The Active Citizens Fund (ACF), a program area under the EEA and Norway Grants, supports civil society through strengtheing its role in promoting democratic participation, supporting citizenship, and protecting human rights. The Active Citizens Fund supports initiatives that, in general, addresses democeracy, human rights, social justice, and gender equality. More specifically, it seeks to: 4/
- Increase citizen participation in civic activities,
- Support consultation between public institutions and civil society organisations in decision-making processes,
- Raise citizens’ awareness of human rights, including gender equality,
- Empower vulnerable groups,
- Create more effective, accountable and sustainable civil society organisations, and
- Strengthen regional cooperation within civil society
Projects funded by the EEA and Norway Grants that I have been (and am) working on
CBNRM Networking, a Norwegian NGO where I function as Coordinator, and Supras Limited, a Norwegian consulting firm for which I am CEO, have been partner in several projects that have received financing from the EEA and Norway Grants. Beginning in 2018, and including ongoing projects, CBNRM Networking and Supras Limited have been involved in some 18-19 projects, in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia (cf. Table 1). These projects cover a wide range of issues, inter alia, conflict management, inclusion, networking, participation, social development, and energy effectivisation. Several project have focused on Roma. 5/
This is not the time and place for an overall evaluation of the work of CBNRM Networking and Supras Limited as partners in these 16 projects, that span all three five-year financing periods, cover 6 beneficiary countries, and represent a very broad list of foci and concerns. 6/ For now, then, I will focus on select aspects of communication and cooperation that are central to my involvement in the EEA and Norway Grants, with emphases on knowledge management and project management.
From the very beginning is was evident that organizations and NGOs in civil society that considered applying to open calls, and that in some cases did so, had often little – in some cases no – knowledge about EEA and Norway Grants and project management. Worse, many had no knowledge of and experience in preparing project proposals. A lacking knowledge of English, more generally a common lingua franca, added to the complications of communication and collaboration. As a result, in several cases I spent a considerable amount of time working with the applicants on preparing the proposals (in one case I actually wrote it; and it happened to be a winning one). This is, I gather, an example of the input that a donor country partner is understood to do as part and parcel of being a donor country partner in these projects, but several weeks of solid work is to my mind above and beyond what one should be expected to contribute, and moreover on preparing a proposal that may or may not received funding. Equally important is the extent to which the applying organizations actually learn from these partnering experiences, during the proposal writing and during project implementation. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
As it happened, there was initially a fair amount of learning on behalf of recipient country NGOs when it came to the application procedure and project management. However, already during the first financing period there were examples of applicants who sought paid professional help and advise from outsiders. This grew fast, and this is by now a well entrenched niche and service sector. A number of private sector consulting firms, as well as individual experts, are hired by prospective project applicants to prepare proposals. I have been contacted by such sub-contractors to civil society NGOs with a view to inviting CBNRM Networking to become a partner in a project proposal. As a rule the actual applicant do not contact me, and all communication is liaised via the consulting firm. While this may be understood as a contribution to capacity building, the problem is that this capacity building, which takes place in all recipient countries where I have worked, does not seem to accrue to the applicant NGOs or their staff members and volunteers. Instead this knowledge resides with the consulting firm. This is, I would surmise, in particular an issue of concern with Roma NGOs that are interested in applying for projects, given their special position in society.
In general, I find the existence of this private sector niche to run counter to basic goals with the EEA and Norway grants. Furthermore, knowledge management is to a large extent made complicated, even hindered, by the fact that the project proposal is submitted in a vernacular language, which donor country NGOs as a rule do not understand. Assuming that the representatives of the project promoter speaks English, this means that involvement of the prospective partner in preparing the proposal, that is, to the extent that the project promoter wants this, is often not easy. Additionally, there are often supporting documentation that pertain to the issues that the proposal address, which as a rule is available only in the vernacular language. While the project promoter understands this, and would like to be helpful, translating into English is very timeconsuming. This means that at best only select parts of the proposal will be translated, and thus the prospective partner gets only pieces of the overall picture of the project.
Also, the fact that there is no effort, on the part of the EEA and Norway grants, to link recipient country NGOs that implement projects horizontally adds to this near complete lack of sharing of knowledge, of overall knowledge management, and of learning.
Knowledge management is part and parcel of communication and cooperation, in a two-way causality. Communication and cooperation in a project produces knowledge that needs to be managed. Conversely, knowledge and management of knowledge in a project is a basic underlying rationale for communication and cooperation. Production of knowledge, and use of knowledge, that is, knowledge management, takes place at the level of the project, including preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation (that is, throughout the project cycle). Knowledge management, together with communication and cooperation among project stakeholders, is crucial for optimal project implementation and for reaching the goals with the project. And all of this, and more, can be subsumed under project management.
In project management a number of issues would be important to address, including cooperation, inclusion, and sharing (the latter being partly addressed above under the heading knowledge management). I will limit myself to one, namely closing a project, and what follows next, that is, an exit strategy. This is partly connected with risk assessment. The project proposal includes sections to address both these issues. It is my understanding, though, that project applicants do not necessarily understand this, and/or attach much importance to it. Partly, one would assume, because both terms are rather abstract. Also, applicants are interested in receiving funds to implement concrete project activities, and do not necessarily concern themselves much with what follows after the project closes, given that this is considered to outside the project per se, and moreover is far into the future. One should perhaps forgive them for this lack of emphasis and omission, as their own governments, in development projects that receives official development assistance, hardly focus on this at all. One lesson to come out of this is that prospective project applicants should follow mandatory virtual/real time training in project management (including monitoring and evaluation, or M&E).
