An Introduction to the New DEC Accountability Framework

28/07/2008

INTRODUCTION:

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) takes its responsibility for public accountability seriously given its mandate to manage cost effective national appeals in times of major tragedy overseas. This mandate includes a commitment to reporting back clearly to donors and to encouraging improvements in the Member Agencies' humanitarian response. In doing both these things well we hope that trust in the DEC is maintained and appeals are more successful year on year.

The DEC wants to achieve this without duplicating the investment in accountability made by its Member Agencies who, as leading UK international charities, already report back to donors on how they have responded to the crises supported by DEC appeals. Whilst DEC members enter into an ongoing relationship with donors the DEC asks for donations only when there are major crises.

STRUCTURE:

DEC Board of Trustees consists of the chief executives of the Member Agencies as well as six national figures from broadcasting, public bodies and the corporate world. This ensures effective charity governance while remaining adapted to the needs of the Member Agencies and without the need to duplicate the staffing, skills and systems that are already present in the Member Agencies. The result is a charity with under 10 full time staff which currently enables 98% of appeal income to go on charitable expenditure.

The DEC does not function as a grant making body; rather the members are considered the experts in humanitarian response and have an entitlement to a percentage of the appeal fund based on the historical size of their previous overseas work. The DEC Trustees make sure that the appeals which are launched meet the 3 criteria and that the performance of the members and the Secretariat is properly scrutinised.

HISTORY:

In addition to its Annual Report and an annual review the DEC has commissioned independent retrospective evaluations of the Member Agencies programmes which had been funded from the appeal. These reports were published with, in later years, a formal comment from the DEC Board of Trustees. These documents dwelt mostly on the overall situation in the disaster zone and the work of the individual members and made recommendations on major issues confronting the humanitarian sector.

These reports were much respected in the humanitarian community, but had drawbacks:

  1. Reinforced the impression that the DEC was the operational arm delivering aid, whereas managing the programmes is the responsibility of the Member Agencies. The DEC is responsible for raising, allocating and accounting for the money
  2. Risked duplication of effort as the members, all leading UK international charities, have to be accountable to their donors including the money they receive from the DEC appeal
  3. Repetition of recommendations from one evaluation to the next so the investment in these reviews was not proving effective in delivering improvement
  4. Supporters, who were polled, found them “worthy but unreadable,” and  media interest focused on any negative comments in the reports
  5. The results were available after the end of all the programmes years after the money was raised
  6. A similar level of investment might have better results.

THE NEW MODEL:

The Trustees wanted to respond to the twin challenges of public accountability and driving improvement while properly reflecting the charitable objects of the DEC. In the development of this new model the DEC secured the help initially of the NAO and then a leading firm of UK accountants.

The key improvements to be brought about by the new arrangements included:

  • moving responsibility for demonstrating assurance to the members
  • moving away from a one off snapshot to a process built on a range of management tools
  • separating out and strengthening learning
  • moving to an annual reporting cycle rather than by appeal.

The aims of the new arrangements were agreed to be:

  • ensure that the DEC remains publicly and independently accountable
  • strengthen the Board’s ability to hold members and the Secretariat to account
  • ensure members have mechanisms of accountability to beneficiaries
  • improve performance
  • enhance reputation through better control of information.

Following extensive consultation with Members and other accountability specialists the DEC decided on the following six Accountability priorities:

Accountability Priority Definition
We run well managed appeals
  • Efficient and effective fundraising
  • Timely and appropriate allocation
  • Review of performance
  • Accountability to stakeholders
We use funds as stated Ensuring sound financial management at agency and partner levels
We achieve intended programme objectives and outcomes Maximising the potential for programmes to achieve objectives and outcomes which respond to a demonstrated need
We are committed to agreed humanitarian principles, standards  and behaviours Fulfilling the principles embodied in the Red Cross Code of Conduct, Sphere, People-in-Aid
We are accountable to  beneficiaries Taking account of, giving an account to and being held to account by disaster survivors
We learn from our experience Improving performance based on lessons learnt

CURRENT SITUATION

The DEC launched the first report at the July 2008 AGM. This followed a facilitated review by each Member of their assurance mechanisms which included a ranking of their effectiveness and submitting an improvement agenda signed off by each Chief Executive to the Board. This management and improvement element will enable the Trustees to hold the members to account and drive improvements where necessary.

The second element of the report sets out highlights for each appeal in the year and enumerates what the donors enabled to happen with a maximum of hard facts rather than lengthy descriptions. This includes any challenges highlighted in monitoring reports.

A third element of the accountability framework will be investments in further learning or scrutiny at the collective level, commissioned by a Trustee committee chaired by the Honorary Treasurer. These monitoring missions or studies will enable the Trustees to review issues identified from risk management or accountability processes and support best practice and learning. 

NEXT STEPS

There are two further elements that feed into the way the Accountability Framework will develop over the next three years. 

  • INDEPENDENT SCRUTINY

Trustees, while confident that sign off by the Chairman and Treasurer will give proper assurance of the quality of the report, are considering whether there are cost effective ways of giving further independent scrutiny to the DEC’s reporting. Once the reporting processes bed down various models will be researched.

  • MEMBERSHIP CRITERIA

The Trustees have agreed a maximum size for the DEC of up to 15 members in order to remain cost effective and flexible in running disaster appeals. This decision was supported by the publication of new Membership Criteria.

Membership including existing members will be reviewed on a three year basis and the evidence from the Accountability Framework will inform decisions about existing members when compared with potential new members who also meet the criteria.