Institutional Strengthening

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Not all organizations are institutions and not all institutions are simply aggregations of organizations. Our understanding of institutions and organizations often overlap, and the distinction between the two becomes blurred.

On Practice in Participation, we conceptualize a slim, yet distinct, difference between organizations and institutions, and the nature of participatory processes that aid their strengthening. Ultimately though, both institutions and organizations in the context of this portal are those that shape and direct social behaviour.

“Institutions, whether organizations or not, are complexes of norms and behaviours that persist over time by serving collectively valued purposes.” (Fowler, p. 14)

Organizations are purposeful, structured, role-bound social units. They are collections of individuals who fulfill roles in order to realize common goals. Organizations can become “institutionalized” as they acquire social value and stability.

Institutional strengthening can be used to refer to strengthening or changing relations that occur outside any single organization, in the patters or arrangements of society, e.g., changing the structure of relations between local level organizations and state agencies.

Organizational strengthening can be restricted to activities that are aimed at change within an organization, even if those changes are meant to help in its own institutionalization.

Simply put, institutional development will deal with changes that are meant to occur in social structures; organizational development with changes limited to organizations themselves. (Fowler, p. 14)

Organizational strengthening:

Historically, organizational strengthening has been associated with staff training. This is however not considered part of organizational development in the context of this portal.

NGOs and CSOs often expand faster than their ability to allow for normal growth of employees. It is in this context of organizational strengthening that Practice in Participation seeks resources in the areas of:

›› Strengthening organizational systems: Financial systems, learning systems [M&E], communications systems, fund raising systems, decision-making systems, personnel rules, accountability systems, etc.
›› Increasing knowledge and professional capacities of staff: Through individual learning linked to organizational learning.
›› Ongoing processes that optimize an organization’s performance: In relation to its goals, resources and environment(s).
›› Changing organizational culture, leadership, and management styles, etc.

The resources in this section will focus on what systems, structures, styles or environmental factors limit performance; which are the right tools, methods and strategies to bring about required change; and how to identify what changes are desired in the organization. Equally of interest will be analysis of issues of policy and funding strategies of aid agencies and funders to enable organizational development of NGOs/CSOs.

Some of the broad thematic sub-areas could be:

›› Participatory institutional assessment
›› Participatory process documentation
›› Leadership strengthening
›› Strategic planning
›› Participatory gender audits
›› Organizational learning

Institutional strengthening:

Institutional building assumes importance as the political role of NGOs becomes sharper. Citizens and people are increasingly being empowered by NGOs/CSOs to take over some aspects of development from the inefficient and corrupt state. NGOs also provide countervailing power to government and strengthen people’s ability to hold public servants and governments accountable for their (in)actions.

Institutional development and strengthening is not an easy task, particularly in increasingly turbulent political environments and continuing economic decline. In developing/third world countries, the voluntary sector is not institutionalized in terms of values or identity and is subject to increasing pressures from aid agencies.

The resources with regard to facing these challenges of institutional strengthening can focus on:

›› Scaling up social change impacts: This is a more complex process than merely expanding coverage and range of functions. It also requires building external relations, and influencing other actors through alliances, training, or policy changes, without necessarily growing the original organization in size or resources. This could involve expanding a support organization network, launching international policy campaigns, training staff of other organizations, advocating for policy changes, encouraging government agencies to adopt new programmes, etc.
›› Creating new systems that organize a variety of actors together to gather critical mass and resources: E.g., bringing together city agencies, community groups and business associations for the development and maintenance of urban infrastructure; or an organization’s role in creating a network of local NGOs, INGOs, corporate foundations, and bilateral and multilateral agencies to enable multi-party dialogue.
›› Building social movements: Mobilization of constituencies for collective action.
›› Developing skills required for bridge building for long-term sustainable change.
›› Influencing the internal dynamics of strategic external actors: External campaigns to bring internal organizational reforms among strategic external partners (like World Bank, IMF, etc); role of change agents based on compelling visions around which it is possible to mobilize support and resources; increased local influence on local governance; developing long-term links across sectors and levels and between outsiders and insiders.
›› Analysis of social change theories, power and policy equations, political and social analysis, advocacy and movement strategies, etc.
›› Creating network learning systems among organizations working for social change.

This concept note draws on the following references:

Alan Fowler, with Piers Campbell and Brian Pratt, Institutional Development and NGOs in Africa: Policy Perspectives for European Development Agencies, INTRAC, 1992

L. David Brown, Mark Leach, and Jane G. Covey, ‘Organization Development for Social Change’, in Thomas G. Cummings, Edited, Handbook of Organization Development, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 2008

Rajesh Tandon, ‘Organization Development in Nongovernment Organizations’, in Thomas G. Cummings, Edited, Handbook of Organization Development, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 2008