Standard 2: Evidence-based, participatory design for project success.
Employ evidence-based, participatory processes to design a project that can deliver high-quality results on time, on scope and on budget.
Include partners in key decision-making including on technical design, project activities schedule, partner scopes of work, and project management structures.
Partnership is fundamental to CRS’ mission and vision, and partners often play a critical, “front-line” role in the implementation of project activities. Many partner organizations, particularly local partners, also bring important insights regarding the project operating context, programming strategies, stakeholder considerations, and other issues that the team designing the project must understand to develop a high-quality, evidence-based project. Including partners in key decision-making:
- Demonstrates CRS’ commitment to agency partnership principles
- Promotes partners’ ownership of and responsibility for components they will implement
- Helps CRS design projects based on a sound interpretation of assessment data and appropriate contextualization of programming and operations approaches and best practices.
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator
- The proposal coordinator ensures appropriate engagement of partners in the design process, in line with stakeholder analysis related to who should be informed, consulted, and engaged in project design.
- Others involved: Proposal technical lead; proposal budget lead; other proposal development team members; proposal decision-maker;The proposal decision-maker is a senior staff (typically the country representative) with responsibility for making strategic decisions related to CRS’ response to a specific funding opportunity. This includes partnership/consortium-related negotiations and agreements; recruitment and selection of key personnel; definition of preliminary budget parameters (including any CRS cost-share); other critical budget decisions; and review and approval of final versions of proposal documents (including budgets). This is a critical, though not full-time, proposal development team role.
partner proposal development team and partner leadership; finance manager (FM) and/or head of operations (HoOps)
- The technical lead and proposal development team members maintain two-way communication and collaboration with partners to ensure partners are included in key decision-making (for detailed guidance on CRS engagement with partners around project budgeting decisions, see Standard 3).
- Throughout project design – see step 1 below for guidance on when and how to involve partner throughout the process based on needs, interest and feasibility.
Follow these steps to ensure that partners are properly involved in key project design decision-making:
- After CRS and partners confirm the decision to work together on the projectFor competitive funding opportunities, this confirmation should be formalized via a teaming agreement (or pre-teaming agreement, depending on the status of the opportunity). (see Standard 1, key action 2 for guidance on project partnering decisions), the proposal coordinator, with the technical lead and other members of the proposal development team as appropriate, meets with the partner team(s) to discuss the proposal development timeline . As part of this meeting, CRS and the partner review the partner’s participation in the proposal development process and other key issues related to project decision-making.
- Engage the proposal decision-maker in these discussions as needed (for example, around sensitive issues such as preliminary partner budget ceilings – see Standard 3, key action 1 for guidance on arriving at initial budget estimates).
- Use the questions in the “Checklist for partner collaboration and support in project design” (ProPack I, Table 2a) to guide planning about how best to engage partners in defining key components of the project design.
- Build on the preliminary partnering discussions outlined in Standard 1, key action 2 (guidance on project partnering decisions), but focus more on the specifics of when, where, and how partners should participate in key design steps and decisions. This helps promote mutual accountability in the project design process.
- For proposals developed for external donor funding, emphasize that CRS may need to make important decisions within short timeframes and with limited flexibility.
- For competitive funding opportunities, review CRS’ understanding of donor expectations and objectives for the projectSee Standard 5, key action 3 for guidance on clarifying and influencing donor priorities for funding opportunities. which will influence project design decision-making.
- Emphasize that proposal development is a complex process with multiple decision-making points as well as factors outside the proposal development team's controlThese factors may include CRS internal budgeting issues; reviewer feedback; donor preferences; new intelligence about an external funding opportunity, including refined information about donor interests, competitors, etc. that influence decision-making.
- Highlight CRS’ commitment to engaging partners in decision-making wherever possible, and to explaining the rationale for decisions that CRS may have to make without full consultation.
