Norad’s strategic partnerships with civil society organisations

Norad wants to introduce a model for strategic partnerships with large and strategically important civil society organisations (strategic partners) that meet certain criteria relating to, for example, strategic focus and expertise, implementation capacity and good control systems.  The challenges related to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 require innovative thinking with our partners, and optimal strategies for development cooperation. A more trust-based relationship with strategic partners could help improve the quality of development cooperation. 

The intention for the strategic partnerships is to enhance the quality and effectiveness of development cooperation using our resources for more strategic dialogue, strengthening the focus on innovative thinking, and testing new approaches 

The partnership model will: 

  1. improve the effectiveness and efficiency of administration at Norad and its partners; 
  2. make the development cooperation more knowledge-based, flexible and innovative; 
  3. differentiate the grant management by putting more trust in large and robust partners /to implement programmes (based on prior, thorough system assessments). 

Norad will propose to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Climate and Environment that the model for strategic partnerships with civil society organisations will be introduced as a formal certification scheme based on applications, and applicable to the grant schemes aimed at (international/Norwegian) civil society organisations managed by Norad. 

Certification as a strategic partner will be formalised through an individual decision with a right to appeal. Strategic partners must document that their competence, capacity, experience, and systems are of such a quality that they qualify for a less detailed follow-up than other grant recipients. If a strategic partner application is refused, and an appeal is upheld, the application can be resubmitted 18 months after receiving the appeal decision. 

Strategic partners, rights and obligations 

Certification as strategic partner does not entitle funding. Strategic partners must apply to calls for proposals as announced through Norad’s channels.   

Partners who meet the criteria for certification and who are granted this are subject to the following rights and obligations in their relationship with Norad:  


The right to submit a simplified application for calls for proposals that Norad announces for civil society organisations, in the areas where the strategic partner’s thematic and geographical expertise has been assessed.
A simplified application means that strategic partners will submit a brief/general description of the initiative (what, where and with whom) and target group. It must include a problem analysis, baseline, overarching theory of change and goals at different levels (it will be sufficient with examples/categories of deliverables (outputs)). Submission of a logframe (logical framework) is not compulsory. Budget will be submitted at an overarching level. Other relevant information will be documented at system level as part of the preceding strategic partner assessment.  

For grant applications submitted during the certification period that entail particular risk and/or complexity, Norad may request more information. 

Right to more flexible financing. The grant budget is agreed at an overarching level (sector/theme, country, head office/local level), which enables considerable flexibility. Partners will have the right to include a budget line (up to 20% programme funds) to be used freely to achieve goals across the agreed target areas. This will enable the strategic partner to set priorities and react quickly to changing conditions. Strategic partners must report on this budget line so that Norad can assess whether it has had the desired effect (providing the strategic partner the opportunity to adapt to context, possibilities and innovation).  

Arrangements for results management is agreed at the corresponding overarching level. This means a description of the problem, baseline, which overarching goals the programme should achieve at different levels, and the intended target groups, as well as an overarching theory of change. Reporting should be at an overarching/aggregate level and reflect the programme cycle, with gradually more focus on contributions to change in terms of the defined outcome and substantiating the contributions to the level of impact as the programme cycle continues. It is agreed that evaluations and reviews will take place, but not with predefined themes/countries.  

Right to follow-up at a more overarching level. This entails a focus on change and strategic dialogue. There will be no need to approve annual plans. Large budget lines provide good flexibility to reallocate between budget lines without submitting revised budgets. Results information is an important part of the strategic dialogue between Norad and its strategic partners, and thematic and portfolio meetings, field visits, evaluations and reviews are other important arenas for conveying and discussing such information. 


  • Obligation to inform Norad of changes of material significance for the status of strategic partner. 
  • Obligation to assist with Norad’s need for statistical reporting. 
  • Obligation to facilitate control measures by Norad. Control measures are normally carried out as spot checks during the agreement period. 
  • Obligation to provide information about programme activities in the strategic dialogue.  

Follow-up of strategic partners in Norad 

Certification as a strategic partner will initially be valid for five years. If an organisation no longer meets the criteria for being a strategic partner, certification will be withdrawn. 

Where appropriate, new grants should be added to the main agreement (duration five years) and administered by the relevant thematic section in Norad.  

A new assessment of the strategic partner will take place in year four of the certification period, i.e. before the assessment of the application for a new main agreement in year five. Subsequent strategic partner assessments will be less extensive than the first one, as the main aim will be to confirm whether the criteria for strategic partner status are still being met. Renewal of the certification will be contingent on the organisation making the necessary improvements as identified in the previous assessment. 

Controls will be maintained through a closer dialogue, spot checks and the strategic partner’s obligation to inform Norad of any major changes to the systems and competence that were assessed when strategic partner certification was granted. 

Norad will tailor the model for strategic partnerships with civil society organisations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ zero tolerance policy and to enabling differentiated follow-up of non-compliance or deviations, when this is eventually in place.  

More time for strategic dialogue and follow-up of results 

The framework for interaction between Norad and the strategic partner must be developed as part of a dialogue and be based on real needs in terms of platforms for strategic dialogue, sharing experiences, field visits, planning and reporting etc. over the course of a year. The annual planning cycle and reporting can look different depending on the prevailing stage of the support period and the needs of the partner and Norad. 

Evaluations and reviews must be used actively and strategically in the follow-up. An increased focus on learning and programme development is sought through the use of evaluations, including through greater freedom for partners to choose the type, theme and timing of the evaluations that will take place. 

In the dialogue between Norad and the strategic partner, expertise and knowledge will be developed about what development efforts and working methods produce the best results and under what conditions. 

It is important for Norad that a large proportion of the grants to civil society is channelled to local civil society organisations. As a general rule, the proportion should be in the range of 50–80%. Strategic partners with limited proportion must have a plan in place for escalation, and this will form part of the strategic dialogue with Norad. Achievement of the agreed escalation will also be included in the assessment prior to renewal of strategic partner status. 

The strategic partner organisations will be key contributors to achieving the goals in Norad’s thematic portfolios. However, there must also be opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue that goes beyond the individual sector/portfolio, and for dialogue on the strengthening of civil society. Common arenas will be established for joint dialogue and learning for strategic partners and Norad.  

Application process for strategic partner certification 

Invitations to apply for certification will be published on Norad’s website,, without a specific deadline. Norad will prioritise applications from organisations who in calls for proposals apply for multi-year grant/main agreements. For organisations who receive strategic partner certification during the period of a grant agreement it may be possible to introduce rights and obligations if both parties consider this appropriate. 

Applicants apply for strategic partner certification via the channel announced on and must in order to be considered provide documentation that the organisation is above the stipulated threshold. Norad will first assess the information that is available (previous partner assessments, evaluations, etc.) and relevant to assessing the criteria. 

If the organisation has a relevant international certification, it would be useful if it can share the basis for assessment with Norad. The applicant will then receive a list of the documentation that Norad already has and what is missing in accordance with the assessment criteria, so that the applicant can provide this.   


Published 13.10.2022
Last updated 13.10.2022