I'm revisiting some of my projects - trying to show how the successes came in spite of rather than because of the project management system the EU uses.
In February 2005 I arrived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to start an 18 month project working with a Minister (without Portfolio) to develop the local government system. We actually had three offices – one in the capital and 2 in our 2 pilot Oblasts – and our job was to a mixture of policy advice and training. It also required us to produce a Roadmap for the development of local government (although there was already a decentralisation strategy). Just as I was finishing the Inception Report, I had to flee the country because of unrest which swept the President from power. I returned after a week to a bit of a political vacuum – but the municipalities were still there so we proceeded with the initial needs assessment which we did through focus group discussions.
I had a basic question – we were a short project in a field where there were already 2-3 donors (eg UNDP; Urban Institute) who had carved out an important role over the past 5 years and more. What, I wondered, was the distinctive contribution our small and brief project could make? The project design did not seem to have considered this question.
The first answer was that, unlike the other donors, we had a base in the field – 2 local offices – which gave us some special insights into the needs of remote village municipalities. Our intensive focus group sessions (see para 6 of this paper) and the drafting of the Roadmap also helped keep our minds constantly open to new ideas – and made me realise that one of our potential roles was to help ensure that the voice of remote people was heard in the capital. I got a bit angry, for example, with all the talk there about the “lack of municipal capacity” – and therefore wrote a whole new 100 page document on the issue of capacity development, turning the argument into one which rather questioned central commitment and capacity How do people measure municipal capacity? I asked and then suggested
that question can strictly be answered only in relation to the delegated tasks – since patently municipalities do not currently have the resources or the personnel to begin to perform “affairs of local significance”. And state bodies may therefore seem to be in the best position to answer the question since they delegate so many of their tasks to municipalities - for example the task of collecting national taxes . But it is hardly fair to give an organisation tasks it doesn’t want and for which it is not paid - and then blame it when it doesn’t carry them out “properly” (in the view of state bodies)! We argue later that the capacity of an organisation is built as it has the opportunity to take decisions for itself and learns from doing. It is exactly the same process as good parenting. Of course inexperienced young people will make mistakes – but it is the job of responsible parents who care about their children to create the conditions in which their children learn for themselves – at minimal cost to themselves and others. And some of the qualities therefore needed in those purporting to offer support to local government are care and compassion.We held 70 workshops for the municipalities – with 1,500 participants. Motivation and appreciation was very high (the photo is a session in Atbashy). Early on in the project’s life, however, we took the view that training activities were transient events and that we should attempt to encourage a local learning capacity. Training is sustainable only if we work with motivated people – if they can then apply what they have learned and have follow-up. Initially we wanted to focus on target groups (eg newly-elected municipal Heads) but the elections took place in December 2005 and events meant that we were unable to start that particular work until May 2006, a few months from the scheduled end of the project (although I got a 6 month extension). We therefore started to focus on the entire (village) municipality – and in April 2006 experimented with a new more holistic approach to training
• A practising and successful German mayor carrying out interviews the day before the workshop with both municipal people and community activists
• His then making an initial presentation at the workshop to all staff, councillors and activists about the issues which had emerged from those interviews – and some examples about how these issues had been dealt with in other places
• Participants then going into working groups to develop options
• The full group then assessing which options to develop
• The project then organised regular follow-up, monitoring visits
This proved to be a very successful formula – with its focus on practical problems; encouraging people to work together on them; giving examples of where and how successful initiatives had been taken; and following up with regular visits to discuss progress. The spirit this created contrasts with that which often accompanies traditional training courses. The project’s Developing Municipal Capacity publication identified 10 factors which made it difficult to practice traditional training – and offers a typology of learning.
We did not initially understand the significance of the concept of a Roadmap – and it is one also which our beneficiaries also had some initial problems with. But, as we explain in the introduction to the readers of the document,
“A road map does not suggest a route – YOU choose the route. A roadmap simply locates the key features (mountains, rivers and swamps) you need to be aware of when trying to travel from the A to the B of your choice. So this is not an attempt to force foreign models on the local situation. Another point about a road map is that it cannot cover every changing detail nor tell you how you should approach certain situations – sometimes a large bump in the road or impatience can have fatal consequences. So a road map is only a guide - local knowledge, judgment and skills are needed to get you to your destination! And, like a map, you don’t have to read it all – only the sections which are relevant for your journey!”The Roadmap contains powerful insights into the difficulties being experienced by the country in policy implementation.
To be continued