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close this bookInstitutional Development Handbook - The Methodology (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1994, 95 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction: Institutional Development for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
View the documentChapter 1: What is Institutional Development?
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 2: Why Institutional Development?
View the documentChapter 3: Getting Started
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 4: National Society Self-Assessment
View the documentChapter 5: Setting Objectives for ID
View the documentChapter 6: Designing ID
View the documentChapter 7: Implementing ID
View the documentChapter 8: Monitoring and Evaluating ID
View the documentChapter 9: Sustaining Institutional Improvement
View the documentGlossary of Main Terms
View the documentAppendices

Chapter 1: What is Institutional Development?

1.1 Institutions and Their Development

An institution is a group of people organised to fulfil a common purpose. Institutions have defined structures within which their people work together in a coordinated way.

For the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the word institution covers special, enduring values, aims and activities, as well as organisational roles and structures. To the degree that it is a well-developed institution, the Movement will have the stability and capacity to provide benefits to the most vulnerable and thereby accomplish its mission.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent seeks to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found, through relief and development work. Development, in this sense, is the process by which communities and individuals grow stronger, can enjoy fuller and more productive lives, and become less vulnerable to disasters. Another aspect of development is the strengthening of institutions themselves, so that each National Society (NS) can pursue its humanitarian mandate effectively in its own country. It is in this sense that we speak of institutional development (ID).

Institutional development is about the strengthening of Red Cross and Red Crescent institutions themselves

All of us, institutions and individuals alike, can find ways of improving. Often, the best way to improve is to have a model - an ideal - we can strive to reach and match. However, it must be realistic and attainable. The aim of ID for the Red Cross and Red Crescent is to move each NS closer to having the agreed Characteristics of a Well-Functioning National Society (see Chapter 2).

While the Movement as a whole is an institution, it is also a partnership of member institutions, with two main partners: the Federation and the ICRC. The Federation consists of the grouping of the more than 160 National Societies and the Secretariat. This partnership of member institutions is based on the independence, interdependence and integrity of the partners. The quality of the interaction between them depends on the compliance of each with the Fundamental Principles, and with the Movement's statutes, rules of procedure and special agreements.

Each NS is an independent institution in itself, at the centre of a set of its own partnerships within and outside the Movement and within and outside its own country. Branches too, are institutions with their own internal and external partners. Having a variety of external partners is typical of Red Cross and Red Crescent institutions. The figures on the next page show the internal and external partnerships of the NS and the NS branch (the arrows represent the interaction between the NS/branch and each of its partners).


1.2 Development and Change

All organisations - whether empires, nations, corporations or non-profit institutions - tend to follow a typical pattern in their evolution, illustrated by figure 1-3, below. They rise and decline, pass through highs and lows in their development. If allowed to sink far enough down without pre-emptive or remedial action being taken they can even die out. Because change is constant, institutional development must be continuous, taking place throughout the life of an institution.


The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and its institutions are evolving in ways similar to those in which other organisations evolve. The mature growth of many National Societies is based on long-established patterns which, in the past, served both the NSs and the Movement well. However, some of the patterns today risk making NSs too rigid to adapt effectively to a fast-changing world.

Change may not always be a good or desirable thing, but it is universal and inescapable. Changing is often necessary just to stay in the same place, or to avoid being left behind or even to avoid going backwards. To change does not have to mean giving up cherished values or traditions, or compromising principles. But groups and individuals must and do constantly adapt themselves to changing life, in order to flourish or simply to survive.

Most people do not welcome changes in the conditions to which they have become accustomed. Both individuals and organisations tend to resist change. They may have reason to feel threatened by a change. Or the simple uncertainty embodied in the change may be what they find most threatening. Some individuals, cultures and nations have a lower tolerance for this kind of uncertainty than others. There are cultural, social, economic and, ultimately, psychological reasons for this. In such circumstances, people may be reluctant to take part in a new activity whose outcome seems unpredictable. However, when correctly adapted to the local culture, ID can be used to manage change in these cases, in a structured and controlled way best suited to facilitate change while minimising the uncertainty.

Many Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have problems in responding to changing needs in their countries, and in organising to become self-reliant. Self-reliance implies both the need for the NS to remain independent, and to be auxiliary to the government. Heavy demands are being placed on NSs to provide greater and more extensive relief and development services. At the same time, many newly constituted Societies are emerging, mostly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and they need help in building their capacity.

