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On the 23rd May, the Euclid Network team attended the NGO Academy Online Keynote entitled “The Dark Side of Accountability with Alnoor Ebrahim”, hosted by the colleagues at the Competence Centre for Non- Profit Organisations & Social Entrepreneurship – at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business), in partnership with Erste Stiftung. The 1,5 hour online keynote was a fruitful discussion on very timely topics and concepts for all NGOs, social enterprises, social enterprise support organisations and other social economy organisations. Impact-driven businesses, like EN, and our members, as well as many other organisations in the sector, have the capacity to influence impact measurement and management requirements by funders and investors, by better understanding what their own internal accountability scheme is. Through a deep understanding and evaluation of an organisation’s strategy, organisations can better define the internal accountability mechanisms needed, and ultimately, what needs to be measured and why.

In the opening remarks, Michael Meyer from WU Vienna emphasised how “Impact has become a buzzword in the field of NGOs, social innovations and social enterprises”. He added that this move from ‘measuring outputs to measuring impact was aligned with the rise of accountability and it was mostly taken uncritically’. While agreeing with Michael, it was particularly relatable to hear from Florian Bauer, from Erste Stiftung, that in previous work experience in the NGO world, he found his organisation “doing more work on the impact measurement than on the impact itself”. This was a great segway into the keynote speaker of the evening (in the Central European Summer Time clock), Alnoor Ebrahim, Professor of Management, Tisch College, Tufts University (Boston, Massachusetts).

An expert in accountability studies, Alnoor firstly sought to understand the challenges and organisational problems related to accountability, to later on, frame solutions to some of the problems he observed. Ebrahim walked the audience of 139 people, at its largest, through diverging definitions of accountability and the effect in the understanding of its internal and external dimension. Based on the definition of the Keystone Report (2006), which reads “Accountability is how organisations hold themselves to account externally, especially to those they affect the most and internally to their values and their mission”, Ebrahim focused on the internal aspect of accountability, thereby explaining the three foundational questions of strategy, the logic model and the four primary types of strategy.

By drawing on the relationship between accountability and strategy in impact-driven organisation, Ebrahim glued us to the screen. As strategy is the ‘how’ of seeking long-term performance, we were invited to review – in our heads – and interact actively through the chat, the strategy in Euclid Network and ask ourselves if we could in fact, answer the 3 foundational questions with ease. This was a particularly interesting exercise.

According to Prof. Ebrahim, organisations should strive to move from a compliance-driven accountability towards a strategy-driven one. He emphasised that social change is delivered in the long term, therefore it is important to know what to measure and when.

Strategy is about the how but also the long-term performance. Once accountability is internally-driven, then there’s leverage in discussing with funders and arguing for better metrics/measurements. Coming from a Network (EN) on the demand side of the sector, it is empowering to think of the opportunity to influence impact measurement reporting guidelines and standards, towards more impact and efficient meaningful reporting.

At EN, we came into this online keynote with the expectation to hear about Impact Measurement and Management, a topic of huge interest for the EN community and actors at large. A topic which is still somewhat taboo, without much standardisation, and considered to be time-consuming, resource-inefficient and in some cases, a matter of ticking boxes and meeting the metrics set out before the project/initiative was even really thought through. 

Instead (and thankfully) we were invited to turn it all upside down, reverse the order; departing from the notion of strategy, which integrates accountability mechanisms into its core, only then, to feed into the external metrics; those which will be communicated to funders, partners and the wider community.

If you were not able to watch it live, I invite you to check out the NGO Academy page and take the time to watch the recording. We have no doubt it will bring about a powerful round of reflections within your organisation.

If you’re not following the NGO Academy on social media (LinkedIn / Facebook / Instagram), we invite you to do it now!

A huge thanks to Martin Mehrwald, Program Coordinator of the NGO Academy, and the WU Vienna team for bringing this opportunity to our attention.

Caterina Tognoni, EN Communication Officer & Marcela Neves, EN Community Engagement Officer

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