Learning Workshop

Last week I co-facilitated a ‘learning workshop’ with Adam the new Deputy Country Director, for the four livelihoods projects in CU.

We structured the program through looking at four of the OECD measures of program success: Efficiency, Effectiveness, Sustainability and Relevence.

The definition of sustainability caused problems, for the OECD definition relates quite specifically to environmental sustainability during the project lifetime, but the common usage in the organisation defines it more as ‘legacy after the project is completed’. We went for the latter.

I introduced World Cafe as a technique for the session on effectiveness, causing shocked silence when I demonstrated how participants should write on the table cloths (they presumed that the white clothes were the venues, but relaxed when assured that we had bought them for the purpose).

Tenthema (of the sugar out growers capacity building project) giving the discussion summary of the Effectiveness Successes World Cafe table.

Tenthema (of the sugar out growers capacity building project) giving the discussion summary of the Effectiveness Successes World Cafe table.

At the end of the first day, Adam did an outside exercise of brainstorming and ranking peoples big learnings for the day. He was so impressed with World Cafe that he wanted to use it again on the second day for participants to explore how the top four learnings should be incorporated into new project proposals. I was really impressed with what participants came up with for one of these; and I particularly liked the last sentence of point 10, which I think sums it all up for any development organisation.

Adam directing participants on the brainstorm & ranking exercise used at the end of the first day

Adam directing participants on the brainstorm & ranking exercise used at the end of the first day

EMPOWERING LOAL STRUCTURES TO CARRY OUT MOST OF THE ACTIVITIES – LESS PARTICIPATION BY CU STAFF

  •  CU to play an advisory/mentorship role in assisting beneficiaries or local organisations through awareness, sensitization, training instead of doing things for them

  • Identify local organisations/beneficiaries, social groups to work with

  • The identified local organisations need to participate in the need assessment e.g PRA (participatory research & analysis)

  • Need to assess their capacities e.g. financial, technical, social, literacy etc

  • Build local organisations capacity to address their  identified gaps

  • Promote self assessment of local organisations

  • Provide strategic sub-grants to local organisations

  • Develop coherent M&E to track the management of sub-grants

  • Community Advocacy should be emphasized e.g CAI

  • Focus entry point should be through CBOs (community based organisations) as they are more focused on what they are doing. Will require change of CU system

Impact Report 2

I have just run the second workshop to gain staff input to the Impact report, this time with half of the WASH members. There are seven WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) projects implemented by CU, which account for 23% of the total project expenditure, so I was pleased to have a few hours of their time as part of a Whole of WASH (WoW) get together.

WASH staff look at posters describing activities and outcomes across the whole of CU

WASH staff look at posters describing activities and outcomes across the whole of CU

I again used the poster process, but this time remembered how successful it was in ’19 points of connection’ to have sticky dot likert scales associated with each poster. These sticker dot surveys have given some Interesting insights into the development world.

It looks as if there is more  support for water provision than sewage.. funny that.

It looks as if there is more support for water provision than sewage.. funny that.

Junaid Ahmad is senior director for the water global practice of the World Bank Group. He maintains that interventions that focus on collective behavior change and shifting social norms are vital in this war on open defecation. ‘In rural India, there are places with signs that say: “We will not give our daughters in marriage to someone from a village that doesn’t practice total sanitation.” This is the type of social movement that is required. In addition, political will at the highest level is absolutely fundamental…..’ Unfortunately Malawi is unlikely to make it’s Millennium Development Goals in this area, mainly because according to UNDP, there is not sufficient high level political will in the country.

OK, so it was WASH staff commenting on agriculture, but almost everyone in the country grows maize.

OK, so it was WASH staff commenting on agriculture, but almost everyone in the country grows maize.

I am pleased to see that there are some attempts at innovation, which when I consider the lack of political will to enact any change to carbon producing behaviour in other parts of the world it all makes Malawi look positively dynamic.

 

Impact Report 1

All aid agencies want to demonstrate that they’ve made an impact. My current big job is to write the 2013 -14 Concern Universal Malawi Impact Report, which has been (and continuous to be) an interesting exercise. The problem is……..multitudinous.

Concern Universal Malawi is a complex organisation – a few points to illustrate:

  • CU Malawi’s goal is (as is normal today) an outcome viz: ‘to have made a lasting improvement in peoples lives’.
  • It currently implements approximately 23 diverse projects at various stages of completion.
  • It has eleven operating centres (offices) and works in nine Regions across Malawi
  • Funding for projects and programs comes from approx. 21 different donors. Each donor has it’s own agenda and reporting requirements.
  • There is a combination of different projects and sub-projects, sometimes with different donors.
  • There is encouragement to work with ‘partners’. With no definition of what a partnership is, there are multiple working relationships with other bodies.

With each project having it’s own goals, M&E and reporting system I have approached the problem using grounded theory, looking at the data available and seeing what emerges. I now have information and stories across nine different themes from all projects.

  • Advocacy and Social Inclusion
  • Agricultural Production
  • Economic Development
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Farm and other inputs
  • Health and Nutrition
  • WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene)
  • Working with Others

In addition, ’Impact Reports’ are necessarily subjective (as they report on the broader system, which is by definition value laden), and dependant on not just the authors but also the intended recipients. The main intended audience of such a report are the donors, but with a desire that it should be ‘rigorous’ and ‘not just a PR exercise’. I am thus also running it as a development exercise for staff, which I hope will allow them to better understand the organisation they work in, and also provide the opportunity for them to say what they want to say with regard to ‘impact’.

Using posters developed for each theme (and the ‘poster process’) I have now taken it to one team (Sugar Producers Capacity Building) for their reflections and input. Along with others, their input will then contribute to the ‘learnings’ for a document later tailored for the donors. Maybe… one day… we could get staff and donors in the same room…….

