‘Mainstreaming’ – a term that I had not come across before arriving at CU in Malawi. Over the last ten years there has been a variety of projects and programs promoted by the donor agencies to address the ‘flavour of the month’ issue. These include human rights, environmental sustainability, gender equality and HIV awareness. Initially funded as separate ‘one off’ target programs these ‘new paradigm’ issues are now integrated (or mainstreamed) into other projects and programs.
My colleague Thokozani, who is responsible for mainstreaming ‘euality’ had arranged to run a 3 1/2 day session as part of the Capacity Building for Sugar Outgrowers project. This EU/Solidaridad funded project is designed to increase the capacity of small scale sugar producers and the sugar industry in general. I was flattered when she asked me to assist design the running sheet. Whilst she was confident about delivering a whole variety of different ways to achieve her goals, I have to admit to being a little skeptical about her actually delivering them when the time came. Oh one of little faith!

Participants exploring how they interact with others of different social rank using Sivasailam Thiagarajans playing card role play activity.

Participants exploring how they interact with others of different social rank using Sivasailam Thiagarajans playing card role play activity.

When reporting back on the workshop she was excited about how it had all gone, and how engaged the participants were. Some of the techniques she used were:

  • A ‘lit review’ for the group to define ‘equality’ (their answer ‘Equal participation and access by all’)
  • A ‘poster process’ to explore Human Rights.
  • The DEPI designed ‘bi-focal’ in which first the men, then the women spoke about what it was like to be that gender in the sugar industry.
  • The Sivasailam Thiagarajan role play activity where participants have to ‘wear’ a playing card (KQJ 10-6 randomly dealt) and treat each other according to their rank.
  • Conversation cards to help discussion on furthering equality in the industry.
  • Finally, a comprehensive action plan to overcome blockages to equality in the sugar industry
Participants in turn discussing what it's like to be male/female in the sugar industry using the DEPI bi-focal process

The women discussing what it’s like to be female in the sugar industry, while the men listen, using the DEPI bi-focal process

I regret not being able to be at the workshop, but am looking forward to working further with her.

Newsletters from the Future

Mona Lisa Bandawe and I have recently run the Mid Term Learning Review workshop for the DFAT funded Mphuka Shared Futures Project. This Participants were from Concern Universal, the Govt. of Malawi and Community leaders.

Card storm of 'underlying blockages to the vision'.

Card storm of ‘underlying blockages to the vision’.

After looking at the state of the project to date, we ran a guided visualisation session, followed by (integrated with) a ‘newsletter from the future’ activity. With about 22 participants there were five groups that developed the newsletters (3 in English, 2 in Chichewe*). We gave a start to the newsletter that read:

“After hearing about the UN award for being the most liveable area in Malawi, I visited Thyolo last week to see for myself what it was all about. Honestly, I was amazed at the transformation since I worked there, I saw….”

………a well dressed, well nourished elderly woman walking majestically long the better road. Far behind her were her grand children coming from a well built secondary school and they were all walking towards their iron roofed house surrounded by a granary full of harvested maize, improved sanitary facilities, goat and pig kraals full of livestock and just 200m there was a borehole. All the hills of Mphuka were covered by trees and the ecology and been reverted to it’s natural state with happy people benefiting from forest products e.g.: honey.

……..aged people and youngsters who were looking healthy and well nourished and their dressing sent a message about people who are now outside the poverty trap. New school buildings and other structures were seen from a distance appearing as a busy trading centre with electricity. As I was passing through the village I saw a lot of iron and thatched houses with satellite dishes here and there.

…….TA Mphuka transformed into a a well developed area. There is 100% water supply coverage and the economic wellbeing of the people. There was a good rural road network for easy travel.

I heard stories about……

………how there was high self dependency & good partnerships happening in T/A (Traditional Authority) Mphuka

  • A CBO (Community Based Organisation) revolving fund accessed by the community
  • A livestock pass-on program working efficiently
  • Established advocacy and GBV (Gender Based Violence) committees.

……..a lot of pupils going to school and that there is compulsory primary education as there are now by-laws put in place. I also heard stories that where I saw a trading centre was a place that used to be Mylenga CBO but it has developed to become a local NGO and other rooms built by them are used as shops and local saloons.  I heard that most families are living peacefully and gender based violence is a thing of the past.

I felt proud that what used to be a poor Mphuka area is now a developed area where people are food secure, practicing all year round agriculture due to irrigation.

…… the CBO’s having grown into local NGO’s and the network coordinator is now a councillor, representing the people of his area and has recently been elected chairman of Thyolo council.  I also heard of 30 families formerly involved in gender based violence had bought motorcycles and were working to help other families change. They are role models of T/A (Traditional Authority) Mphuka. Almost 50% of the CBO’s have qualified and have Diplomas in Accounting. Every household in T/A Mphuka is using energy efficient stoves and the neighbouring T/A’s have emulated the good practice in T/A Mphuka.