Organize design process logistics with partner participation in mind: Ensuring that partners can participate in key moments for project decision-making (e.g., project design workshops; budget development and activities scheduling, etc.) may require adjusting the timing of design events to accommodate partner availability, choosing a workshop location easily accessible to partners, and arranging for translation as needed to reduce barriers to full participation.
- The proposal coordinator works with the proposal technical lead and other proposal development team members to facilitate partners’ participation in project design sessions per the plan discussed in step 1.
- Use project design sessions to collaboratively map stakeholders, analyze data, and use that data to make design decisions such as objective and strategy selection, and development of the project theory of change, results framework, and Proframe.
- For decisions about project management structures where the project includes a consortium of partners, use CRS’ Consortium Alignment Framework for Excellence (CAFE) during project design to guide discussions about how the consortium should operate, including potential structures, processes and approaches.
- Use the ProPack I “Checklist for partner collaboration and support in project design” (Table 2a) in planning design sessions, to help the CRS team appropriately involve partner proposal development team members and partner leadership in design decisions. This is particularly important for decisions that directly impact the timing and nature (scope) of partner project activities, partner project staffing, project governance, and the funds budgeted for partner staffing and activities.
- For guidance on working with partners on project budget development, see Standard 3, key action 4.
Leverage partner experience about operational realities: In addition to ensuring partners contribute to setting the project objectives and selecting appropriate project strategies, engage partners in decision-making about project scope and schedule. Partners, particularly organizations with deep experience in the proposed project target areas, bring a wealth of knowledge regarding the time and effort required to implement the proposed project strategies – important information that the proposal development team must use to develop a realistic project scope and schedule.
- The proposal coordinator ensures partners have an opportunity to review key sections of the draft proposal in line with the proposal development team review process outlined in the proposal development timeline.
- The proposal coordinator updates partners on feedback received on the proposal from CRS regional and headquarters reviewers, including any project design decisions or changes needed based on review feedback.
- Good practice is to organize a call or meeting with partners to discuss the major review feedback.
- For competitive funding opportunities with tight deadlines, CRS may need to decide quickly how to respond to major comments, as the comments could impact multiple sections of the proposal and require significant time to properly address. If recommended changes directly impact partner scopes of work and/or budgets, CRS should discuss the comments, recommendations, and CRS’ tentative response plan with the partner affected, before integrating the change.
- If review feedback implies a significant change in the partner scope of work or budget, senior-level CRS and partner staff (e.g. country representative and partner director) should discuss, ideally in person.
- The proposal coordinator ensures each partner receives a copy of the technical narrative, as well as the final partner budget, after proposal finalization (and submission as applicable).
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- This action focuses exclusively on partners; see the "how" steps above.
- If as a sub-recipient, CRS has its own sub-recipient partners, adapt the guidance above as needed based on the design process outlined by the prime.
- If CRS’ partners do not participate directly in the design process led by the prime, telescope the steps above to find ways to meaningfully consult and engage partners in project design decisions, particularly those that will affect their scope of work.
- Keep in mind that in an emergency response, “project design” often refers to a wider emergency response design, rather than a specific project or proposal. Partners may have different roles within the wider emergency response strategy. Involving partners in decision-making on the wider strategy as well as project design issues connected to their specific role can help identify and foster opportunities for collaboration, and ensure the wider strategy draws on the most comprehensive set of perspectives and information available at the time. See ProPack I, Chapter III, Section 5, “How is this different in an emergency response” for more guidance.
- Keep in mind that while life-saving needs may require CRS to take on a more direct implementation role, partnering arrangements can evolve as the emergency response shifts from immediate relief to recovery. As partners’ roles and responsibilities increase, follow the above guidance to appropriately involve them in designing new interventions or updating the overall emergency response strategy. See Standard 1, key action 2 for guidance on partnering decisions in emergency projects.
Tools and templates
Checklist for Partner Collaboration and Support in Project Design (from CRS' ProPack I)
Table for Planning When and How to Involve Stakeholders in Project Design (from CRS' ProPack I)
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator