February 26th 2019 webinar on “Designing a Better System for SMOs: Lessons Learned from the Call for Preliminary Proposals for Small and Medium-Sized Organizations for Impact and Innovation”
The text below is a transcription from the presentations that were given by Global Affairs Canada, the Albert Council for Global Cooperation and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) during the webinar held February 26th 2019 Designing a Better System for SMOs: Lessons Learned from the Call for Preliminary Proposals for Small and Medium-Sized Organizations for Impact and Innovation.
Heather McPherson: Welcome everyone, thank you for joining us. My name is Heather McPherson and I’m the Executive Director of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation. On behalf of Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and the Inter-Council Network, I’d like to welcome you to our webinar.
This webinar is being offered as part of an ongoing joint effort of sharing information and build link capacity on timely subject matters with members and our sector colleagues. This particular webinar is entitled “Designing a Better System for SMOs: Lessons Learned from the Call for Preliminary Proposals for Small and Medium-Sized Organizations for Impact and Innovation.” Though as the title states, today’s webinar will explore what we’ve learned from the recent SMO call for proposals, and we’ll get some insight on both the councils and how Global Affairs will work together and with the SMO community across Canada to ensure its subsequent calls continue to improve and develop throughout this pilot project.
Joining me on this webinar will be Gavin Charles from CCIC. Gavin is the policy officer at the Canadian Council for International Cooperation; he focuses on humanitarian policy and advocacy, strengthening partnerships throughout the international cooperation sector, and promoting and enabling an environment for civil society.
We also have on Vaughn Lantz from Global Affairs Canada. Vaughn is the Director of the Business Intelligence and Process Division, part of the Partnerships for Development, Innovation area of Global Affairs Canada. As we all know, Vaughn’s been an enormous ally for the sector and has demonstrated time and time again a real desire to build partnerships and increase the effectiveness across the sector, so we’re delighted that Vaughn’s agreed to join us.
Before I hand over the initial presentation to Vaughn, I just have a few logistics that I’d like to go over. We are going to be doing a short presentation between 30 and 40 minutes, and will have about 20 minutes after that for a question and answer period. There will be a chat box on the screen that you can see and you can type your questions in there. At the time of the Q&A, we’ll read out the questions that have the highest number of people participating on them.
Our francophone participants are welcome to post questions in French. If there are any participants that would currently like to hear the webinar, it is also being offered in French. Just so you know, the PowerPoint presentation today will be in English, though we will be sending out all presentations to the participants in both French and English following the presentation. You’ll also be asked to fill out a satisfaction evaluation and once you’ve done that, of course, you’ll be able to get the transcript and the PDF of the presentation. So, to start I’d like to invite Vaughn to begin.
Vaughn: Okay, thank you Heather and thank you everyone for joining us for this discussion today. My understanding is we do have the translation taking place simultaneously but we’re just having a few technical problems with that.
Gavin: So all call in numbers are now in the chat box.
Gavin: So if people would like to listen in French, those numbers are available there. They’re also in your confirmation emails for this call. Hopefully that will get everyone.
Vaughn: Okay so we’ve got that resolved now. That’s great. First of all, just to say, I appreciate the collaboration of Canadian Council for International Cooperation and the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation with respect to this webinar. Very, very pleased that we’re able to do this collaboratively.
The focus of today is going to be on lessons learned from the first call for proposals under the small and medium-sized organizations initiative-the development impact call, that initiative through which we launched the original call for proposals. I’m going to talk a little bit later about some of the other initiatives under this overall initiative. The other thing we’re going to talk about a little later Heather mentioned is a survey and we have some great results from the survey, and we’re going to talk with you about some of the follow-up actions with respect to your feedback.
Today’s webinar is going to be very much looking backwards with respect to experiences from that first call for proposals. We will do a future webinar with respect to the second call for proposals under the small and medium-sized organizations initiative, the development impact initiative portion of that, so stay tuned for that. We’ll do that once we’ve launched that call. Just one last thing to say before we get into some of the substance: the transcript of today’s webinar will be available in French and English and we will post that on the Global Affairs Canada website. If you cannot come in for some reason in terms of the time for today’s call or if you’re not able to hear the French for some reason, again the transcript will be in both English and French.
The other thing is we may not have time to get to all the questions. If that’s the case, we will be still collecting the questions that you submit and we will respond to those online so that when you see the transcript, you will have all the questions available in French and English but even the ones that we don’t have a chance to get to during the webinar.
SMO Pilot Initiative
So just a little bit of background, if you were able to pull up the slide presentation, the third slide focuses on the background on the SMO pilot initiative. I’ll just have that come up on screen now. If we go to slide 3- there were are. Just a little bit of background- the SMO pilot initiative is a $100 million initiative over five years. It is very much a pilot initiative and I want to stress that because this process will continue to evolve. We started with the first call- I think we made some great progress there. We have an excellent response rate to that. But as we move forward, we’re going to continue tweaking this process, so that really speaks to the importance of the feedback from you both through the survey and through initiatives such as today’s.
