Measuring Organizational Capacity in Southern Africa

How do you measure the overall health of an organization? Evaluating a person’s health is relatively easy – doctors around the world agree on the basic concepts of physical health, and measurements and standards have been well established for “ideal” height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and other components of health. Measuring the “health” of an organization is more nebulous, and yet many organizations working in developing countries are being asked to evaluate their own capacities at the same time they’re evaluating how their work benefits the populations they serve.

This is the case throughout the Southern Africa region. As donors decide to more rigorously monitor the “return on investment or value for money” of the programs they’re funding, organizations that are on the frontlines of the response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic need to show how their own capacities to manage their programs and donor funding have grown. With this in mind, the USAID-funded Building Local Capacity for Delivery of HIV Services in Southern Africa (BLC) Project, led by Management Sciences for Health, began to explore the challenge of measuring the effects of its capacity building efforts last year.

BLC’s solution

The BLC Project developed the BLC Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool to evaluate the capabilities of various types of organizations working in HIV and AIDS, including community-based and regional organizations. The tool is designed to measure the organization’s capabilities before a capacity building program goes into effect; provide evidence-based qualitative and quantitative data on specific areas that can be improved; and, more long-term, quantify the effects of BLC’s capacity building efforts after an intervention has been completed.

More specifically, the capacities being measured span nine different areas linked to organizational management. They include:

  • leadership and governance
  • organizational systems and structures
  • human resource management
  • financial management
  • grants management
  • program management
  • planning, monitoring and evaluation; partnerships, external relations and networking
  • knowledge management.

These nine areas are broken down further into 52 sub-components, and each are rated on a low-to-high scale ranging from “embryonic” to “mature.” This provides a clear picture of the organization’s capacity at one point in time and a direction for how to move forward.

[BLC Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool]BLC Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool

Application across Southern Africa

The tool was first utilized in May and June 2011 in Lesotho, where BLC project staff assessed 10 civil society organizations (CSOs) that provide services to orphans, other vulnerable children and their caregivers. Since then, BLC has used the tool in another four countries – Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, and Zimbabwe – to complete a baseline and re-assessment of eight organizations throughout the Southern Africa region. Additionally, from August 2011 to April 2012, BLC used a condensed version of the tool to measure the capacity of 236 HIV and AIDS CSOs in a nation-wide study in Namibia.

Leaders of the organizations who have been using the BLC tool have been favorably impressed. Executive Director Jonathan Gunthorp of the Southern African AIDS Trust in Johannesburg, South Africa, thought that the assessment process using the tool was “incredibly useful,” noting that it provided “great insight into the organization.”

One of the features of the tool, that its users like most, is the participatory approach that is inherent in the tool’s application. The leadership and staff of the CSOs being assessed actively engage in the process, and BLC staff stress the importance of full participation from the very beginning. This approach is, in and of itself, a capacity building endeavor, and enhances collaboration as BLC gains an in-depth understanding of its partners. Then, as the partners understand the assessment’s results, they are better positioned to take the lead on building their organization’s capacity.

“We were wondering how the participatory approach would be conducted in a baseline assessment,” said Ngoni Chibukire, the regional head of operations for the Zimbabwe-based Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Services (SAfAIDS). “Now I have seen the light on how you have made this process very participatory. It was really a nice process.”

Over the last year and a half, the BLC team has put the tool through meticulous processes of validation (ensuring that the tool is complete and comprehensive) and weighting (ranking components in order of their importance – leadership and governance topped the list followed by financial management). Fifteen experts representing development aid agencies, practitioners and consultants – located throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin and North America – took part in the weighting process.

Future plans

The implications for this tool go beyond the needs of HIV and AIDS organizations, as it can be adapted for use by groups working in other areas of health as well. In the coming year, BLC plans to scale up use of the tool to conduct additional baseline evaluations of other partner organizations throughout the region, as well as periodic re-assessments at other points (for example every six months, or midway through a particular funding cycle, or at a specific project’s end).