The General Secretariat's perspective on the HIC evaluation
About the HIC 2006-07 evaluation's results
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Background and Context: Habitat International Coalition is an independent, non-profit coalition of a wide range of civil society groups in almost all regions of the world, which has been working in the area of housing and human settlements at an international level for more than 30 years. The Coalition aims to ensure secure housing and a livable planet for all. Its efforts are based on advocacy for the urban poor, the respect, guarantee and fulfillment of housing rights, and on solidarity, networking and popular mobilization.
The Coalition has a General Secretariat in Santiago (Chile), and seven Regional Focal Points (five in the South, i.e. in Asia, Latin America and Africa and two in the North, in Europe and North America), which coordinate projects, communications, exchanges, campaigns and membership.
HIC‘s international, regional and thematic activities have been supported by diverse international funding agencies, most recently MISEREOR, InWent, the Ford Foundation and ICCO.
Evaluation Objectives and Approach: To better respond to the challenges of a quickly changing environment in the age of globalization, HIC proposed an evaluation of its working approaches, functioning and overall experience to MISEREOR as one of its main funders and the sole funding source for the international General Secretariat.
Three external consultants, jointly selected by HIC and Misereor, evaluated HIC from July 2006 and March 2007. The team consisted of Mr Frank Samol as overall coordinator, Ms Lake Sagaris as co-evaluator for HIC bodies in Latin America, and Ms Wakio Seaforth as co-evaluator for HIC bodies in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The evaluation's objective was to facilitate a participatory reflection process on the mission, objectives, strategies, impacts and relevance of HIC as a global coalition of civil society organizations, focussing on HIC’s international bodies, specifically the General Secretariat, the Regional Focal Points and the Thematic Networks. For this purpose, the evaluation had to assess HIC‘s internal organization and functioning, and its impacts on its external environment, with particular view to improvements in living and housing conditions of the poor. Based on past experience and lessons learnt, recommendations for HIC‘s future strategic focus, and for improvements of its organizational structure and internal working procedures were to be developed.
The process-oriented evaluation involved three main phases: first, development of the evaluation approach and appropriate tools (for a member survey, external and internal interviews, field visits, etc.). Second, an overview assessment of all international HIC bodies and field visits to selected regional centers and thematic networks (in Latin America, Francophone Africa and the Middle East / North Africa). In the concluding third phase, the evaluators reported their findings and workshopped them with a broader selection of HIC members during the World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi, and subsequently with a core evaluation team appointed by HIC.
2. Overview Assessment of HIC
Membership: In its long history since its establishment 30 years ago, HIC's membership has undergone many changes and developments. Initially founded by a just a few, mainly European NGOs and professionals, by 1998 it had grown to an estimated total of almost 900 members, most from the South.
During the 1990s, many new, globally active NGO networks and organizations emerged, attracting growing attention internationally. At the same time, internal conflicts deepened with changes to HIC's Presidency and the transfer of its General Secretariat from Mexico to Capetown, producing a serious crisis between 1999 an 2003. Since, then, to recover from almost complete collapse and the loss of many members, HIC has focused on internal consolidation and the rebuilding its membership base.
Although HIC’s current membership officially stands at 360 members, the evaluation findings point to an active nucleus of around 60 to 110 members, who really take an interest in HIC and actively participate in the coalition, i.e regularly attend General Assemblies, make use of their voting rights and pay their membership fees.
Overall Organizational Structure: Over the years, HIC’s organizational structure evolved into a rather complex structure, consisting of regional bodies (Regional Focal Points - RFPs), global Thematic Networks (TNs) and several issue-specific Working Groups (WGs) in a matrix-like set-up. The HIC website describes seven Regional Focal Points, three Global Thematic Networks and five issue-specific Working Groups.
The RFPs, TNs and WGs define the operational bodies, which are supposed to run all programs, projects and other content-related activities (e.g. training courses).
HIC‘s main governing bodies are the General Assembly (GA) of its members and the Board. The Board is composed of elected representatives from the different HIC bodies (i.e. the RFPs and TNs), and the President, Vice-President and Treasurer elected by all HIC-members, plus representative(s) from Social Movements who are selected and appointed by the Board itself. Due to the limitations to convene all members of a global organization in a General Assembly, the Board makes the main strategic decisions for HIC.
The General Secretariat (GS), presently based in Santiago de Chile, and the Executive Committee (composed of the President, the Vice-President, the Treasurer, the General Secretary and 3 further Board Representatives) can be described as HIC‘s "executing bodies" at the global level. In practice, the General Secretary, who also represents HIC in all legal matters and in its formal interactions with the outside world, is responsible for monitoring and coordinating implementation and follow-up of coalition initiatives. The GS is also the only body within HIC that is dedicated exclusively to HIC's global activities.
Given its huge workload and responsibilities, the present GS can be assessed as very efficient and performance-oriented. Moreover, the personal initiative and commitment of the present General Secretary were highly instrumental in the efforts to rebuild HIC after its deep institutional crisis of the early 2000s.