The focus of the $100 million initiative was on not only creating development impact but also very much:
- Diversifying our partnerships
- Reaching out to new organizations we’ve not traditionally worked with
- Provide a bit more predictability with respect to funding for small, medium-sized organizations working in the development field.
The initiative consists of three different parts:
- First the development impact initiative which is focused on creating impact overseas in developing countries.
- There is also though a capacity-building initiative that the Albert Council for Global Cooperation will be leading.
- And an innovation initiative, and the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation will be leading that.
SMO Development Impact Call Overview
So there are two other parts and we’ll talk about those a little bit later. So if we look at slide 4, I think one of the key things from a Global Affairs’ perspective in terms of lessons learned is there was a very, very high level of demand with respect to the first call for proposals- 196 applications- very much exceeded our expectations with respect to what we thought we were going to get. That equalled a total ask of about $280 million, which is about 10 times the envelope we had allocated for that call.
We’re seeing that same trend in other calls for proposals. We recently closed a couple of other calls, one on G7, and another one on the Volunteer Cooperation Program, and we had another one last year with respect to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. In every case, there’s been a very high demand and that demand has far exceeded the amount of funding that we’ve had available. That’s great news in terms of the level of interest in the calls, but what it does mean is that ultimately there are going to be a large number of organizations that will not be able to be successful. It’s a competitive process and in this case, highly competitive with respect to the number of applicants.
One of the things we did in the first call in order to respond to that high level of demand is originally we had been planning to do four calls, we took the funding from the fourth call and moved that forward so we actually increased the amount of funding that was available in the first call for proposals. Our sense is that was a good approach with respect to trying to meet some of that demand, but ultimately the amount of demand was far too high for us to be able to respond to all of them.
The other thing I would say that is key from what we saw in the first call, is that there’s a great diversity in terms of the applications not only with respect to the thematic areas covered, but also the geographic scope and the mix of experience in terms of programming experience with Global Affairs Canada.
- About one third of the organizations that were successful had had no previous experience with Global Affairs Canada
- About another third had had some work with us in the past but not for several years
- The final third had had some recent programming with us.
So in terms of trying to meet that objective of diversifying our partnerships, I think it’s clear that we’ve been successful in that regard.
SMO 1: Proposal Assessment Process
Turn to the next slide. Just to cover off a little bit about the process that we undertook. Three main parts: eligibility, merit assessment, and best fit.
This is a normal process we go through with respect to how we assess and it really is something that we think gives us a really good opportunity to find the best proposals. These steps are listed on the call page so if you see eligibility in terms of what we’re assessing there, it’s really looking at things such as duration of programming, geographic focus in some cases- not in this case but in other cases, some calls, lot of specific geographic focus- cost sharing is something we look at here, and the type of organization. That is something that was key here because this call was focused on small and medium-sized organizations. That is not the case with all of our calls so in other cases, for example, with the G7 Education for Girls call, we did not have that as a criterion.
One of the key things here is to make sure that you look very closely at the type of criteria that we’re assessing. If we state it as criteria, we will be enforcing that criterion because it’s specific to the call that we launched.
In terms of merit, there are some links on the website which can give you a sense of how we assess your proposal for merit. And then if we look at the final step, we call it the best fit analysis, it really is looking at which are the best proposals that meet the criteria that we’ve got out there, and what we’ve seen in this call and what we have seen in other calls recently as there are more organizations that passed the eligibility and the merit assessment than we could possibly hope to fund. So that final step is important in terms of normally ranking proposals but more importantly looking at some other criteria, for example, what you will see with many calls today is that we’re emphasizing programming in Sub-Saharan Africa. So what we’ll see on a lot of call pages is that there will be a certain percentage allocated to what we would like to see for Sub-Saharan Africa programming, so that’s really important.
In terms of some lessons on eligibility, one of the things that’s important for everyone to know is about 30% of the applicants were not deemed to be eligible. That has to do with a number of different factors; in some cases, the organizations were not actually small and medium-sized organizations, they were much larger and didn’t fit under the criteria. In some cases, they provided programming of a different duration than what we were looking for, or they had provided programming experience but did not demonstrate any relevant experience.
Those are all different ways in which organizations were not successful in the eligibility step. Again, I think the key thing here is to read very carefully what the criteria are, and make sure that you’ve aligned with those criteria with respect to what you’re submitting. In some cases, it’s possible that organizations submitted proposals that they had prepared for a different call or a different initiative and were hoping that they could submit under this as well, but the chances of being successful in that regard are generally very low because if you’ve provided something that was designed for a different purpose, it’s probably not going to be relevant to the type of call that we’re running here. The other thing I would say in terms of eligibility is don’t leave it to the last minute; if you rush in terms of actually submitting your proposal, chances are you may have missed something in terms of the documentation to be submitted.
We do see quite frequently, as the team is looking at the online submission portal, that organizations are starting to provide their proposal within an hour before the deadline for the call closing. That’s not giving yourself enough time. Our recommendation is start submitting days in advance, not hours in advance or minutes in advance. It’s really, really important to give yourself sufficient time to make sure you’ve got all the documents in.
