Monday, July 23, 2012

Changing paradigm of development work

The “expertise infusion” development model is indeed being transformed before our eyes. We can no longer be sectorally-focused. We cannot look for accountability only on paper. We must first and foremost look for it in the relationship of the "implementing partners" to those they (excuse me, we) serve. This requires the time and skill to see what is living in organizations and communities that is authentic, that has potential, accompanied by a deep respect for what is local and indigenous and a subtlety of practice to give thoughtful and careful support where it is needed, which is indeed difficult within the project cycles that currently dictate our day-to-day work in the aid industry.

The aid agency of the future focuses on building its own skills to accompany and support local groups, community leaders, and grassroots initiatives, rather than overpower or co-opt them. The aid agency of the future is able to restructure and revise their accountability requirements to focus on the minimum structure and financial controls necessary, rather than asking local implementing "partners" to change. The aid agency of the future is lowering the “glass ceiling” for local groups to participate in decision-making about aid resources, is bucking the paradigm of development without local sovereignty, and is demonstrably serious about downward accountability.
It is in encouraging and supporting these qualities and processes that we may find the real challenges of change management for donors and NGOs. Development practitioners, including donors, must pay more attention to the concept of organization itself and the practice of facilitating the development of authentic and sovereign local organization and social movements.

The UNDP paper “Institutional Reform and Change Management: Managing Change in Public Sector Organisations” (2006) identified that public sector organisations are often seen as resisting change and that many public sector organisations seek capacity but not change. It further identified that for many development practitioners, change and capacity are distinct, even though the evidence suggests that they are intertwined. This may well be because many if notmost development practitioners are more technically oriented than people oriented.

A useful definition of change management is: “the coordination of a structured period of transition from situation A to situation B in order to achieve lasting change within an organization”. The OECD said (2003) that there is no difference between change management in developed or developing countries.
It could be argued then that capacity building and institutional strengthening also occur in a process of “transition from situation A to situation B in order to achievelasting change within an organization.” After all is it not the goal of capacity building and institutional strengthening to be sustainable?
It seems logical that capacity building and institutional strengthening in developing countries should follow the same processes as change management in the developed world. Unfortunately anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not the case.
In the developed world, change management is about people and working with people to prepare, involve, consult and generally build their capacity to deal with change before introducing the change itself.
In the developing world, the first time most members know about the change process is when the boss walks in with the technical advisor. Unfortunately the technical advisor is probably not going to spend sufficient time on the people skills so essentialto sustainable capacity building and change management.
Perhaps it is time for aid agencies and donor organisations to look at the essential nature of their programs and projects and adopt a change management philosophy which involves and empowers people to move forward in a common purpose to achieve the Millenium Development Goals.
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