The Limits of Efficient M&E

I’ve spent years harking on about the need to ensure that development projects are designing indicators that are collecting the most necessary data as opposed to interesting data. My mantra, drilled into the heads of many colleagues over the years, has been ‘what do you need to know to know if you are making progress’. Big on SMART indicators, and keeping the process as efficient as possible (know that monitoring is the least favourite activity of a majority of development practitioners) – it’s what I did.

I was always very rigid and strict about this – ‘no more than four indicators per output!’ – because in my experience, if you gave an inch, you lost the upper hand. All of a sudden monitoring change effected was sliding quickly and perilously back to how many people attended training X (which tells me precisely nothing beyond everyone probably had a nice lunch and a good gossip during the tea break). Continue reading ‘The Limits of Efficient M&E’ »

The Slippery Slope of Leaving the Vulnerable Behind

The SDGs: Leave No One Behind! Laudable. Critical. And already failing at the first hiccup.

The recent SDG Index and Dashboard effectively aimed to establish a baseline for SDG indicators in all countries. A lot of data is needed (because there are A LOT of indicators – but that’s another subject). There is significant pressure on national (and subnational) governments to deliver the data to prove they are committed to change and sustainable development.

The problem is that in quite a few governments, particularly in small countries, least developed countries and fragile states, capacity for data collection and storage is weak. There are big data gaps, and disaggregated data is the exception rather than the rule. That’s at the national level. At the subnational level, the gaps are bigger, and data is weaker because data collection methodologies are not reliable. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t data – it’s just not perfect and not complete. Continue reading ‘The Slippery Slope of Leaving the Vulnerable Behind’ »

I have something I really need to say…

Post-conflict governing is never easy. But there is a sense of hope, until there isn’t.

Dear ‘Government’,
Long after the war ended, I came back. I was excited – to see change and hope and a vision for the future. The changes I have witnessed, however, are very disillusioning…

I see your flags and I see your posters and I see your many dilapidated cars and trucks roaming the streets carrying idle men, smoking, waving flags and looking smug. And I wonder, who do you think you are?

I see nothing to be proud of – no obvious achievements by your government in the years I’ve been away – I see poorer people and streets and highways in disrepair. I see more corruption and degradation of the environment. I see your smug faces, men swaggering around like the world owes them something – everything – like feudal lords.

I want to ask you, as I borrow the words of the pre-eminent political commentator of our times, Jon Stewart, what makes you think you own this land? This government? These people? You fought a war and, yes, you came out ahead. You formed a political party to carry on fighting the good fight in a constructive way. Except I see nothing constructive.

I see millions wasted on a political ‘palace’ that sits empty – an embarrassing reminder that you know nothing of governing and think only of symbols of a victory you never really had.

I see politicians pretending to be giants, spending their time intimidating the population into a proverbial corner, in order to hoard their winnings and reward themselves.

I see no evidence of efforts to develop the country, to fulfill the promise of peace, to increase the standard and quality of living of the everyday person.

Instead I see more cafes than I can count, filled with men boasting of their glory days, their only hobbies strutting around town with chests puffed out. They need real jobs – passions – that force them to contribute constructively to society. Lazy assed people are a drain on your country, and your braggadocious ways enable rather than counter that.

Let me tell you this: stop acting like you ‘own’ this place. You never have and it’s never been yours. You chose to fight and you chose to make peace, and now you’ve chosen to share a bed with your former enemy. You have no right to intimidate, to threaten, to commit violence against those who want to see the community grow, to be better, to ensure a better future for their children. You need to get over yourselves – you have offered nothing. There are people who have worked harder, who have sacrificed more, for the country’s future. They can do better, and quite easily. You’ve set the bar pretty low.

Continue reading ‘I have something I really need to say…’ »

The Challenges of Post-Conflict ‘Residue’

Six years ago, almost to the day, I was reviewing the draft of a programme evaluation report that my organization had commissioned. The writing wasn’t excellent but it was passable. The content, however, and the accusations lobbed at the organization were mind-blowing. ‘Organization X is directly contributing to growing conflict in Poso (in Central Sulawesi province, in Indonesia).’ I’m pretty open-minded and as the devil’s advocate in the office was the one normally posing strong questions to ensure that just this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. So I was a little flabbergasted. I spoke with the other members of the evaluation team (who spoke Indonesian) and both were a stunned as I. Both were in all of the meetings with the lead evaluator and could not fathom how he had deduced such a conclusion. Continue reading ‘The Challenges of Post-Conflict ‘Residue’’ »

On Aid Part 4: Skills that Matter in a Globalized World

From Trump to Brexit, the world seems an immensely terrifying place to exist these days, particularly if the values espoused by Trump and Brexit and their followers seem out of touch with the reality in which we live. This neoliberal, more or less realist, globalized, digitized world of competition and the constant need for the skills to adapt and thrive.