SMO 1: Lessons on Eligibility
If we look at the next slide: merit assessment. Most organizations that did not do well on the merit assessment had two specific problems: one with respect to managing results and outlining the theory of change associated with their proposal; and the second with respect to responding to risks. Those were two key areas that we saw and in both cases it was about 40% of organizations that did not pass this. Those are two very key areas and they’re key not only for your application, but ultimately for the implementation of your project. If there are weaknesses with respect to managing results or responding to risks, that is a problem not just with respect to your application but ultimately it’s going to affect the success of your program down the road.
Lessons: Managing for results, responding to Risk, GE and Human Rights, Environment
If we look at the next couple of slides, we’re not going to go through this in detail. You can see the bullets on the page. There’s some advice there with respect to how to be more successful with respect to managing for results. Similarly if we look at the next page, a few lessons and some advice there with respect to how to be more successful with respect to responding to risks.
Happy to take some questions with respect to those areas, but ultimately, results and risks are incredibly important and it’s important that you focus your application in a way that demonstrates you have capacity in those areas. The next couple of slides provide some information with respect to a few other areas where we saw some weaknesses. One was on gender equality, another on human rights. I’d say the key takeaway here in both cases is when you do your consultations with local partners, make sure that you capture the input that is provided and demonstrate how that input is reflected in the proposal that you provided to us.
Then finally with respect to the merit assessment, one of the things that is key is looking at the environmental impact of your proposal. This is a legislative requirement from the Government of Canada to ensure that our programming does not have a negative environmental impact, and we need to ensure that the proposals we fund demonstrate that very clearly. If there is any form of construction, even renovation or any sort of initiative that might produce waste, you need to understand very clearly how that would be dealt with and ensure that there is no environmental impact in order for us to be able to proceed. If there is a negative environmental impact that is not mitigated, we will not be able to approve the project.
Next slide. Stakeholder engagement. This is an area where we’re increasingly active. We’ve been doing a number of webinars; this is one of many. I’ve indicated several of them on the slide. You’re going to start to see more and more of this. Every time we launch a call, we’re basically going to be looking for some form of webinar in addition to what we’ve indicated on the call page. So, stay tuned for that. There will be a webinar coming up with respect to the second call for proposals for small and medium-sized organizations. In every case when we do a webinar, we post the transcript including the answers to all the questions. Our sense is that that gives everyone a good opportunity to hear what we have to say, to hear what people have asked and what our responses are. And by posting it on the web, we want to ensure that everyone has equal access to that whether or not they were able to make the call or the webinar when it takes place.
The other thing we’ve been doing is debriefs with partners that passed the merit assessment. We would love to be in a situation where we can do that with every applicant; we simply do not have the human resources to do that, especially when we look at some of the recent calls where we had 196 applicants for this one, 75 for the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, and a large number of applicants for the recent calls.
It’s really a question of where we focus our resources and we’re focused on very much ensuring that the processes proceed. So what we will do, and we’ll be happy doing, is in cases where an applicant is not eligible or is not able to pass the eligibility criteria, we will indicate in a letter what that resulted from. If an organization is not successful at the merit assessment stage, again, we will indicate in the letter why that was, where the weaknesses were. It’s only when organizations get to the best fit, where they’ve passed merit as well as eligibility that we’re looking to have a conversation with respect to how come they didn’t make that final cut.
When we did have those conversations, we did receive some interesting feedback. There was feedback with respect to the forms and some difficulties with respect to filling out some of those forms. We’re tracking that; we’re making changes to those forms. It really is just a question of looking at all the organizations that passed merit and trying to determine how we sort through those that come up with the ones that are most likely to be successful in terms of impact.
We will also be looking at some of the other criteria we have with respect to gender equality, with respect to Sub-Saharan Africa- so if you see those on the call page, it probably means that those are things that we’ll assess at the end of the process to determine organizations that will or will not get funded. If we see five proposals that are successful from one country, we may not take all five. We may look at a broader geographic spread. If we see a large number of proposals that are successful for programming that is proposed in Asia and we don’t have enough for Africa, we may give preference then to the Sub-Saharan Africa proposals. We’re truly looking at things such as that.
During the debriefs, some organizations asked if there could be provincial quota’s. We’re not inclined to go in that direction because ultimately we want the decisions to be based on merit and we do not want to be in a situation where we have not proceeded with a project for one province and gone with a weaker proposal from a different province. Ultimately that’s not the basis for the decision we want to make. Frankly, it’s not clear to me how we would come up with a quota for each province that everyone would find acceptable.
Some applicants wanted Global Affairs Canada to provide them with specific advice on how to rewrite their proposals and actually sit down with them to do so. To be frank, we cannot do that. Ultimately, this is a competitive process in which you need to submit a proposal that is in your own words. If we sit down and collaborate with you, we have to do that with everyone and ultimately then, we’re judging our proposal, not yours. So, we will not be sitting down and rewriting proposals with you. It really has to be your proposal, not ours. And finally, some organizations wanted to know if the feedback would provide for any further evolution of the process. The answer is absolutely yes. This process will continue to evolve, will continue to get better and we’ll be looking forward to continuing that as we go through future calls.
