what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fighting the logframe - part III

There is, perhaps, a certain arrogance in the argument underlying my position about Technical Assistance – and the last few posts. My basic objection is to the rigidity of project “Terms of Reference”. But let’s look at it from the EU point of view – they have a complex procurement system which starts with a strategic plan for a country – which is a statement of priorities and the result of a negotiation with the beneficiary country.
An independent expert then drafts a detailed project specification setting out an intervention logic and the activities which need to be carried out – which is discussed with and approved by the beneficiary (stage 2).
Someone else (in the winning contractor’s company) drafts a methodology around this – which is scored by a team of evaluators (generally including the beneficiary.
And then someone like me comes along (at stage 4) and says “this is all a lot of nonsense, we’re going to do something different”.
I got away with this in Azerbaijan partly because the ToR were loosely written; partly because the project was blocked and it seemed sensible to work with more cooperative people in other parts of the system; and partly because of the trust there was between myself and a Brussels desk-officer. And I got away with it in Kyrgyzstan because the overthrowal of a President patently creates a new situation requiring some creative policy jumps.
Am I seriously arguing that this flexibility should be the norm?

Well, yes I am - at least for projects in countries which are not in the accession queue.
I realise that the EU system is worried that such flexibility would leave it open to legal challenges from the losing contractors – nothing is so heinous in such procurement systems as subsequent departures from the advertised specifications. But this just shows the nonsense of the “commodification of the intellect” which is embodied in the EU system of procuring services. An earlier post identified the drafting of project Terms of reference as a gaping black hole – nothing is known publicly about the skills and background of those who carry it out. I’ve done it a couple of times – a long time ago. And, naturally, have no idea whether it was well done or not (this would have required some conversations with those who drafted bids around it as well as those who tried to implement the project).
All I know is that project Terms of Reference are treated as a bible by those in the companies who draft the bids for the subsequent competition – the rules of competition require this. Like has to be compared with like!
Of course, there is an opportunity for the new Team Leader to suggest some changes during the Inception stage (the first few weeks) – but, if this is the first time in the country, this requires some arrogance. And also a lot of paperwork! So the specification of the independent expert drafted some 18-24 months earlier is the key – but what model of change did they use? After how long in the country? And with what sort of dialectic with the European Delegation?
And why the ridiculous pretence about rationality embodied in the logframe? This is fine for the construction of buildings - but administrative reform is a completely differemt process

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