The President is the other, high-profile HIC representative for the outside world. He represents HIC in high-profile international events and conferences, actively participates in negotiations and deliberations with international institutions, funding agencies and other external stakeholders, and is also intensively involved in interacting and communicating with HIC members. The President also plays an important role in defining strategy and approaches to key thematic issues and internal procedures.
Regional Bodies, Thematic Networks and Working Groups: The evaluation found that in practice HIC's official organizational set-up is not really functional and inconsistently implemented:
• Of the seven Regional Focal Points, only Latin America (HIC-AL) is effectively coordinating HIC activities in the region, while the others play a more ambiguous role:
- The two Regional Focal Points in Africa (Anglophone and Francophone Africa) are hosted by local NGOs (the Mazingira Institute for Anglophone Africa and ENDA-RUP for Francophone Africa), which have their own agendas, programs and resources independent from HIC.
- The Focal Point for the MENA region is more a regional sub-program of "Housing and Land Rights Network - HLRN" than a fully functional RFP.
- The nature of the RFP for Asia is not really defined, since the "Asian Coalition on Housing Rights - ACHR", a separate and powerful regional organization, which officially stills features as HIC's Asian RFP, has defined itself as independent, although interested in cooperating with HIC, but not as the RFP.
- The two northern Focal Points in Europe and North America are suffering from a lack of resources and difficulties to relate their activities to the general HIC agenda, which focuses on issues relevant for the South.
• The only functional cross-regional Thematic Network is HLRN, which has a strong presence in the MENA region and in South Asia, and to a lesser extent in Africa and Latin America. In contrast, the "Women and Shelter Network - WAS" and the "Housing and Sustainable Environment Network - HSEN" are limited to regional initiatives (Latin America in the case of WAS and Francophone West Africa in the case of HSEN).
• The different "Working Groups" seem to be largely dysfunctional. At the time of the evaluation, none of the working groups was really operational, and it was not possible to obtain more information on their actual composition and assigned tasks.
In summary, HIC-AL and HLRN can be assessed as HIC's "powerhouses", which are making HIC really visible in their activities and campaigns:
• HIC-AL with active members in most Latin American Countries and a coordinating office in Mexico is working on a wide range of issues around human rights, emergency services, and the social production of housing. It has a comfortable and attractive documentation centre, well-used by a wide range of students, local activists and others from all over the world. It also runs several major projects, thus providing ample opportunity for collective meetings, planning, coordinated actions and reflection at the regional level.
• HLRN with its two strong regional sub-programs in the Middle East and South Asia is implementing a wide range of projects, providing training and capacity building to the members, and is also trying to develop tools and instruments for supporting and facilitating member initiatives around housing and land-related issues. Moreover, HLRN has a strong presence in lobbying and advocacy for land and housing rights within the UN-system.
All other bodies do not run their own programs or projects under the HIC-umbrella, and are thus participating on a more ad-hoc or "event" basis in overall HIC activities.
3. Main Achievements and Impacts
In its long history, HIC has contributed significantly to anchoring the rights to decent shelter, and of access to land and basic services in international resolutions and covenants, namely in interaction with UN human rights bodies and technical agencies like UNCHS-Habitat. It was instrumental in establishing or promoting them as basic human rights. Moreover, by making public numerous cases of evictions, demolitions and displacement, and by bringing them to the attention of international human rights bodies, HIC has influenced both the formulation of legal standards and norms, and their translation into policies and conceptual approaches at the international level. As a consequence, HIC has achieved international recognition and continues to enjoy a good reputation.
In contrast to its achievements internationally, HIC‘s contributions to concrete improvements of housing and living conditions of the poor at the local level, and its influence on national policy formulation and concept development have been far more limited. Only in a few countries (e.g. Mexico, Colombia or the Philippines), have individual HIC members contributed to improvements in national housing policies or practices.
By promoting an exchange of information and experience, and by its training activities, HIC has also substantially contributed to strengthening the professional qualifications and capacities of its members, who in many countries, in particular in Latin America, are among the best-known and most capable civil society organizations in the field of habitat and housing.
Having been the only globally active coalition of NGOs, academic institutions and individual experts on housing issues for a long time, more recently, i.e. over the past 10-15 years, a broad spectrum of other global or regional civil society organizations working in a wide range of thematic issues and with different conceptual approaches has developed. Many of them began as HIC off-shoots. HIC has therefore, largely unintentionally, helped to diversify and disseminate civil society initiatives in the housing sector.
Most of the above impacts were achieved in the first 25 years of HIC‘s existence. In the past five years, in contrast, HIC‘s impact on its external environment has been more limited and less visible, and its international influence seems to have suffered significantly. This most likely reflects the emergence of other globally active NGO networks and organizations, competing for attention at the international stage, and HIC's serious institutional crisis between 1999 to 2003.