Finally, on stakeholder engagement, we did have a recent survey. Heather will be speaking to that with respect to participants in the call. We had some really useful guidance; I’ll speak to that after in terms of how we responded to some of that, but I think the survey from our perspective was quite useful and successful.
Final thoughts from me in terms of next steps: we’ll be coming out with decisions on the first call for proposals very shortly. Once those decisions are communicated, we’ll be launching the second call for small and medium-sized organizations. We also have a couple of other initiatives that I mentioned earlier that will be coming up; the innovation call which is going to be run by the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation will be launched shortly. Manitoba’s already been contracted by Global Affairs Canada to do that. Then, the capacity and knowledge-building initiative which will be run by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation will also begin shortly and I understand that there is an agreement- it’s just been signed. So, lots of things are about to happen, and I think we can make progress. With that, I’m going to pass it back to Gavin and Heather.
SMO Call for Preliminary Proposals: Survey Results
Gavin: perfect. Thanks so much, Vaughn, for that overview. And we have started to get some questions coming in, so that’s great to see and I’m looking forward to that conversation in the latter part of the session. So we’ll just pull up a new presentation here- second presentation- discussing the survey that was conducted by CCIC and the inter-council network. This survey reached out to, as we see on the next slide here, over 100 respondents. But the total reach was four times that, roughly, across the nine councils- the national council, CCIC, and the membership of the provincial and regional councils across the country. We were really pleased to have respondents from each of those nine councils and we could have a good representation across the country. Of the 116 respondents, 84 of those were applicants to the SMOs call.
It’s interesting to see that there was actually a significant interest in responding to the survey from people who didn’t apply to the call. And there are certainly lessons to be learned from that as well. We can talk about that in a moment.
- 80% of those who did respond had or were representing organizations of 15 staff or fewer. It really was appealing to the small and medium organizations that the call seems to reach. Of those that didn’t apply- that indicated that they had not applied, the three main reasons for that were capacity, awareness and a recognition that they didn’t qualify. So that indicates the reasons why organizations would not participate in this process, recognizing that the number of organizations that did participate in the process may not have qualified either.
- Interestingly, the vast majority- over 90%, in fact, of the proposals that were submitted by the respondents to the survey corresponded to the gender equality action area of Feminist International Assistance Policy. So we asked respondents to self-declare which action areas their proposals apply to, and the predominant response was really around gender equality while at the same time a number of the other action areas were reflected in those same proposals.
- The survey asked respondents to identify what resources they found useful in terms of engaging in this process. And one of the striking results is that nearly 2/3 of the respondents, 62%, consulted the Global Affairs Canada website on the call at least six times. There was a real interest in learning what was in play and what was required of this call.
- More than 80% of the respondents found the website at least somewhat effective in addressing their concerns. There were a number of guidance notes issued in relation to this call, and of those guidance notes, those on theory of change, results-based management and gender equality were noted as particularly useful by respondents. It should be noted, though, that although respondents heavily consulted the theory of change and RBM guides, those were identified as areas where even more guidance would be helpful going forward. They were consulting, they were looking, and they were still noting that there was an opportunity for additional support. Speaking to the concerns that Vaughn had raised in terms of the difficulty that some applicants experienced around managing risk, ¼ of respondents directly identified managing risk as an area where they recognized that they may have fallen short and so that would be an interesting area to focus on in terms of further exploration. I’ll pass it over to Heather to continue the presentation.
Heather: Perfect. So I’ll just go through a little bit more of the survey results and then we’ll open it up to Q and A’s. Like I said, a lot of this is in the document we would have sent out to you and we will be sending it out to you following the webinar as well. But I wanted to just go through and talk a little bit about some of the questions we asked around the level of effort and the resources that we mobilized.
- So we do know that 40%, almost 50% of respondents, and 100% of the respondents who submitted the preliminary call for proposals felt that the call was much more effort relative to other funding processes. That said, we also had 25% that felt that it was the same or even slightly less effort than other calls for proposals that they had seen. It’s important that we recognize that.
- We also need to understand too that we had about 50%, 51% of organizations that spent between 76 and 150 people hours on developing the proposal, so that works out across the 78 organizations to be about 8,000- in between 8,000 and 13,000 human hours or people hours spent developing these proposals.
- Then financially in terms of the resources mobilized, the organizations- the 78 organizations who completed this part of the survey said that they spent around $620,000 in completing this application. If we sort of spread that out to those 196 organizations that applied, that does work out to about $1.5 million in proposal development.
I think it’s important that we recognize that there was a significant amount of effort put into preparing these proposals and doing them. We’ve certainly shared this with Global Affairs Canada. I think it’s also useful to recognize as well that the enormous number of applicants for this first call for proposals represented a significant investment of Global Affairs- time and effort as well going through those proposals and responding to them. I think when we look at this; one of the positive things that I take away from this is that we very clearly have a strong SMO sector with a lot of absorptive capacity. What that means for me is that as a pilot project, this is a really good response to be able to then say moving forward, obviously there is a strong sector that is very interested in participating and that are very keen on being engaged and in partnership with Global Affairs Canada. I think that’s a really positive thing to move forward out of this pilot process.
