Sunday, June 20, 2004

Treating organisations as though they were machines

The following comments are an excerpt from a response I made to the following paper by Alison Scott(DFID)"Assessing and Monitoring Multilateral Effectiveness", available online here


The multilateral organisation as a machine

19. I was disconcerted to read section 9 on the use of multilateral's own assessment of their effectiveness. Not only about the multilaterals' own lack of capacity to assess their effectiveness, but also the conclusion in para 9.3 that these efforts could not be used, and instead DFID would make its own judgements.

20. When we assess the performance of a machine we ask what is it doing and how does that match against what we expect it to be doing. When we assess the performance of an individual or an organisation, we also ask "what does s/he think they are doing" A person is expected to have agency; to be aware of choices and to make responsible choices. It is that awareness and responsibility which is the foundation of legal judgements that can make the difference between a death sentence, imprisonment, or freedom. On a more mundane level, it is an individual's (or organisation's) knowledge about what has happened which makes the difference between whether what has been done can be changed, avoided in future or replicated. The implication for MEFF is that DFID should be assessing the multilateral's knowledge about what it has been doing, and the effects of what it has been doing. That is what matters.

21. Fortunately, most organisations know more than the sum total of what has been captured by their M&E systems. Knowledge is also captured in other documents, produced by other sections of the organisation. But more importantly, it exists, often in tacit and informal forms, in the heads of people who make decisions about where resources should be allocated.

22. If DFID wants to engage with its multilateral partners, then one means of doing so is by trying to explicate their judgements of their performance, both the criteria they are using, the reasons behind those criteria, and the evidence of achievement on those criteria. This can then be complemented by independent verification by DFID, in the areas of performance that are of the greatest concern. A similar approach was taken with the assessment of a SIDA funded poverty alleviation project in Vietnam (See "A Study Of Perceptions And Responses To Poverty Within The Vietnam-Sweden Mountain Rural Development Programme".
For the full text of my comments on the DFID paper go to