Safari Lessons

A three day trip to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia confirms (IMO) that sub-Saharan fauna in their natural habitat is one of the top Natural Wonders of the World. I also observed a few things about complex systems in the process.

At the park gate on our first day the ranger advised where there had been lion and leopard sightings. Slightly sceptical of the usefulness of such information we set off in search of leopard. Much to our surprise we saw one! Over the course of the three days we came to realise that most animals stay in much the same place for considerable periods, knowledge that the guides use to show the thousands of tourists the very animals they want to see. It’s only when the conditions change (climate/food availability) that they move to a different location. Complex system observation: For periods there is a sense of stability, however gradually conditions will change until there is a ‘tipping point’ that generates change and a new normal.

There are better photos on the official website, but to see a real leopard in the wild is something else.

There are better photos on the official website, but to see a real leopard in the wild is something else.

We had been in the park for most of a day and not even noticed the myriad tracks across the landscape. Made by Hippo’s who spend their days partially submerged in the water, when they leave in the evening to feed their feet are all soft and mushy. So they stay on the same tracks for comfort. It was only after the tracks had been pointed out that we saw them. Complex system observation: Initially when viewing the system you only get to see the obvious components (like elephants). It takes time to see the detail.

HIppos come out of the water at night to feed. To protect their delicate feet they stay on the same tracks.

HIppos come out of the water at night to feed. To protect their delicate feet they stay on the same tracks.

There are no rhinos. There used to be, but poachers killed the last a few years ago. There is now no mention of them in any park literature. No rhino’s on the tick-off list of animals you’ve seen. No photos, no nothing. Perhaps there were strenuous attempts to combat the poachers, perhaps not. Presumably the eco-system of the park has been irreversibly changed. Complex system observation: Our current reality is the only one. We might say ‘Lest we forget’, but then we make new mistakes: such as now having 50 million refugees in the world.

On a guided night drive, about six tourist 4WD’s converged on a small pride of lions setting off for the hunt. One by one the lions (including a cub) walked through the combined lighting of six spotties, seemingly oblivious to the light, the vehicles, the cameras, the people. Complex system observation: Some things are beyond understanding. Do the lions simply ‘not see’ the intrusion into their space/their universe (the official response)? Are they actually becoming tame? Do they see but don’t care? what the..?

One by one the pride of five lions walked into the light cast by the tourist spot lights.

One by one the pride of five lions walked into the light cast by the tourist spot lights.

Theatre Act 2

Warning: This Blog might offend. Do not read further if unable to accept different cultural practices and realities.

Most rural Malawians live a life that is sometimes described as being ‘One with Nature’. For many in the villages a good household income might be $500/year. Thus for almost all, life is dictated by the seasons, food you can grow, any animals you have and most importantly your relationships with those around you. It is not an environment that stimulates or promotes individual creativity or personal initiative. Unfortunately it also means an average life expectancy of 54, with diarrhoeal diseases being  in the top three causes of death. Whilst resources might be minimal, with the exception of the very poor village people are not completely deficient. However effecting cultural change is not easy, and for the most part only something that occurs by individual personal choice. As with most rural communities Malawian villagers are conservative and reluctant to change long held cultural practices. The Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) program is designed to ‘trigger’ cultural change occurring within a group of people who effectively live ‘One with Nature’. The cultural change in this instance is for the village to become an ‘Open Defication Free’ (ODF) village with one latrine per household.

Thus following the hygiene promotion activities (see previous post) and a lunch of soft drink and bread, this second demonstration of the triggering process for the Group Village Headmen moved outside. Whilst the guys had been talking about hygiene inside, Fiona had asked some of the children where those in the village defecate.

Bread, fish & faeces.

Bread, fish & faeces.

The triggering process itself starts with lighting a small fire to cook a local delicacy, common in the markets; in this case some small fish. These are then laid out close to some faeces recently collected from the surrounding bush. With a facilitated discussion about hygiene and flies the fish are then offered to the participants.

Fist offered to the most senior person in the group, the TA (Traditional Authority), she was not keen to eat the proffered snack.