Key Messages for Global Affairs Canada
Can I have the next slide, Gavin? Thank you. So what we did is we went through and we sort of pulled out some of the key messages that we had for Global Affairs Canada and then some of the key messages that the provincial and regional councils and CCIC took away as well for our next actions forward. What I’ll do is I’ll really quickly go through some of the key messages from Global Affairs Canada. But basically, that there was an opportunity to improve the process and build the capacity of SMOs- was one of our key messages that we have coming out of this survey. Obviously there are a few things that we’d really like to see differently:
- Not announcing calls during the holiday season – that made it very challenging for small medium organizations to work with partners who may or may not have been off for that holiday season.
- Making sure that there is a process that represents small and medium capacity and what they can provide, I guess, is also very important.
- One of the things that we highlighted was to provide very intentional and ongoing training for SMOs to help them better develop their organizational development and technical skills. So obviously as Vaughn mentioned, this is something that we’ll be moving forward with- our capacity building funding so that we will be working nationally with SMOs to increase that capacity and improve that ability as well.
- The second key message was that the call wasn’t necessarily that concept note that we were expecting and that we had hoped for – that it took a lot of energy, a lot of time for organizations to complete and that was a little mismatched with the expectations that organizations had. There were lots of suggestions that this be more of a concept note at the first stage, and then subsequent stages could have a little more meat to them I guess. Certainly we heard that not having a budget wasn’t really correct- you still needed to make one in order to complete this application. So it wasn’t as easy as we would have liked to see and I think that that’s something Global Affairs has certainly taken away. We’ve heard from Vaughn that that’s something that they will be moving forward with in the next call.
- The next one is that SMOs will require greater guidance and support in the application process. I do want to just flag here as well that, of course, that’s the case and, of course, we want to make sure that we provide as much organizational support and small and medium organizations get as much support as they can for this. But we also do within the sector have to recognize that we have a responsibility to put these proposals together as well. One of the things that was noted within the survey is that there needed to be enhanced, existing, and development of new guidance notes and training on the theory of change, on results-based management, managing and responding to risks, organizational ability in particular, as well as on gender equality, human rights, environmental sustainability in general. So we heard from Vaughn, we heard from Gavin – these are ones that are very, very clearly articulated by the sector. I think it’s important to recognize as well that this was the very first call- the first time that most organizations had seen the theory of change within an application. Being able to provide some support for that, I think is really important. I think it’s useful to note that again that capacity building that we’ll be doing for small and medium organizations nationally will be able to address some of that and help organizations understand the theory of change and some of the particular topics a little bit better.
- There were some notes on making sure that the application forms functioned properly, what to do when they don’t, clarity on thematic and country priorities if possible, allowing GAC to signal when forms are not submitted properly so we did have some applicants that didn’t make it through the very first stage because they had the wrong signature or something very, very small, and there was some suggestion that that could be managed a little bit better.
- Then, of course, the enhanced communication: increased communication between all stakeholders is needed. We did hear and we’ll touch on this a little bit later on, but the idea that we needed better communication from the councils but also better communication from Global Affairs Canada – the idea that even knowing that there’s going to be a delay is really important because it allows organizations to manage their planning, manage their human resource allocations, manage their funding and their financial contributions a little bit better. I think that’s definitely something that all of us have heard and will be moving forward on for sure.
- Some of the things that I guess I should just point out that came out of the recommendations around communication was that for any given call, communicate the number of successful proposals that they’re expecting. That’s very challenging, of course, because it’s very difficult to know how many proposals that we would be able to expect or Global Affairs would be expecting to receive. There are also some challenges about being able to provide one-on-one communication and very detailed communication to individual applicants considering the huge number of applications and what the implications would be then for Global Affairs Canada to do that. So there was some recommendations that we would be able to have organizations request explicit and clear feedback on where their proposal fell short and I know Vaughn ’s going to touch on this but just the idea that knowing the number of applicants, knowing the timeframes we’re working in, sometimes that’s a little bit difficult to do.
Key Messages for the councils for International Cooperation
The next slide- Gavin, if you wouldn’t mind- will touch just a little bit on the recommendations for the councils and some of the things that we found from the survey. The communication and sharing of information on Global Affairs Canada’s considerations, expectations, eligibility, selection criteria and timelines. So far as we’re able to do that.
Again, there are over 400 organizations that are represented within the councils and so, of course, being able to do that directly is often a little bit of a challenge, but we certainly see that and want to make sure that communication channels are there as much as possible. Another thing that was brought to our attention is that we represent SMOs and advocate on behalf of SMOs, I think that this is an example of how that has happened, that we are working with Global Affairs, that we are trying to share some of the findings we come with the sector and we will continue to do that. It’s certainly something I know, that all of my colleagues see as one of our key roles.
The third point is providing learning and training opportunities. So again, something that the provincial and regional councils and the Canadian council all see as one of our key roles, and, of course, will be a huge part of the capacity building training moving forward. I know there was a question earlier about whether that would be available nationally: absolutely it will be available nationally. This survey provided us with a lot of great insight into what those training priorities are.