I have been told that the two written in Chichewe were along similar lines to the above.

When in Vietnam last year I was impressed by the well built and maintained road network designed for bikes & pedestrians.

When in Vietnam last year I was impressed by the well built and maintained road network designed for bikes & pedestrians.

*English is a second language for all participants.






I have now facilitated three workshops with CU, with another scheduled for next week. I constantly see many similarities between the role of an architect and that of the facilitator. Each workshop is a different design exercise, and both are about creating a space for people to relate to each other. This can be both at the physical, literal level that provides shelter (out of the wind and rain in the former, the everyday bedlam in the latter) and also at the ‘meta level’, where the conversation can be about the design structure itself.

CU staff, Govt officers and leading community members considering how to sustain the impact of the Local Development Sustainability Project after it ends in a years time.

CU staff, Govt officers and leading community members consider how to sustain the impact of the Local Development Sustainability Project after it ends in a years time.

Thus at the meta level another analogy with the world of architecture is that no architect is either truly original or every project completely unique. But at the same time, every designer has their own style, their own approach, their own preferred details.

Using the poster process, CU staff consider aspects of M&E raised by individuals during the initial round of Semi Structured Interviews.

Using the poster process, CU staff consider aspects of M&E raised by individuals during the initial round of Semi Structured Interviews.

I continue to find the ‘poster’ concept that I used in the ’19 Points of Connection’ show works well in a variety of different settings. In the first workshop I wanted to introduce to the group as a whole some of the concepts around Monitoring and Evaluation that had been raised by individuals in my Semi Structured Interviews. In the second I used a variation to enable different work units (each comprising a variety of CU staff, Govt. staff and community leaders) both present their proposals for their project exit strategy, and also act as ‘critical friends’ with each other.

After each Key Result Area group had developed their exit plan, the leader presented to members of other groups as 'critical friends'. This way gaining new insights and refinement opportunities.

After each Key Result Area group had developed their exit plan, the leader presented to members of other groups as ‘critical friends’. This way gaining new insights and refinement opportunities.

As a workshop detail, I suspect it will be a bit of a signature activity of mine for a few more workshops yet.


Bottom Up Logic

One of the great inventions of The New Development Paradigm (TNDP) is the LogFrame. It provides a link between a concrete activity (which we can control) and a desired effect within the broader system (which we can influence at best). As a framework based on logic it overcomes the limitations of acting out of ideology or belief, but does not negate the role of culture.


My understanding is that it was created by USAID in 1969, the same year as the landing on the moon. It provides a format that sets out the logical relationship between an ‘Activity’ (Space program) an ‘Output’ (such as ‘Moon Landing’) and an ‘Outcome’ (such as ‘Americans feel good about themselves’). The ‘Outcome’ being the important part of TNDP. In between the ‘Output’ and ‘Outcome’ is the ‘Strategy’, which in simple terms is the thinking behind the logic. In this instance it might have been ‘Demonstration of US technical capability’.

In it’s original format, each layer of logic contained both a method of measurement and also the assumptions behind each.

Level of Logic   Assumptions
Outcome American Sense of Pride That people would feel good about such a feat
Strategy Demonstrate US technical capability That there are no glitches
Output  Man on Moon That it is technically possible
Activity NASA space program That there would be the $$ available

Over the years the LogFrame has become both a core element of International Development Programs, and also highly reviled. I’ve been wondering if the derision is because a common (but unstated) ‘assumption’ is that other peoples values are the same as ours. In other words, there is an assumption that no longer having to go to the river to collect water, but having a water point within 300m will be a cause of great happiness. It does not allow that perhaps something more important would be having the opportunity to talk with friends whilst walking to the river.

Some examples of how the logic stacks up, but only if the assumption is that the values of those providing the service or describing the logic and the beneficiary are the same.

Consider five scenarios each starting with the same goal or outcome: ‘Having a happy family”. In each case the logic is a reflection of the ideology or values of the person developing the plan.

  • Water Engineer: Achieve your Goal of a happy family, with having easy access to fresh water (Strategy). This requires a reticulated water system (Output) and you should volunteer to dig the trenches this afternoon.
  • Health Advocate:To achieve your Goal of a happy family, requires that they have access to a good health service (Strategy). This means having a doctor in town (Output) and you should sign this petition for one right now. (Action)
  • Politician (elected representative):To achieve your Goal of having a happy family, requires them to be well represented (Strategy). Thus you should elect me to represent you, (Output) and an action you could take is to vote for me today.

In each case the logic works well. The problem is that none of them are ours.  I was advised by a colleague the other day that ‘being happy’ was such a Western concept. For Africans, she told me, survival is what is important.

