By: Sarah Murungi, Senior Organizational Capacity Development Specialist, ABH Project

How can we help civil society organizations (CSOs) in Uganda to more effectively advocate for improved community health services? The USAID Advocacy for Better Health (ABH) project (2014-2019) is designed to do just that – empower communities, advocate for better services, and strengthen civil society capacity to provide quality services. Twenty-one civil society organizations, four national and seventeen district level, have received grants from ABH to implement the project.

As a partner to PATH, Initiatives is responsible for capacity development. Initiatives designed its first Organizational Capacity Assessment in 2006 and has, over time, tailored it to the needs of new projects. For ABH, Initiatives worked with PATH to create the Organizational Advocacy and Capacity Assessment (OACA). Supporting the two main themes of the project, the OACA helps CSOs identify and address gaps in management systems and advocacy strategies. The combination strengthens CSOs’ overall ability to meet community health and social service needs.

Initial assessments were facilitated by a team of staff and consultants trained on the OACA process and tools. Each assessment lasted four days; to date, 18 assessments have been conducted. The assessments resulted in action plans to guide CSOs to prioritize actions toward improvement, with clear timelines and assigned responsibility. To review progress and new challenges, OACAs are conducted annually over the life of the five-year project.

The OACA was a great experience for facilitators, CSO staff, and board members. It was the first time many were exposed to the participatory process and tools, and able to discuss in a multi-disciplinary setting their current strengths and areas of weakness. Their own rankings helped CSOs develop strategies for improvement. “Loved how thorough and transparent the process was. The OACA really helped us reflect on our strengths and weaknesses as an entire organization.” – ACODEV

Many CSOs found the process very detailed and appreciated its participatory nature, including the ability to facilitate objective scoring. “Enables open discussion sessions where each member’s ideas were considered.” – JIACOFE 

Others found it to be a helpful team-building exercise. “I appreciated the willingness of staff to participate and build consensus during the assessment.” – CEHURD 

The project is currently supporting CSOs to address their prioritized areas identified in their action plans.