NGO coordination can fulfill a wide range of functions depending on the specific requirements of a specific context. The below list of possible functions indicates what NGO coordination can involve.
In every context, it is essential to look at who or what other coordination mechanisms may be carrying out these functions or might be better placed to take on these functions. To be effective, NGO coordination must focus on priority activities, which are selected based on priority needs and gaps in the operating context. These activities also have to be clearly linked to the capacity of the members, the staff, funding, and other resources.
The below list contains possible, not mandatory, functions of an NGO coordination body, and is not exhaustive. Some NGO coordination bodies may incorporate functions not included in the list below. (This list was developed from a number of documents describing NGO coordination experiences, including the Country case studies published in Currion P. & Hedlund, K. (2011) Strength in Numbers: An Overview of NGO Coordination in the Field, ICVA.)
NGO Coordination body functions include:
Advocacy and Representation
Assessment, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning
Safety and Security
Services to Participants
Strategic Decision Making
To access the full suite of potential activities within each function area - please click here.
While these are all potential functions of NGO coordination, several specific challenges should be highlighted in relation to representation and to security.
Many stakeholders look to NGOs to represent or advocate a common position on larger coordination forums, given the very limited number of seats offered to the NGO community as a whole. Creating one voice can be beneficial and effective. However, truly shared representation amongst the hundreds of diverse NGOs present is notoriously difficult. A joint position can in reality be the position of a few NGOs; the diversity of positions may not be showcased.
It is also key to establish whether the NGO coordinating body is representing itself, or its members collectively. Members may be representing their own NGOs at the same meetings in which they are representing the coordinating body, creating confusion, if not conflict, when their NGO opinions differ from those of the coordination body.
Collaborating and working interdependently on security can be beneficial, but also carries risks. Donors have supported NGO coordination on security in various contexts. Reasons to coordinate on security include:
Capacity for security management may be low;
Cost-effectiveness/economcies of scale;
Challenges of security management for many agencies;
Benefits of common systems and procedures;
Safety in numbers;
Funding to suport a number of agencies can be provided by a donor through one source
But there are also risks, including:
Creation of dependence on others that may not be reliable, especially if funding declines;
Undermining or failing to build agency capacity;
Shared arrangements could leak out and undermine security; and
Danger of one weak link destroying the chain.
Working Groups or Sub Groups
Effective collaboration can also occur through the establishment of working groups for the NGO coordination body. Working groups could form around communications, human resources, finance, security, logistics, information management, and technical sectors (food, health, water and sanitation, etc.). Working groups are often a very effective way of sharing information, creating and agreeing common standards, and achieving efficiencies in operations.