OPINION: The naked truth strips us bare

When the Disasters Emergency Committee recently published an independent evaluation of its 2002 Southern Africa Crisis Appeal, the juiciest criticisms made the headlines.

But while the press coverage wasn't what committee members might have hoped for, this ought not discourage other charities from following their example. This is the direction the sector is going to have to go - opening itself up to external assessment of its performance. Indeed, we may well find it ludicrous in future that charities were spending millions of pounds without independent evaluation of their work.

Some might believe the DEC Appeal to be a special case. It was a huge undertaking, involving a fundraising drive co-ordinated across 12 leading British international aid agencies, for work in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. Moreover, it was the first time that British charities had tried to avoid a humanitarian disaster rather than respond to one; a new kind of situation which required a different kind of response.

But while the situation may have encouraged the DEC to commission an independent evaluation in order to learn useful lessons, two of the key recommendations could have easily been applied to any fundraising appeal: the need for charity marketing departments to convey a humanitarian problem without exaggeration, and the importance of charities consulting the people they are trying to help.

The report concluded that the action taken by the charities saved lives and eased suffering. That the evaluators also found fault with some of the actions that were taken is no surprise; no-one would expect such an operation to be flawless.

The charities involved ought to be applauded for their willingness to assess their performance and learn lessons. This kind of openness can only make for more effective interventions and better outcomes. Furthermore, it build credibility for the sector's work. Without an honest appraisal of our efforts, how can we expect to be trusted?

- See New in Focus, page 12. Lisa Harker is chair of the Daycare Trust but writes in a personal capacity.

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