Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

EC NGO Coalition

Meaningful public participation: an NGO review of Department of Social Development’s financial awards policy

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Caring and protection of particularly vulnerable groups | 28 June, 2014 - 12:00


Introduction: Background to the review project

From April to September 2013 the DGMT funded a review process of the Department of Social Development’s (DSD) financial awards policy to NGOs. The Eastern Cape NGO Coalition (ECNGOC) and the Welfare Forum were in charge of this review process. The goal was to ensure better structure and financing of the Financial Awards Policy. During the first 6 months of the review, interest from the NGO sector and from government surpassed everyone’s expectations. We witnessed a rapidly growing interest and commitment from the NPO sector (non-profit organisation) that went far beyond the original, formal working agreement between the Eastern Cape NGO Coalition and the Welfare Forum.

This learning brief serves to showcase this review process and how it positively impacted on NGO-government relations.

Reasons why a review of the financial awards policy was necessary

Over the years NPOs have experienced many bottlenecks regarding the authorisation of DSD service level agreements, and the payment of subsidies and grants. By June 2013 the problem had climaxed to such an extent that 3 months into the new financial year NPOs had received no funding or notice of their funding status.

This frustration stimulated intense dialogues with the provincial NPO directorate championed by the chief operations officer and the NPO directorate team. The first meeting was extremely positive because NPO representatives were given a platform to be heard, and the responses from government officials were honest and open. The meeting served to hold into account the NPO directorate, and to address the payment crisis with immediate effect.

This first meeting opened the doors to begin a dialogue process with the DSD. The ECNGOC was well positioned to become a liaison in this dialogue processes and to mediate on behalf of NPOs that were in financial distress and were about to close down.

Establishing district dialogue platforms and provincial consultative sessions

District dialogue platforms: In order to address the growing frustration and dissatisfaction of NPOs with the DSD financial awards, we established dialogue platforms at district and local levels. This allowed the NPOs to build momentum in engaging with DSD, and it helped in the development of a diagnostic report of the NPO/DSD partnership since 2010. The district dialogues fed synergistically into provincial processes from the bottom up and resulted in a structured feedback mechanism. The ECNGOC ensured a continuous flow of information from the local and district dialogue sessions to the NPOs. It encouraged NPOs to buy into the participation process and increased trust between the parties. Consequently, NPOs started filing their forms on time and began receiving the appropriate and payment updates and payments from DSD.

Provincial consultation sessions: The first provincial consultation in June 2013 set the compass for the next two consultations in July and August. These consultation meetings brought together for the very first time, the NPO representatives, the provincial DSD NPO directorate, as well DSD district officials. The stakeholders discussed the Integrated Service Development Model (ISDM) that is documented in the NPO financial guidelines, and strategized on how to source additional resources from other government departments when the DSD faces financial hardships. They reviewed the communication processes between DSD and the NPOs and set forth a new structured communication mechanism called the “Provincial DSD/ NPO Forum”. This forum serves as the vehicle for communication between the NPO sector and Government Departments, not just DSD. The Terms of Reference have been drafted and the relationship is in the process of being formalised.

Furthermore, the consultative process produced various publications including a diagnostic report, new quarterly newsletters, service specification costing models, reviewed financial awards policy, and an advocacy manual. Capacity building sessions and a social impact study we also conducted during this time period.

Six outcomes of the review process, dialogues, and consultative sessions

The review process, dialogues, and consultative sessions have had numerous positive outcomes for ECNGOC members, the broader NPO sector, DSD, and provincial government departments.

  1. An unintended outcome of this process is that it reached beyond the ECNGOC and Welfare Forum database to include the broader NPO sector of the Eastern Cape. This process has had a positive impact for the over 7000 registered NPOs in the region.
  2. This review and consultation process has also resulted in a more bottom up approach where practice influences policy, instead of policy influencing practice. In fact, the district dialogue platforms have ensured that the feedback loop is circular and that information flows from local level to provincial level and back again to local level. This creates integration, cohesion, and helps NPOs have a unified, collective voice.
  3. The NPO directorate and DSD can rely on the ECNGOC to act as credible communication partners. In addition, the ECNGOC plays a vital consultative role to the chief operations officer and the NPO directorate at provincial level before any intervention is made in the NPO sector.
  4. This process serves to hold the DSD NPO directorate accountable. For instance, the provincial platforms are used to monitor progress of resolutions taken and achievements made by NPOs and the DSD.
  5. The clear communication process now exists. The communication process has been formalised and is framed in an agreed upon terms of reference. The mechanism between the NPO sector and government will be called the Provincial NPO Forum.
  6. This model serves as an excellent good practice example that can be replicated in other provinces.


The working partnership between Government and the NPO sector is a long-term commitment and requires principles of sustainability to be built into the entire process. One way that this sustainability can be attained is through the development of policy guidelines that shape the partnership relations. For example the Integrated Service Delivery Model (ISDM), as framed in the NPO Financial Guidelines Document, is a key strategy to ensure integrated delivery of social services between government and NPOs to reach people affected by poverty, inequality and unemployment. Moreover, the formalisation of such a partnership between the Government and the NPO sector legitimises the process, irrespective of the political agenda at the time.

The process has yielded phenomenal results over the past 12 months and has laid the foundation on which to build in the future. It will go a long way in creating an enabling environment for the NGO sector at large.

EC NGO Coalition

7 Frere Road, East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa


In Short

This learning brief presents a case in meaningful public participation that resulted in positive outcomes for NPOs and government departments alike. The key lesson learnt is that open dialogue platforms and consultative sessions with all stakeholders can be used to resolve disputes, and to reframe the existing top-down policy structures and communication mechanisms in favour of civil society.

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