By structuring the log frame in response to a different reality to ours this then helps explain the logic behind something that we might find illogical. An example being how a beneficiary gives away half the free seeds and fertiliser provided by an Aid Agency that was to ensure that the family would have enough food for the whole year.

Level of Logic Description Assumptions
Outcome Better chance of survival Outsiders (Aid agencies) come and go. 
Strategy Enhance and build on my social capital That if a child gets sick, it will be the neighbours that will help. 
Output  Insufficient seeds to grow food for whole of year.  But more than before when I had nothing
Activity Give half of allocated free seed and fertiliser to friends and neighbours They will be happy with what I am offering, and will help me in the future

Facilitator: The logic of the facilitative approach is based on the assumption that your values are different to mine. The Technology of  Participation process, (which evolved out of reconstruction activities in the aftermath of the Chicago Race riots of the early 1970’s), enables the logframe to be developed by the one who owns the problem. The role of the facilitator is to ask the questions in an order that generates the answers by participants.

Level of Logic Question Notes
Outcome What is your goal? To have a happy family/To survive etc.
Strategy What are the underlying blockages to that ? A simpler way of answering than ‘what is your strategy’?
Output What concrete, actionable, time bound things could you do to overcome this blockage?  The output, which is the limit to what we can actually do
Activity What Actions do you need to do to achieve the output?  The ‘step by step’ actions to complete the task

If there is a need to put the LogFrame developed this way into a funding proposal or report, simply change the answer provided to the Strategy Question from a negative to a positive and call it ‘Strategy’ e.g.: ‘Enhance and build on my social capital’ could have come from the answer ‘I owe a lot to my friends and neighbours’.





Everyday complexity

A wonderful characteristic of European cities is the layers of history piled on top of each other. Modern technological on top of Renaissance art on top of medieval piety on top of Roman paganism. Here in Malawi it seems to all exist at the same time, right now, in real time.

Everyday medieval market

Everyday medieval market

On a regular basis I see what I’m sure most medieval towns in Europe really looked like, complete with the wealthy picking their way carefully through the mess, or more usually ploughing through it in their (4WD) carriages. Religion is evident in all forms, from pious pilgrims to a non-stop evangelical form of renaissance.  At every step there is something that causes wonder and perplexity.

Pilgrims on their way to celebrate Allah's birthday.

Pilgrims on their way to celebrate Mohammed’s birthday.

I have just watched a guy making deliveries to the office. From his truck he fully loads a wheelbarrow, but there is a step which, on every trip, causes something from the load to fall off. Each time he stops, picks up the (often damaged) carton or packages, and lifts and pulls the wheel barrow from the front over the step. On the fourth trip the wheel barrow is full of cans

Not Florence Cathedral. Yet.

Not Florence Cathedral, Church at Chilomoni.

of paint. It hits the step and a can falls off, breaks open and splashes paint around. He first puts the broken pot back on the wheelbarrow before deciding that might not be such a good idea and makes vague attempts to wash the paint splashes off his trousers. Leaving the large splodge of paint on the concrete, he then pushes the wheelbarrow into the office with the wheel making white dashes on the carpet down the corridor. Nobody blinks.

paintMy colleague says that there is no culture of learning within Malawian society. Perhaps he’s right, or perhaps it is a charge that can be levelled at every culture and it is more about what is important to who. Either way, it all certainly adds to the colour of life (and office!).

So who is learning what? Who isn't?

So who is learning what? Who isn’t learning?

The new paradigm

Tea break at the Sugar Project review meeting

Tea break at the Sugar Project review meeting

A characteristic of the Opera House design was that at the time of the award, nobody knew how to build it, not even the architect. In a similar vein, when JFK said that he wanted an American on the moon, nobody knew how to do that either. In both cases though there was sufficient understanding of science and technology for society to be confident enough that such ambitious goals could be achieved.

Project vision developed at the previous workshop

Project vision developed at the previous workshop

Concern Universal’s goal of “A world where justice, dignity and respect prevail for all.” is a different kind of problem, or challenge, to putting a man on the moon, and also requires a

Discussion at the Sugar Project review meeting

Discussion at the Sugar Project review meeting

different kind of thinking to achieve it. Whilst it requires a different kind of thinking, I believe the process of incremental learning developed in the science and technology world, is still applicable.

Break out group at the LDSP  planning meeting

Break out group at the LDSP planning meeting

An aspect of all contemporary Donor Aid programs is that the donors demand regular Monitoring and Evaluation reports of projects and programs, both to ensure accountability but also to facilitate learning and change. I recently attended the Sugar and LDSP (Local Development Support Program) projects quarterly review meetings. I was impressed by the desire to explore the ‘so what?’ question in response to a list of outputs achieved, the real discussions on gender issues, and the use of facilitators in the meetings. The next step is to build on these capabilities, become even more inclusive, get a step closer to the desired goal.