So knowing that we really want to move quite quickly on the theory of change, on gender-based analysis, on risk management, environmental sustainability- all of what we heard from this survey will inform how we roll out the training through the capacity building in the coming months. Stay tuned. we’ll be providing learning and training opportunities out of the park, we hope.
The next one was facilitating partnerships amongst member organizations. I do know that there are discussions going forward on how that can be better done and how we can provide that support.
Then again, the last one: the providing space to offer more direct support to individual organizations. I think this is really useful and I do just want to give that caveat that we all, councils, represent- all councils work with our members individually and support our organizations as well as we can. We have limits on what we have available in terms of human resources and, of course, we do want to also note that this is our perception that we’re sharing with you and our interpretation. We don’t have that 100% ability to say this is exactly what Global Affairs is looking for and this is exactly how they’re evaluating. That’s not our role, of course. That’s a little bit of information we got.
I was really happy with the survey. What it did is it gave us, it gave the councils, it gave Global Affairs Canada some really key next steps on how to improve the process and how to continue to build this pilot into something that I think we can all say is a very, very successful initiative. I’m going to pass it back to Vaughn very quickly to just comment a little bit on next steps, and then we will start responding to some of that Q and A’s.
Vaughn: okay, thanks Heather. I’m only going to say three things because I want to make sure we’ve got some time for those questions. First thing I’m going to say: in addition to capacity building, I think one of the things that organizations may want to look at going forward that if you recognize that you’ve got some gaps in terms of your experience or capacity, consider bringing in that experience from outside or form a partnership with another organization that maybe can bring that experience. For example, if there are some weaknesses on results-based management, on risk management, on financial management which is a really key area as well, look at partnering with another organization that can bring that experience to the application and to the eventual implementation of the project.
Second point: We’ve made some changes subsequent to the first SMO call. We now provide advanced notice of approximately eight weeks before a call is launched; that gives you plenty of time to recognize that there is something coming up and maybe even look at partnerships or maybe reach out to some partners overseas. Calls as well are open at least six weeks. So eight weeks’ notice, then once the call is launched, at least six weeks for you to prepare your proposal and do your consultation. You’re looking at several months of lead time. If in that overall period of eight weeks plus six weeks, we overlap with a holiday, we will extend that period of six weeks to accommodate and provide for some additional time recognizing that over Easter, over Christmas, you wouldn’t have necessarily had time to focus on that. Given the length of time we’ve got for this process, the odds of it crossing over a holiday are very high.
Then finally, regarding the call for concepts. We have been developing a process internally through which we could potentially launch a call for concepts. Our intention is to move towards that for a future call. When you see the notice, do have a look for that because at some point in the future, it’s quite likely we are going to move to trying a call for concepts. Stay tuned for that. I won’t say which one at this point in time, but at some point we will indeed be trying that process. That’s what I have. Gavin, over to you in terms of questions we’ve got coming in.
Questions and Answers
Gavin: perfect, thanks so much Vaughn. Thanks Heather as well. We’ve had a good number of questions coming in and please do keep them coming as you reflect on what you’ve heard over the course of the webinar so far.
Q - Vaughn, one of the questions that came in was around timelines and certainly in respect to the next call and we’ve just addressed that. Folks are wondering if there’s any greater clarity that can be provided in terms of when the final results of the first call would be available.
A - Vaughn: I think the answer to that is very, very soon. It has been a, I’d recognize, lengthy process. One of the things that we did not anticipate at the front end was the number of applicants; that’s why it took so long with respect to the first part of the process. For the second part of the process with respect to this final stage, it’s taken longer than anticipated because we did have to go back to several organizations seeking clarity with respect to some of the items in the budget and with respect to some of the items in the performance measurement framework. In some cases, we’ve had to go back several times. That has unfortunately slowed us down with respect to the final step, so if you’re an organization that’s in that final stage, we recognize you’d like to have that final indication of success or not, but it has been labour-intensive with some of the partners that we were looking to get information from for that final stage.
Q - Gavin: You said this already but just to clarify, the second call won’t happen until the first one is completed, correct?
Vaughn: the second call will not happen until the first one is determined and communicated because organizations that are successful in the first call under the small and medium-sized organizations initiative will not be eligible to apply under the second call. If you’re successful in the first round, you will be excluded from applying for the second round.
Q - Gavin: another set of questions is around assessment and particularly around best fit, which you already spoke to, and then a specific question around environmental sustainability as it relates to training-based projects. So where the project itself I suppose is about capacity development or training and how should the environmental sustainability criterion be approached?
A- Vaughn : I think training is a relatively safe area. Where organizations get into difficulty is if they are dealing with anything that can involve a renovation or a construction, or if there is the use of material, let’s say medical waste or something like that, then organizations can get into difficulties on the environmental side. Obviously if you’re doing training with respect to some of those areas, you might want to consider environmental mitigation measures for organizations that are going to be implementing things based on your training. But ultimately if the project itself is not undertaking any activities that could have a negative environmental impact, I think you’re on a fairly safe track. There is guidance with respect to environmental assessment processes on our website; I would suggest to have a look at that really closely. If you have any questions, submit that question during a call process and we will respond on the web so that not only you but everyone else can see what the answer to that is.