1.3 What ID Means

ID is a relatively new concept for non-profit organisations. Development agencies use the term frequently in the narrow sense of building up institutions as units for implementing their development programmes. They often understand ID as: the process of improving an institution's ability to make effective use of the available human and financial resources.

For Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, ID is an on-going, systematic approach to improving this ability in order to achieve the Movement's humanitarian purpose: to help the most vulnerable.

To work well, ID has to be done effectively and efficiently - in other words, systematically.

The systematic ID approach set out in this Handbook will make it easier for an NS to take stock of itself, and to measure its own determination and capacity to pursue its declared objectives in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of the Movement. The methodology can help an NS become stronger in its own particular national environment. It can be applied to any NS - old or new, big or small. Flexible to local adaptation, it respects the uniqueness of each NS and national, cultural and geographical differences.

However, it is the cultural differences that will largely determine how people within an institution use ID. The self-assessment part of ID is a particularly powerful tool. The thoughts it brings out in the open may not always be welcome to all. In addition to variations in the acceptance of uncertainty, as mentioned above, cultural differences manifest themselves in attitudes towards power relations (between people who are in positions of greater and lesser power), in the degree of individualism or collectivism prevailing in a particular culture and the extent to which people are willing to admit to or confront weaknesses or failures. A combination of these attitudes in a Red Cross or Red Crescent Society will greatly determine its reaction to ID. It is important that this be understood from the beginning and constantly kept in mind by the leadership of an NS undertaking ID activities.

Systematic ID will enable an NS to effectively assess and evaluate its own characteristics and current situation; to see where it is, and where it is going; to identify its strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This understanding can then be used by the NS in determining its strategic objectives, and for adapting them to its changing national environment (the word environment is used here, and throughout the Handbook to denote the set of social, cultural, political and other conditions in which the NS functions). The knowledge thus gained can be fed into the NS's operational plans and programme designs. The institutional aspects of an entire NS, or of a department, branch or individual programme can be assessed using ID. And the resulting assessment can then be used to design ID activities for improving the effectiveness of the programme, branch, department or the entire NS.

1.4 What are Institutional Aspects?

The institutional aspects of an NS cover many of the things that the NS believes in and does. So that they can be better understood, the systematic ID approach places each at the level of the NS to which it belongs. There are three levels: policy, operations, and the very important, but often forgotten, strategy level (see Chapter 5 for a full description of strategy). At the same time, each aspect is classified as an input, process or output. Inputs are all things that support and promote the carrying out of a task. Processes are ways of doing tasks or producing results. Outputs are the results. Figure 1-4, below, shows where important institutional aspects fit into this intersecting system. For example, the Fundamental Principles are at the policy level of the NS and are an input into NS policies; the implementation of a programme is at the operational level and is an output; the process of strategic planning is at the strategy level; while the strategic plan, an input, comes in at the NS policy level.



























1.5 The ID Cycle

Institutional development is a cycle: a recurring series of activities that will lead to systematic improvement of Red Cross and Red Crescent institutions. In its simplest form, the cycle with its four main stages looks as follows:


Assessing is the self-assessment of the NS by the NS, looking at its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, both within and outside the NS. Branches, departments, programmes, special activities, structures, and people's capabilities and needs are all examined.

Setting objectives is the next stage after self-assessment. These objectives could apply to several levels. Usually, they will be strategic objectives for ID, aimed at developing the institutional aspects of the NS overall or of its individual departments, branches and programmes. Further, they could be strategic objectives for the NS as a whole, related to the purpose of the NS and aimed at fulfilling its humanitarian mandate: ID can help further define and refine them. Finally, they could be the operating objectives of the NS, which ID can help set, shape and sharpen.

Designing is designing plans and programmes using the systematic ID approach. And it is designing ID activities to improve the plans and programmes.

Implementing is implementing programmes and the ID activities to go with them.

Each stage of the cycle leads to the next. After the NS has carried out its own self-assessment, a “picture” of itself becomes clear, and understanding is gained as to how the NS fits into its own national environment. This important knowledge can then be fed into the determining of objectives and from there flows through the entire cycle, informing everything that the NS does.