But that’s our reality. Continue reading ‘On Aid Part 4: Skills that Matter in a Globalized World’ »

‘Autonomous Adaptation’ – Have We Logframed Ourselves into a Corner?

It’s full speed ahead on building capacity for resilience to climate change and other shocks like earthquakes and droughts and flooding. It’s the thing that everyone (ie: the development community and donors) wants to be good at, known for. Because of course. Of course no one in a country vulnerable to climate change, on the forefront of climate change like small island states (SIDS), could possibly build resilience on their own, or have a concept of what it means. Of course not, because they haven’t projectized it, aren’t carrying a logframe full of indicators of their success and targets for themself, their family, their community in their back pocket. Continue reading ‘‘Autonomous Adaptation’ – Have We Logframed Ourselves into a Corner?’ »

Bank Accounts and Actual Poverty Reduction

I am not naive. I know I lead a fairly privileged life. I grew up middle class, worked my way through university, got a job, paid off my student loans. Saw the world. Made great friends, had fantastic experiences, brushed off the day-to-day bureaucracy as par for the course. Loved my work. Met my husband in a meeting at the World Bank (epitome of aid worker romance, obviously). I’ve had my fair share of challenges: language barriers, career changes, working mom, stay-at-home mom. The same as everyone. My three year old has leukemia and is undergoing chemotherapy for another year. Life is certainly not easy, as anyone with sick kids can tell you. We have insurance, but lack the family support as we’re away from both of our home countries. We have good days and bad days, and lots of in-between days. My health has suffered, so has my husband’s. We’ve had friends to lean on, to listen to our worries, to offer a shoulder, or chocolate cake. Some days feel like the end of the world. But I know they are not. I am not worried about where the next meal will come from or if we have a roof over our heads. I am not worried about being exploited or my children being exploited. I am not trying to keep my family safe in a war zone or refugee camp. My life is complicated and stressful and emotional but honestly, it’s not hard. Continue reading ‘Bank Accounts and Actual Poverty Reduction’ »

On Aid Part 3: Private Sector Finance – Aid or Investment?

If you have 30 minutes to spare, you need to read an article by Matt Kennard and Claire Provost in Mail&Guardian Africa. It’s long, but well worth your time, particularly if you’re on the fence about private sector financing of international development. Yes, development organizations need more money if the SDGs are to be achieved, and there is certainly space for the private sector to play a role. The question is, what role? Continue reading ‘On Aid Part 3: Private Sector Finance – Aid or Investment?’ »

On Aid Part 2: Forget Value for Money

Value for money. Somewhere someone got this confused with aid effectiveness and the results have been disastrous. Where aid effectiveness asks if the money spent is resulting in effective, sustainable change, value for money looks at how much you can get for each dollar spent. While efficiency is important (not hiring six consultants where one will do), efficiency and value for money are not the same thing, and this is causing big problems in the world of development.

As I discussed in a previous article, donors are saying one thing (‘our focus is to reach the poorest, the most vulnerable’) and doing another (demanding value for money, restricting development work to the easy stuff), focussing on the safest, easiest-to-reach communities because it is cheaper and demonstrates quicker results. The real result? More and more people are left behind. Continue reading ‘On Aid Part 2: Forget Value for Money’ »

On Aid: The WHS and Donor Priorities

The World Humanitarian Summit was held last week, the culmination of over two years of work by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and based on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, there was a lot to say about it.

Now, I’m not always a fan of ‘summits’; I feel they are often talking shops or rubber stamp exercises that mostly result in lots of photos of smiling people, a suitcase full of reports and briefing papers, and an inbox full of emails that you have to catch up on when the event is finished. I’m not cynical, I’m pragmatic. A lot of money is spent for an outcome that runs along the lines of ‘the next steps.’ However, as I know quite a few of the people who worked tirelessly to make the WHS happen, credit is due to them for actually making it happen.

I hadn’t planned on commenting on the process or the outcome (‘The Grand Bargain’), however, I was struck by a comment in my Twitter feed that has me overcoming my initial reluctance, despite the fact that I am not an humanitarian worker (post-conflict transition to ‘normal’ development is my preferred area). Sometimes you just have to speak up. Continue reading ‘On Aid: The WHS and Donor Priorities’ »