Q - Gavin: a question that Heather might wish to speak to as well- and actually there are a couple of questions along these lines- thinking about the threshold for annual international expenses that was applicable in this case and whether any revisions to that would be considered.
A related question is around small and medium organizations; so thinking about whether Global Affairs and/or the councils would do an assessment of the breakdown in terms of how many agreements are made with small organizations versus medium organizations, and whether that would factor in to a potential recalibration of the program going forward. I don’t know if you want to start, Vaughn.
A - Vaughn : yeah I’m not sure I understand the question on national versus international expenses so that might be something where I’ll want to have a better understanding of the question. On the small versus medium, I don’t think we’re looking at this point in time of doing any recalibration of the definition. We are really trying to reach out to the organizations that are sufficiently small that they might have a disadvantage in applying to a normal call for proposals such as the education for girls, or the volunteer cooperation program. So this is really our attempt to try and involve a group of organizations that would not normally be of sufficient scale that they’d be able to take on a larger initiative. So that’s really where we’re trying to go and our sense is we were quite successful in doing that which is evidenced by the large number of organizations that applied.
I know that there has been some feedback received with respect to perhaps broadening the definition of medium in order to involve larger organizations than what we’re currently doing on the first call. I don’t think we’re prepared to go in that direction simply because we’ve already got such a large number of proposals and again, the objective is to reach out to organizations that are smaller than those that would normally be successful under a larger call.
Gavin: Heather, did you want to speak at all to that?
A - Heather: the only thing I would add to it is that as we’ve mentioned, this is a pilot so, of course, we will do sort of scan afterwards and an evaluation of whether or not those lines were drawn in the right place. I’m inclined to think when we get 196 applicants for the very first call, that they were drawn in the right place. That’s my take on that.
Q - Gavin: a lot of questions coming in around the notion of a call for concepts and thinking about how that might be different from a call for preliminary proposals- wondering if you might have anything more to add to your thinking around where that might be going and what you’re hearing.
A - Vaughn : So if and when we move in that direction, there will be costs and benefits. The benefit is that- let me just outline what the process might look like. If it’s a call for concepts, it would have two stages: there would be a concept paper that would be requested. We would then screen against the concept paper, and only organizations that are screened in would be asked to do a proposal. It’s not the case that you would be able to be ultimately successful without having to provide a proposal. We have to have sufficient information to know what the proposal looks like, what the results of that will be, what the allocation of the financial inputs will be, how risk will be assessed, etc.
Ultimately, any successful organization is still going to have to provide a proposal. The plus though is that organizations that are screened out at the concept stage will not have to have done the full proposal before being screened out. So for organizations that are not successful, there will be a saving of time and effort with respect to the process and I think that’s the real plus of the call for concepts approach. The downside is though because there are two steps, the process could take longer. That is very much a downside because we have to go through the process of assessing the concept paper and then later we have to go through the process of assessing the proposal. For proponents, it’s possible that the process could take slightly longer than would be the case with a one-step process.
Q - Gavin: Heather, would you like to speak to that balance in terms of the concept note and the preliminary proposal?
A - Heather: No I think that what Vaughn has said is sufficient. I think that we saw that it was a little bit heavy on the first call and we’re going to be revisiting that- Global Affairs is going to be revisiting that.
Q - Gavin: a couple of people are wondering about the upcoming federal election and how you see that playing into a timeline for the second SMO call?
A - Vaughn : So during the federal election, once a writ is dropped, we generally do not seek large approvals during that period of time including approvals to proceed with calls for proposals. But before the writ is dropped, it’s business as usual. So calls are taking place right now and new approvals to launch calls are being sought. As long as we get those approvals before the writ is dropped for the next election, we can proceed. The actual running of a call can take place during an election period because there is not involvement of ministers in that process itself; that is run by officials once we get approval from a minister to actually launch a call. It’s quite likely that we will see the launch of the second SMO call for proposals before the election and the actual production of the applications and assessment of the applications could take place while the election is taking place. I don’t see a significant implication for us in terms an election call or potentially this summer.
Q - Gavin: a question on what organizations can do in terms of supporting and accelerate its process; as we look to the second call and we think about the various stages of approval and then the final step of getting agreements signed which is still underway for the first call, what can organizations do at their own level to ensure that they’re ready to support Global Affairs in moving that process along as quickly as possible?
A - Vaughn : I think there are a few things: first, when you see the notice, start working immediately because the notice will give you a sense of what we’re going to be looking for and when the call will be launched. Don’t wait until the launch, start your preparation early and recognize that if you’ve got some weaknesses, reach out to other organizations to either build your capacity or involve organizations that could potentially enhance your capacity. I think the second thing is do not wait until the last minute to submit your application through the portal. We have had situations where organizations have done so and then we get a lot of back and forth in terms of “well we had a technical issue at 11:59 and we weren’t able to come in, can we talk about that?” We’d rather not be in a situation where we have to engage in conversations about that.
