CSO Action Guides

Engaging people for greater collective impact

The digital age fundamentally transforms the way in which people relate to organisations. Central to the new engagement practice is that organisations actively invite others to act, connect and contribute to the shared cause. Emerging strategies of civil society organisations (CSOs) building on this paradigm are often called people-powered strategies. They focus on facilitating and amplifying other people’s and partner’s actions and voices to leverage impact. This not only increases the pool of resources, skills, capacities and capabilities that CSOs can build on; it also increases stakeholder ownership and thus the chances of transformative impact.

We found interesting trends of a new and emerging accountability paradigm that fully underpins and further propels people-powered work approaches in the digital age. They include among others: ask stakeholders where you add greatest strategic value for them; share power – share responsibility; open your books for in-time transparency; move from quantity to quality relationships; ask stakeholders to continuously evaluate your impact; and be prepared to take more risk where it allows greater stakeholder engagement.

The Digital Accountability project, initiated and facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter, aims to identify and mainstream accountability practices that help CSOs seize the digital opportunity of people-powered work approaches. Thought leaders in our group come from ICSOs such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Transparency International and digital CSOs such as 38 Degrees, 350.org, Purpose and Tactical Technology Collective in addition to several others.

We have developed the following six one page action guides – spelling out what it means in practice for specific functions in an organisation to support people-power strategies in the digital age. The action guides are kept extremely short and come with a number of links to very practical examples. Below, we outline the key message of each user brief.

Board Member
Governing CSOs in the digital age of empowered stakeholders requires special skills. As a Board member you still set strategy; ensure effective structures; monitor progress; and manage risk. But decisions are no longer just based on secluded Board discussions. To govern well, you have to be continuously in touch with staff, people, donors and partners. Your key competence is to create a compelling vision and strategy; foster leadership and enabling structures for the shared cause; and manage risk in a way that allows for ownership and speed.

Strategy Director
Being super receptive to what people wish for and have to offer is great. But being nimble without a clear strategy is useless. It’s your role to allow for an optimal interplay of people determining strategic decisions wherever possible and taking a stewardship approach when it is necessary to ensure overall responsibility and effectiveness.

Chief Executive Officer
Digital technology allows unprecedented opportunities to tap into people’s skills, expertise, networks and capacities to advance the shared cause. The most effective and accountable way to leverage your impact, as CEO, is to motivate and empower staff, partners or people you work with to take leadership for the shared cause. Enable and guide multiple leadership towards optimal connective impact.

Chief Operations Officer
To make your organisation fit-for-purpose, you need to challenge your operating model. In the digital age, partnering with other actors to contribute to a shared cause is part of your core competence. In order to do that, more investments have to be directed to your digital infrastructure and to your human capital.

Campaign or Programme Director
As a campaign or programme director of a people-powered CSO, you want to run activities that harness other people’s contributions to achieve the common cause. Your role is not primarily to produce the best campaigns or programs with your staff, but to facilitate like-minded people’s actions and contributions to leverage collective impact.

HR Director
As an HR Director, you are absolutely critical to the success of any people-powered strategy. It is all about people inside and outside of the organisation and how they relate well and effectively to one another. Your staff’s key competence needs to be built around excellent service provision to other actors and a high skill to foster alignment and connective impact for the shared cause.

Practicing better multiple accountabilities

“Membership to the INGO Accountability Charter is significant for us for two main reasons: firstly, we regard this as an open declaration of ActionAid’s pro-active commitment to advancing accountability at all levels; and secondly, we believe that the INGO Charter membership is an opportunity to learn from our peers and contribute to generating development sector-wide knowledge creation about practicing better multiple accountabilities.”