To be sure, there have been positive developments. One is that during the first financing period I used to receive a large amount of request for partnership which went something like this: "The partnership declaration is attached, please sign it. There is no need for you to become involved in the preparing the project proposal. Your contribution will be to host a visit from our NGO to Norway. Respond by <date>". These requests usually arrived 3-5 day prior to the submission deadline. Perhaps needless to state, I did not respond to such requests. In recent years I have received almost no such requests. Perhaps this is proof that interested NGOs have gradually understood that submitting a project proposal is serious and timeconsuming work? Or, perhaps, it is proof of the degree to which preparation of proposals have been farmed out to the private sector? Finally, there is the issue of the payment for these services. Where does the funding for such external services come from? Not from the project's budget (in the event of a successful proposal) I trust?
Implementation of projects are as a rule seldom a case of clean sailing. Among the issues that can come up: projects cannot be implemented as blueprints, unforseen complications come up, and project stakeholders may disagree. The EEA and Norway grants' project proposals targets conflicts and conflict management/resolution, and appropriately so. The responses given in this section of the proposal tend to be abstract and theoretical. What when problematic issues do occur? I am here concerned in particular with issues between the project implementer and the partner. I am not aware that the EEA and Norway grants have very concrete and useful guidelines for how to approach such issues. I have had to deal with conflicts in two of the projects I have been working on. Not knowing what to do and whom to approach, I contact several Norwegian organizations that were involved in implementation of project, including the Financial Mechanism Office (FMO) in Brussels. To summarize my experience: getting a response took an awful long time, and the adjudication process (if that is a correct term in these cases), concluded in taking the side of the project implementers. In each of these two cases I had a sense that the outcome was almost a foredrawn conclusion, and moreover that there was a reluctance to make changes in the project set-up, or in the project implementation process in order to address the issues I had put forward. In retrospect, the two projects in question were, not surprisingly, the most dissatisfying EEA and Norway grants projects that I have worked on.
Nonetheless, these were instructive projects, and I did learn from them. Actually, it is clear to me that one can learn as much from unsuccessful projects as from successful ones. I am aware that many may not agree with this statement. This is another example of why communication, cooperation, sharing, and knowledge management is so important. However, throughout development cooperation, and not just in the EEA and Norway Grants, bad projects are hidden away. They are not referred to in project documentation, including in evaluation reports. Across the board, and including the EEA and Norway grants, evaluation reports emphasize good cases and best cases only. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But why? Could it be because of a perceived need to present an optimal positive picture to Norwegian citizens and politicians, in order to show that development cooperation works, and to ensure that the annual budget allocation is maintained (rather increased, and certainly not decreased). But we can learn also from bad projects, from the wrong way of doing things, from external factors that impact a project in a way we did not, and often could not, foresee. A good approach to knowledge management will aid in ensuring that potential problems are realized before they become obvious, and difficult to address.
One further case of how the EEA and Norway Grants address and present project will be instructive. This was a project in Bulgaria where CBNRM Networking was a partner. The project produced a number of films where Roma got to present their lives. The films were made in the anthropological tradition of ethnographic films, and my role was to gave training on ethnographic film making to the film crew. This project is briefly presented in the ACT Fact Sheet (cf. note 4), where it is stated that the films were shown on a national TV channel to over 700.000 viewers. I admit to doubting this figure (how was it arrived at?). The important issue, however, is the extent to viewers' changed their views on Roma as a result, and we have no way of ascertaining this (given the available experience it do not seem very likely). The Fact Sheet furthermore states that a supportive website related to the films is available, but I do not recall that the website in question carried such information. At any rate, the website and the Roma NGO the implemented the project folded several years ago. and well before the Fact Sheet was prepared, and so there would not be anybody that could respond reliably to requests about the project and its mpact. As a consequence, all the films have since several years been available on Supras Limited's account at Vimeo (cf. Sources).
Roma film project
What they show: who communicates with whom, about what, with what consequence/output.
Capacity building of Norwegian NGOs - certainly lacking. May be one reason for the low participation
The Romania-Norway workshop
EEA and Norway grants: stakeholder and network analyses
Notes1/ The two grant mechanisms are sometimes referred to simply as "EEA Grants".2/ This paragraph is adapted from: https://www.facebook.com/EEANorwayGrants/.3/ This was briefly addressed in an earlier Devblog article (see note x).4/ This paragraph is adapted from "Active Citizens Fund 2014-2021. Fact Sheet" (cf. Sources), and from: https://eeagrants.org/topics-programmes/culture-civil-society-good-governance-and-fundamental-rights-and-freedoms/civil5/ A project in Bulgaria with CBNRM Networking as the partner made almost 20 short films that presented the daily life of Roma. This project is briefly presented in the ACT Fact sheet (cf. note 4), where it is stated that the films were shown on a national TV channel to over 700.000 viewers. I guess I doubt this figure (how was it arrived at?). The important issue is to what extent viewers' changed their views on Roma as a result, and we had – and still have – no way of ascertaining this (given the available experience it is not very likely). The Fact Sheet furthermore states that a supportive website related to the films is available, but I do not recall that the website in question carried such information. At any rate, the website and the Roma NGO the implemented the project folded several years ago. As a consequence all films have since several years been available on Supras Limited's account at Vimeo (cf. Sources).6/ This is not to say that such an evaluation should not – and will not – be made, however. When the present ongoing projects have closed this will be considered.(x) Image credit: Lars Soeftestad, Supras Limited. About: prepared at the workshop presented above (Kristiansand, Norway, 28 October 2022).(x) Relevant Devblog articles: "EEA and Norway grants: my project portfolio" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/eea-and-norway-grants-my-project-portfolio; "EEA and Norway Grants and evaluation" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/eea-and-norway-grants-and-evaluation(x) Permalink: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/eea-grants-communication-and-cooperation(x) This article was published 11 November 2022. It was revised 22 November 2022.