Ultimately, your accountability and responsibility is to make sure your application is submitted on time. You will have had several months lead time to do so, so please make sure that you do not leave it until the last minute and that you get all of your forms proofread, double-checked before you submit. Finally, looking at the quality of your application – making sure that there are not issues that are going to require back and forth later in the process. I mentioned in terms of what we’ve been doing in the last few months is having to go back and forth with organizations where information was unclear in the budget or in the performance measurement framework. Again, if there are capacity weaknesses there, enhance that capacity or involve another organization that has that capacity so that we can make a quick assessment based on the best quality of documents you can provide us.
Q - Gavin: we have just a couple more minutes so try to get in a couple more questions before we close. One question relates to as we move forward and we start developing a bit of a collection of good practice in terms of these processes, would some of those good examples be potentially shareable? Would we be able to draw on some of the good examples, good applications from round 1 in round 2, round 3 as kind of case studies that future applicants could draw from as they try to learn and improve their applications?
A - Vaughn: It’s a great question. We have considered that. I think that clearly we would not be able to share the applications themselves because there would be some commercial confidentiality related to that. In terms of models that were not specific to an application: maybe we could think about that. But again, it ultimately is going to be the case that an application with respect to one sector will probably have some different features as compared to an application from a different sector. I wouldn’t want to skew the next call in terms of we put forward sort of a notional idea of what a good proposal looks like and it’s an environmental proposal and everyone thinks, “Oh, if I provide something on the environment that’s great.” We’re wanting to see a good geographic spread, a good spread across thematic areas, so ultimately I think again it’s up to the applicant to write something consistent with the criteria.
Those criteria may change. The process may change as well. What we did during SMO 1 will not necessarily involve the same process as SMO 2. I wouldn’t want to lock us into old think; what was successful in the first proposal, in the first call, may not be successful in the second call if we tweak some of the process based on the survey results or based on other lessons learned. So it’s tough. I know organizations would really like to have specific guidance from us on how to write their proposals and how to be successful but again, it’s a competitive process. And ultimately it’s not about a good proposal or a bad proposal, it’s about a better proposal than what someone else has submitted. If we get more proposals and better proposals in the second round, we may actually find that the bar has raised where something that would have been acceptable in the first round is no longer something that will be successful in the second just because everyone else has given us a much better application than what we had seen previously.
Gavin: that may be as good a point as any to close up the questions, but I did want to give Heather the last word, perhaps.
Heather: yeah that’s a good place to end. I just wanted to say, too, that in terms of the capacity building training, I know that our colleagues at Global Affairs Canada wanted to work quite closely on developing those trainings. So they will have those good examples that we can embed in some ways in training.
Vaughn : yeah that’s a great suggestion Heather.
Heather: we did have a lot more questions than we actually had time for as always is the case, but I think we were able to get to a number of them certainly. Some of the very simple ones that I did see that I can very quickly check off that I have responded to a little bit is that the capacity building, the innovation fund- all of these will be available nationally.
You don’t need to be a member of one of the councils, though you certainly should be but you don’t have to be, to be able to participate in any of those programs. We will, again I’ll just reiterate that we will be sharing the presentation and the PowerPoints both in French and in English in the coming days. We will have that capacity for you to revisit some of what Vaughn and Gavin and I have mentioned. You do have all the survey results; I think that’s also very, very useful to look at. Then I think I’ll finish off by just thanking Vaughn and Gavin for taking the time to share their thoughts with us today. I’d like to thank all of your participants who were able to join us. Again, you will be getting a quick evaluation so please take the time to fill that in. I’d like to thank Sarah Fareed, our national coordinator for helping to organize; Michel for our translation; and again if you are interested in learning more and staying up to date with these webinars, we can add your name to our webinar list and we’ll keep you in the room. So thanks again everyone, and have a great day.
Gavin: Thanks to you, Heather.
Vaughn : Thanks, folks.
Gavin: Thanks everyone. Bye.
Additional questions that were not answered during the webinar:
Q: Can Global Affairs Canada provide examples on how you assess the environmental sustainability and gender equality sections?
A: Global Affairs Canada maintains several online resources to support applicants in these areas. Organizations can consult the How we assess your proposal webpage where it is specified what the department is reviewing when assessing the criteria to evaluate a proposal. Organizations can also consult the Environmental Integration Process – Screening Tool and the Feminist International Assistance Gender Equality Toolkit for Projects for additional information on these two criteria.
Q: Will the innovation and capacity-building activities be open to organizations from all provinces or only members of Provincial Councils and will they be published on Global Affairs Canada’s website?
A: Capacity building and knowledge-sharing project aims to provide support for SMOs to enable them to apply for funding, to develop, deliver and implement projects that could be funded through the Development Impact Window - Canadian Small and Medium Organizations for Impact and Innovation. To this extent, Capacity building activities will be accessible and open to any organization eligible for the SMO funding. Activities will be delivered in both official languages and will be published on Global Affairs Canada’s website as well on the Inter-Council Network, and the relevant councils’ websites.
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