First offered to the most senior person in the group, in this case the TA (Traditional Authority), she was not keen to eat the proffered snack.

After the ‘triggering’ event, the field facilitators look for the ‘natural leaders’. Natural leaders are those who suggest that the village change cultural habits, and that they should start building latrines. No finance or other incentives are provided, however one of the field facilitators suggested that a catalogue of different solutions available would be useful. It makes me think that a variation on the poster process might be appropriate.  I’m also left thinking how this concept might be used for changing other long held but ultimately dangerous cultural practices. What about the dangers of hierarchical bureaucracies?

 

Theatre 1

There is considerable evidence 1 that improved WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygene) services correlate to improved health. Clean water is one component, the others are sanitation systems and hygiene practice. Whilst donors are attracted to providing assistance because of the direct linkages between outputs and desirable outcomes (+ve change in the broader system), a significant issue is sustainability. For unfortunately, providing nice new latrines and clean water is no guarantee that they are used or maintained. As is increasingly becoming understood, sustainability is a function of ‘ownership’ in decisions made. On a recent visit to a village about 2.5hrs from the nearest sealed road I witnessed the ‘triggering’ component of the Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) program.

The one I witnessed was not a normal village event, but second of two organised specifically for the Group Village Head men of about 30 target villages. This was to  generate support for the process to be carried out in their communities. I had read about the CLTS process a few years back, and was excited to have the opportunity to experience it in real life. What really struck me was both the highly professional manner in which the team (Tigwirizane, Fiona and Michael) conducted the session, and also just how theatrical an event it was. I particularly noticed how the team had changed the order of the sessions (hygiene first, followed by latrine building) to respond to the timing of the event, and also how Tigwirizane first warned up the crowd by asking how they had become Village Headmen and what they thought their duties were with regard to village development. After the warm up, Michael from the Ministry of Health took over.

Michael started with a short, interactive talk (all in Chichewa, so I’m not sure of the content, maybe hygiene or nutrition), and then produced the egg:

Michael produces a hard boiled egg. I'm not exactly sure what he says about it, but possibly something about it's nutritional value.

Michael produces a hard boiled egg. I’m not exactly sure what he says about it, but possibly something about it’s nutritional value.

He asks the Group Village Headman at the end of the semi circle to peel the egg. The lady watching is the Traditional Authority (TA).

He asks the Group Village Headman at the end of the semi circle to peel the egg. The lady watching is the Traditional Authority (TA).

 

The egg is passed around the group.

Experiencing the peeled egg as it is passed around the group.

The invitation. 'Now who would like to eat this highly nutritious boiled egg? What, none of you, why not? What's your problem?'

The invitation. ‘Now who would like to eat this highly nutritious boiled egg? What, none of you, why not? What’s your problem?’

Perhaps not in the same league, but as a theatrical/experiential event I was reminded of our bush fire simulation back in Australia where the aim was to engage the community to think about complex issues with a view to promoting individual action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB2DF10pxwM

1) Esrey 1985,1991; Fewtrell 2005; Clasen et al. 2009,2010, Waddington 2009; Norman et al. 2010

Impromptu Unofficial Impact study

I have recently been taken on a trip to Dowa & Kasunga Districts with the CU Water Sanitation & Hygene (WASH) team. One stop was at a village where CU have just finished rehabilitating a bore hole that had been out of action for 8yrs. On our arrival we were met by what soon became quite a crowd. I was expected to say or do something.

A reflection on how far away they lived from the borehole. On the left - not far, those on the right - a long way

A reflection on how far away they lived from the borehole. On the left – not far, those on the right – a long way

I asked them to illustrate how far they had to walk to this borehole (Short way, Medium and Long Way). On enquiry a short way was about 3-5 mins, medium about 10mins and a long way 20 -30mins. I then asked them if thinking back to eight years ago whether they had noticed any difference in their health without the borehole. I was somewhat surprised when there was quite a proportion who indicated not a lot of difference. On further explanation though, it was because that group had been going to the next village to get water, whilst the group that had experienced an increase in diarrhoea & cholera were far from there and had been drawing water from a closer unprotected water source.

