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Towards a relationship of significance: Lessons from a decade of collaboration between government and NGOs in Rajasthan, India

Research reports

Collaboration between government and non government organisations (NGOs) has been one outcome of the greater emphasis placed on participation, sustainability and democratic processes in India. This paper outlines how the role and space for elected government in development is being redefined. It begins by outlining the diversity among NGOs and the roles they seek to play. It then examines the mutual practical needs which draw NGOs and government towards each other. For NGOs, these include the need to access technical or managerial resources, to gain legitimacy or recognition, to promote greater accountability and transparency and to promote reform in public systems. Government agencies on the other hand work with NGOs to enhance people’s participation in their programmes, to extend coverage of programmes to areas and groups that are poorly served by government staff, to test and replicate innovative approaches and to achieve greater cost effectiveness.

This paper explores how government and NGOs converge on a number of development objectives that have become social and political imperatives, divide roles along expected lines and prevailing notions of each other’s capacities, but still end up with problems in certain areas. It outlines the reasons for this, including overlapping of professional domains, issues relating to NGO capacity, the role of individuals and personalities, inadequate consultation mechanisms, the lack of inclusive networking and weak management structures. It stresses the importance of achieving reform through indirect means, through cross learning by gradual exposure to alternative models and by providing space so that the two systems can be brought together in creative competition. Donor agencies occupy an influential niche in the affairs of governments and NGOs. The final section of the paper analyses the aspects of GO–NGO collaboration that merit the attention of donor agencies and are likely to be positively influenced by a more proactive and considered donor response.

Ved Arya