacy architecture designed for conventional charities, not for contemporary change agents. The resulting tensions underlie many of the challenges long debated throughout the sector, including aid localisation, downward accountability, and shifting power. Missing in these discussions is an acknowledgement that ICSOs need to do more than embrace internal reforms; they also need to work collectively to change the architecture in which they are embedded.

The legacy of the architecture and its accountability framework

The architecture consists of the forms and norms that have historically defined the sector. In the United States, ICSOs typically incorporate in charity form with self-perpetuating boards and transnational federated governance structures often dominated by their wealthiest member organisations. These forms tend to privilege ‘upward’ financial accountability to donors in the Global North, with a focus on preventing financial integrity failures, such as embezzlement or fraud, rather than focusing on ‘downward’ accountability and sustainable impact for intended local constituents.

The charity model assumes that the impact ICSOs create is often unknowable or too difficult to measure, so accountability is instead fixated on financial reporting and monitoring. In general, ICSOs are supposed to spend all of their available resources as quickly as possible on whatever is easiest to measure and most satisfying to donors. This is not conducive for organisations explicitly committed to being accountable to those they claim to serve, truly empowering stakeholders, and achieving long-term sustainable impact. The traditional charity model works well for conventional charities, but fails for ICSOs seeking to inhabit new roles as agents and facilitators of fundamental change.

Manifestations of dysfunctional architecture and cultural norms

The dysfunctional role of this architecture is today particularly apparent when ICSOs attempt to break the rules to increase their effectiveness; for instance, when activists seek to address global issues through advocacy “at home,” rather than through traditional aid transfers from the Global North to the South. In Germany, groups such as Attac and Campact had their tax-exempt status revoked because of tax laws prohibiting political activities. In Switzerland, a recent campaign by ICSOs in support of greater corporate accountability for human rights violations abroad has led to accusations of engaging in illegal domestic political activities. As the strategies of ICSOs continuously evolve based on changing understandings of global problems, the existing charity laws and regulations regularly fail the sector.       

Alongside issues of law and governance, powerful cultural sector norms have also emerged that influence how stakeholders think and act. Many of these represent the sector’s virtuous character and should be maintained and celebrated, but others hold it back. For example, ICSO staff and supporters may acknowledge a need for reform throughout the sector, but at the same time consider their own organisations exempt because of some perceived unique difference. These ‘excessive cultures of uniqueness’ can also lead to problematic behaviours by individuals claiming a commitment to values as a substitute for a true culture of transparency and openness.

Transforming the architecture together

Of course, what ultimately matters most is the lives of the billions of people who stand to gain by a more successful sector. The architecture has ensured that ICSOs can survive, and even thrive, mainly by satisfying resource providers. But this system is outdated and fails to serve the needs of ICSOs and their local constituents today.

To ensure their future relevance, ICSOs need to collectively organise to transform the legal and cultural frameworks holding the sector back. They need to decide what kind of organisations they want to be and then help create a new architecture that facilitates, rather than impedes, success in these desired future roles.

George E. Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz, alongside Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken, are co-authors of the recently published book Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs. You can discover more details about it here.

George E. Mitchell

Associate Professor

Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, City University of New York

Prior to joining the Marxe School, he was Assistant Professor at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. He received his PhD from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (USA), where he was cofounder of the Transnational NGO Initiative at the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs. George’s research examines topics in NGO and non-profit management, leadership, and strategy.

Hans Peter Schmitz

Associate Professor of Leadership Studies

University of San Diego

He received his PhD in Social and Political Sciences from the European University Institute in San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy. He is the cofounder of the Transnational NGO Initiative at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs/Syracuse University. His research interests include international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), human rights advocacy, digital activism, philanthropy, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as global health issues.