Measuring difference in health. Those on the left had not noticed much difference, those on the right, considerable difference.

Measuring difference in health. Those on the left had not noticed much difference, those on the right, considerable difference.

I then asked them if they thought the rehabilitated bore hole would make much difference to their lives in terms of time or health. Again, there was a spread. We then numbered them off, and asked the small groups to consider what impact the bore hole would have and what they might do with the improved time and health.

Small groups considering what they might do with the improved health and time in their lives.

Small groups considering what they might do with the improved health and time in their lives.

The answers across the groups were generally similar, comprising:

  • Cleaner clothes & latrines
  • Improved marital relationships (this was with much laughter, but also agreement)
  • Able to make more things to sell (mud bricks, donuts etc)
  • More time for cultural events
  • HIV +ve people better able to survive

We then asked the groups to determine what they might be able to do to ensure that the borehole continues working. Answers were:

  • Make a door to keep kids and goats out.
  • Lock the pump with specified opening times
  • Work with the village leadership to have a bye law to keep kids out
  • Make sure the bore hole management committee has funds for spare parts

The Management Committee comprises of 5M and 5F representatives from the seven villages that would use the bore hole and that they had decided that there should be a common maize field that all should work on, with the proceeds being sold to fund maintenance costs. Given the variety of answers from the small groups, I’m left wondering how much support this decision actually has.

A PAR Q

Improving/Coordinating Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) in CU Malwi is all about working in a complex system that IMO requires a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach.

There are approximately 22 people involved in M&E over roughly 16 projects with around 10 partner agencies and 23 donor organisations. The approximations are because there are projects with separately funded sub projects, projects funded by multi-donors and people are always on the move. My first step was to interview as many of those involved in M&E as I could regarding the state of M&E in their project. My questions were framed around six elements of M&E (LogFrame, Indicators, Data base, Data Collection tools, Data Collection Process and Reporting). There was an additional three relating to performance (Challenges, Strengths and Fitness for Purpose). I took all the answers to each of these questions, stripped the authors & projects, and roughly ranked them from ‘good’ to ‘bad’.

An extract of the list of responses to the question "'Tell me about data collection in the project"

An extract of the list of responses to the question “‘Tell me about data collection in the project”

I then sent this out asking for impressions about the state of each M&E element in CU. I got 2 responses. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that this was a really busy reporting time of year, thus when I ran a workshop to get more responses, despite attendance confirmations only 4 people attended. Furthermore, the non-attendees included the three most senior project M&E staff.  In the workshop I included the comments from the first two, and thus effectively I got a response that involved all six. This means my engagement is from only 6/22 stakeholders.

Tigwirizani & Fredson responding to the lists of answers. Each table was printed out at A3 size & stapled to butchers paper.

Tigwirizani & Fredson responding to the lists of answers to each of the elements of M&E. Each table was printed out at A3 size & stapled to butchers paper, then taped to the wall.

So…. an Action Research Question.

The participants have provided what looks to me a like a quite realistic and sensible analysis of the ‘State of M&E in CU’ but it has been generated by only a minority of stakeholders. What to do next? My inclination is to ‘publish and be damned’ i.e. publish the results and see what happens. My rational mind though says that I need to keep it all in the ‘groan zone’ a bit more to allow greater dialogue and inclusion. Options I’ve been considering:

1) I could try and organise a repeat meeting & invite only those that did not contribute before.

2) Maybe there is some intermediate step I could invent around which I could invite all to attend (at a more convenient time) which still honours the work of the earlier ones whilst enabling some backtracking for the others.

3) I could approach individually the three key people to ensure I get their individual responses, and somehow amalgamate what they say with the earlier ones into a coherent response. With this option, would I include none of the work of the first group? all their work? or only their combined reflections?

Some considerations:

All four ‘key respondents’ are at different locations approx 300k from each other. Internet and telecoms systems are not capable of conference calls or Skype.

Any ideas & suggestions would be welcome.