Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Constructing longer term perspectives

A few weeks ago a friend asked me for help with ideas for a presentation that needed to be made on "challenges for the international development sector..."

Not an easy task, where do you start? But I knuckled down and did some reflection. Work I am doing on DFID and AusAID funded projects in Indonesia ended up as the source of some ideas that may be useful. I have been working on these since late 2005 and the work continues until early 2010.

My short reply to my friend was as follows:

How to ensure that development interventions are designed and implemented within a long term perspective, that extends way beyond the typical 3-5 year planning cycles

There is a massive contradiction between the short term nature of project designs and what most people know about how long development can take (both technological and social).

If project planning cycles cannot be lengthened (e.g. because of goverment budget cycles and election cycles) then how can we make sure that these planning cycles are better linked up, into a more coherent longer term intervention? This is n easy task when there is constant staff turnover both within government and aid agencies. Strategy papers by themselves are not much use, because they have their own continuity problems, no new boss wants to simply say, yes, we will do more of same. Everyone wants to re-write the strategy in their own image

In Jakarta in October we will be holding an end-of-project review workshop for the DFID funded, GTZ implemented, AusAID monitored, government owned SISKES project (maternal and neonatal health). One of the two workshop objectives is

To engage participants in a longer term perspective on MNH development, that exceeds the typical 3-5 year project lifespan

  • By looking back, on developments since the beginning of the decade
  • By looking forward to up to four years in the future.
We will be including some people associated with a new AusAID MNH project in one of the 2 districts that GTZ are pulling out of. Plus a caste of thousands (well, 52 other participants so far).

One of the workshop exercises will be to engage participants in predicting trends in key service provision indicators over the next four years, based on their knowledge aquired through the SISKES project, and other sources. And then analysing the implications of these expected trends for the incoming projects, including the new AusAID MNH project

There is also a need for more connecting events at the design stage as well, where various stakeholders from prior and parallel related developments are brought in to inform planning decisions, or at least the choices to be considered. Often the consultants on design missions are about the only bridges to the past.

For other people's efforts to promote really long term thinking, see the Long Now Foundation