Towards a Gender-Responsive Institutional and Organizational Assessment Model

By Emmanuel Trépanier 

Understanding how organizations function and operate is fundamental because organizations link with every aspects of our world. Development agencies, in particular, ought to be able to understand and improve their performance (and that of the in-country partner organizations they support) if they are to deliver development assistance in an efficient way. The Universalia Institutional and Organizational Assessment Model (IOA Model) is a highly useful conceptual framework and approach encompassing all areas (organizational capacity, organizational performance, external environment and organizational motivation) which can be assessed and their respective dimensions. Developed in the late 1990’s in cooperation with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), it has successfully been used by Universalia and others to help identify and address issues pertaining to a wide range of organizational entities. One of its limitations, however, is that because it was initially built based on literature which drew from traditionally patriarchal institutions (ex. armies, churches, etc.), its analytical approach is not explicitly geared toward identifying gender equity issues. Without identifying and addressing these issues upfront, organizations are bound to remain gender blind, ignore the injustices they perpetuate and limit their social contribution towards gender equality.

Several useful frameworks[1], methodologies[2] and planning tools [3]developed by international development scholars, practitioners and agencies take a system-wide gender-sensitive approach to organizational assessments. However, few (if any) present the full scope of issues outlined by the IOA Model in a simple tool that is easy to understand and can be used by individuals who are not gender specialists.

This is an exciting challenge that a small team of researchers at Universalia has taken on since October 2014.[4]  More specifically, we will endeavour to revisit the questions raised in the IOA Model through a gender lens. For instance, under the organizational capacity area, human resources is one of the dimensions which the IOA Model focuses on. We notably ask:

  • Do people see career opportunities in the organization?
  • Is there internal equity in salaries and benefits?

But to understand where the organization stands on gender equality, one must also ask:

  • Do women and men see their access to career opportunities in their organization limited by their gender?
  • Do managers in the organization understand the gender division of labour and make proactive efforts to comply with pay equity legislation?

We hope to be able to present our approach to you in early 2015. Until then, please do engage and share your thoughts with us by commenting on this blog post or contacting us directly ( Let’s reflect and learn!

[1] For example, see The Gender at Work Framework. Available online at :

[2] For example, see The Process of Institutionalising Gender in Policy and Planning: The ‘’Web’’ of Institutionalisation. Caren Levy, March 1996. Available at:

[3] For example, see the UN System-wide Action Plan (UN SWAP). UN Women, 2012. Available at :

[4] Ms. Laurentine Mefire, a PhD Candidate working under Professor Gilles Bibeau from the Anthropology Department at the Université de Montréal, is the main researcher on this project. Her internship with Universalia is partly funded by Mitacs.

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