1.6 Large- and Small-Scale ID

The basic ID cycle described above sums up the methodology in a general way. Variations of the cycle work for the NS on both “large” and “small” scales. Large-scale ID or major ID is when the entire NS undergoes self-assessment, and its strategic objectives are defined or redefined on the basis of this assessment, to form the basis of the NS operational plans. ID strategic objectives for the entire NS are also set at this stage. Small-scale ID (the “cycle-within-a-cycle” shown by the detail in figure 1-6, below) is then carried out to make these strategic objectives operational. Thus, operating objectives as well as their ID aspects are set. Next, individual programmes are designed to meet the operating objectives, the institutional aspects of each programme are assessed and ID activities are designed to improve their effectiveness and achieve the ID objectives.


The next step in the small-scale cycle is the implementation of both the operational programmes and the ID activities that go with them. An important new and intermediary stage in the cycle is reached. This is the monitoring and evaluation of both programmes and ID activities. On the basis of the evaluation, each programme and its related activities can be adjusted and made more effective. The same basic approach can also be used on individual branches or departments, as shown in figure 1-7, below.


Moving back into the large-scale cycle, the next main step is the evaluation of all the NS operations. In this stage, the results of implementation, including the improvements brought about by the ID activities, can be compared with the strategic objectives set earlier (results should be in line with strategic objectives, or the NS should at least be making progress towards its objectives). The information from this evaluation can be used to make overall adjustments and to update the NS's National Assessment Report. And the cycle continues...

1.7 Continuous ID

Institutional development is continuous, because there will always be change and the need to adapt to change. The completion of a full ID cycle ought to lead to an ongoing and routine use of the methodology. Once it becomes an integral part of an NS's operations, the methodology provides a means of continuous institutional improvement.

Although the application of ID principles and methods is ongoing, this does not mean that ID activities have no end. It will normally take from three to five years for an NS to pass through the complete large-scale cycle, before a new full assessment is required. But this will depend on the NS. ID activities for a particular programme will span the life of the programme and possibly beyond. However, once implemented, well-designed activities for a programme, or for a branch or department, will normally require monitoring, evaluating and only limited adjustments, unless new objectives need to be set.

1.8 For ID to Succeed...

For ID to be launched effectively by an NS and to go on and improve its institutions, certain preconditions need to be met. These are:

Legitimacy: For ID to be successful it needs to be legitimate, and be seen as being legitimate both as a concept and set of actions, by the NS's volunteers, members and staff, by its external clients, and by the public at large. The full support of the NS's Board and management is also essential for the legitimacy of ID.

Awareness and Commitment: Successful ID demands the awareness and commitment of all those involved in it. The reasons for doing ID need to be explained, promoted and endorsed by the NS's leadership throughout the NS. This can be an excellent opportunity for team building and an affirmation of the Society's common purpose.

Complete Coverage: The ultimate goal of ID is continuous improvement that can be measured across the entire institution. ID activities can be carried out in all of the NS as well as in individual branches, departments or programmes. New branches, for example, may be set up or existing ones strengthened as a result of ID. The essential thing is for the entire NS or the entire branch, department or programme to be covered by the activities. If not, sustained and measurable improvement will not be possible.

ID will be most successful where NS people develop new, shared values, and different attitudes and ways of behaving towards each other and their work. These will include the idea of satisfying the “client” as the top priority (see Chapter 4), or the belief that continuous institutional improvement is part of everyone's job. There could be a need for the NS to develop an internal atmosphere of more open communication - conditions favouring team-work and respect for the individual. Open communication and team-work remove the organisational and human barriers blocking effectiveness, efficiency and continuous institutional improvement.

Giving recognition to the people who work for an organisation allows the development and growth of individuals, and often improves work performance. Education and training programmes, and access to these programmes for all NS staff and volunteers, are also important for creating and maintaining conditions favourable to institutional improvement.

There may be cultural barriers to certain of the values inherent in the ID methodology. NS Boards and management will have to determine how to overcome such barriers where they exist. It may be necessary to locally adapt some ID values. However, flexibility from both sides is required, or opportunities for improvement could be lost.

Before ID can even be embarked upon, a minimal organisational structure must already be in place (see 2.4).

Ultimately, creating the right conditions within the NS for continuous ID will be the responsibility of the NS's top decision-makers. It is they who will communicate to managers, volunteers, staff and members the reasons for undertaking ID, and its potential benefits for all NS partners.

The final success of ID will depend on NS leadership and management. But it is not within the scope of the Handbook to tackle leadership and management per se. Various Federation publications, including The Management Book - A Guide to Management for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Eastern and Southern Africa, cover these subjects (see particularly Chapters 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8). A revised version of the Management Book, specifically adapted to the Pacific region, is also available.