4. Conclusions and Recommendations
Key challenges in a changing environment: Its future positioning and profile in an increasingly diverse environment of internationally active civil society organizations, who are working in similar fields, namely in advocacy for housing and land rights of the poor, and who are competing for attention and resources, must be considered a key challenge for HIC‘s further development and survival. So far, HIC has responded to this challenge by broadening its thematic scope and trying to address additional issues, e.g the reconstruction of shelter demolished by natural catastrophes like the Tsunami, fighting privatization of public housing, or, even broader, trying to address the impacts of globalization on habitat and housing issues, or promoting the “Right to the City”. However, with scarce resources and professional capacities to adequately address such complex issues, HIC runs the risk of diluting its activities and impacts. If it focuses too much on an “event-driven approach”, restricted to achieving resolutions, declarations and statements at prominent international conferences or dates (such as International Habitat Day) without accomplishing tangible results on the ground, it risks losing both credibility and influence.
Moreover, HIC‘s rights-based approach focusing on the UN-system, was justified in the past, but today a substantial body of legal standards, policies and conceptual approaches are enshrined in international resolutions, covenants and policy papers. Today’s main challenges therefore increasingly involve translating these international standards and resolutions into practice at the national and local level, requiring the skills and presence necessary to influence national legal standards and housing policies, and to get more involved in improving local legal practices, resource allocation and institutional development.
HIC should also address the fact that other international key actors and stakeholders outside the UN-system, such as the World Bank, the regional development banks and the EU, through their policies and funding practices have much more influence on national housing policies than the resource-strapped UN agencies.
Strategic profile and focus: The evaluators therefore recommend that HIC reviews its present very broad and diffuse range of activities, and its strong focus on UN-organizations at the international level, to identify key strategic priorities, which can be adequately addressed with the resources and capacities available, and which would help to communicate HIC‘s distinct profile amongst the increasingly diverse environment of civil society organizations functioning worldwide. It should also explore options for improved collaboration and synergies with other networks and organizations.
Strategic planning and impact orientation: To move away from the present largely “event-driven” mode of action and to develop a more strategic perspective, it is further recommended that HIC prepare a medium-term strategic plan (over 3-5 years, or the President’s term of office). The development of such a plan would also be instrumental for improving communications and cohesion within HIC, and for future fund-raising initiatives.
For both purposes, it will be important to clearly define priorities for action, their expected outputs and impacts, and appropriate indicators for monitoring and evaluation.
Organizational structure and set-up: HIC’s complex structure and the gap between its theoretical components and real practices (see above) needs to be confronted, since this affects both its ability to function well and the transparency and legitimacy of HIC's internal decision-making processes. It must be clarified and simplified to make it easier to communicate to members, potential funders and the general public.
The evaluators therefore strongly recommend a review of the present structure to bring it in line with reality. This review should take into account available resources and necessary costs (for example, for representatives to travel to key meetings) and should focus on simplifying the organization to focus on functioning regional bodies and on finding practical solutions for the largely inactive ones in Africa and Asia. Depending on real interest and contributions of members, the regional structures could be amended or complemented by thematic working groups.
In this context, and given the few genuinely global or cross-regional initiatives that HIC is currently involved in, leaders and members must analyze and define what kind of global coordinating functions are really needed, and how they could or should be shared between HIC's present only functional cross-regional structure, the Housing and Land Rights Network - HLRN, and the General Secretariat.
Internal planning and decision-making: In general, HIC's governance and internal decision-making procedures are poorly defined. In particular, HIC's constitution is rather ambiguous with regard to functions, responsibilities and powers of its different bodies, which seem to be mainly defined by a number of scattered by-laws and policy documents. Moreover, internal planning and decision-making seems to be done by a relatively small group of key actors and stakeholders, often in a rather pragmatic way without necessarily following defined procedures and rules. Although there is no obvious indication of misuse, there is a clear lack of transparency and clarity, which leaves HIC vulnerable to questioning and even crises, as events in the early 2000s revealed.
The evaluators therefore recommend streamlining the constitution, the main by-laws and other procedural rules in one single document, which clarifies and clearly communicates HIC's internal governance procedures.
We also recommend that based on overall strategic planning (see above), that HIC introduce annual coordinated and consolidated annual work plans / operational plans for all global and/or cross-regional activities, which include clearly defined expected outputs that can serve as the basis for internal monitoring and evaluation. These should be complemented by regular annual reports to the membership, including consolidated financial reports and statements.
Membership: At present, membership in HIC means neither real commitment nor tangible benefits. As a result, most members do not actively participate in joint initiatives, but rather remain silent as only nominal members.
It is therefore recommended to continue HIC's efforts to consolidate and activate its membership, focusing on quality over quantity, a strategy that would optimize resource use and maximize results. It will be particularly important to establish clear and transparent rules for members' participation in voting and decision-making processes through-out all of HIC's bodies, and the corresponding spaces for deliberation, be they virtual (via electronic means) or tangible (local, national and, less often, international, meetings). For this purpose, both members' commitments and obligations, and their rights and benefits should be clearly defined and communicated. All members should participate in formulating and receive a guide to participation in HIC that outlines their rights and responsibilities.
At the same time, to improve members’ sense of ownership of HIC and to move it toward becoming a more membership-based organization, we recommend exploring options for including tangible member contributions, either in kind or financial, in all major program or project activities at regional or global levels. These contributions can be encouraged by requiring budgeting for joint activities as a condition for membership, and by encouraging members to include resources for joint activities in their applications to external funders.
Frank Samol, Lake Sagaris and Wakio Seaforth, April 2007