Staff comments on Environmental Sustainability activities: Reduction in tree cutting because of using solar lamps and CM stoves

Staff comments on Environmental Sustainability activities impact: Reduction in tree cutting because of promoting solar lamps and CM stoves

Staff comments on ‘Pro-poor’ Economic Development activities - Fairly good impact on linking farmers to lucrative markets as witnessed by the involvement and contribution of Fairtrade:  Excellent impact on Village Savings & Loans (the numbers speak for themselves and they are screaming): More projects featuring economic development activities. Great pickup on stoves by communities

Staff comments on ‘Pro-poor’ Economic Development activities – Fairly good impact on linking farmers to lucrative markets as witnessed by the involvement and contribution of Fairtrade: Excellent impact on Village Savings & Loans (the numbers speak for themselves and they are screaming): More projects featuring economic development activities. Great pickup on stoves by communities

 

Thumbs up by the Sugar Project staff for the poster process (carried out after they’d had a long day in Fair Trade training)

Thumbs up by the Sugar Project staff for the poster process (carried out after they’d had a long day in Fair Trade training). Note 3 of 13 posters on wall behind. 

Retreat

Last week I had the opportunity to work with Esther Mweso (program leader) and Moses Mpezeni (M&E officer) at the Local Development Support Program (LDSP) retreat. 26 staff attended for a day and a half at Majete Game Reserve. The tyrannies of distance (Esther & Moses work 4hrs from Blantyre), telcos (phone and internet are always tricky) and culture (what exactly is the purpose, a reflection or holiday reward?) made it quite a challenge to put a program together. On the night before  we agreed on a variation of Open Space. We would have two slots where Moses would run ‘team building’ type activities for all, and classic Open Space (without the computers) for the rest. Flexibility though is all.

As is always the case, a wide variety of topics. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprising) a strong emphasis on relationships.

As is always the case, a wide variety of topics. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprising) a strong emphasis on relationships.

I am so pleased to have had the chance to practice ‘opening the space’ on numerous occasions. I made the critical posters the night before and we arrived at the venue exactly at the time it was due to start. I didn’t even know where the minor spaces would be as I started – I just figured there would be trees if nothing else to sit under. Travelling in a different vehicle to Esther meant I did not have time to consult with her on the ‘Theme’ or ‘Givens’ of discussion, so had to take a risk on the Theme being ‘LDSP’ and ‘Givens: What works, what doesn’t, Ideas for the future’. Fortunately this was OK!

Small group discussion on the veranda of one of the accommodation tents.

Small group discussion on the veranda of one of the accommodation tents.

In discussions at the end of Day 1, Esther made the presidential decision to not run the second day of Open Space, but to run a session that picked up on the animals seen in the afternoon of Day 1. I have used photographs of animals for people to use as reflections on their own work or organisations, but this was something else! In groups of three, participants had to relate LDSP to the animals they’d seen the day before. There was of course lots of references to crocodiles and hippos, but the one that grabbed everyone was the driver who made reference to the honey eater bird that had made an incredible amount of noise early in the morning. As he said, ’it doesn’t matter how small you are, it’s possible to have a big impact.’

Making a point at the small group at the main veranda

Making a point at the small group at the lapa

For me, a highlight of the event was the participatory analysis of ‘types of participation’ that Moses ran. It was a bit clunky but participants got the point. Most of the participation done by the organisation was not the kind that staff felt was successful. Another highlight was just seeing these middle class, educated Malawians experience for what was for many of them was the first time, one of their own game reserves. There was considerable amazement that the most expensive accommodation tent had an open bathroom.

In a society where having a real bathroom is a privilege, to pay more for an open air one was of some amazement.

In a society where having a real bathroom is a privilege, not only was an open air one something of a novelty but to pay more was of some amazement.

I haven’t seen the feedback sheets yet. I’m hoping we’ll do a debrief session soon.

One Pager

I’ve decided to progress the larger project, namely to achieve an urban environment that reflects my friend Muchimba’s vision:

Well built houses, calm, not the noise and stress of ‘developed’ cities. People with dignity and good health.

I would classify a large proportion of Blantyre’s built stock as semi-formal. Not illegal, but not constructed within established urban development parameters. Within 2km of the down town area the streetscapes more resemble early photos of C19 European towns and villages than most contemporary conceptions of a city. In essence, the traditional urban development processes have not worked for the non-rich.

I'm always reminded of those early photos of what are now seen as quaint European villages. The essence of something highly desirable is all there.

I’m always reminded of those early photos of what are now seen as quaint European villages. The essence of something highly desirable is all there, but needs some TLC.

Thus I’ve written a (almost) one-pager for a project proposal based on ‘new paradigm’ thinking with a facilitated process to build on residents existing strengths and achieve the desired vision. If interested enough, see the Word document which you are welcome to comment on/change etc.

As well as taking a facilitated approach to development, a component of the proposal is to ensure that there are opportunities for people to earn small amounts of money through casual employment.

The price of cooking oil might be expressed by litre, but by far the majority buy the tine sachets hanging on the door post. Even earning small amounts of money makes a great difference to people earning

The price of cooking oil might be expressed by litre, but by far the majority buy the tiny sachets hanging on the door post. Earning small amounts of money makes a significant difference to peoples quality of life.

We found this had great outcomes when introduced into a housing estate in Northern NSW (also see Video), and is also demonstrated in a Malawian village such as Kalata. In this village there has been opportunities for residents to make stoves on a casual basis. Not everyone wants or needs to do so, but for those that do it can make considerable difference to dignity and emotional well being.

So all that’s needed now is a donor! Ideas gratefully received.

Over a three year period in Kalata Village, Alini Byson has made approx 2000 stoves.  The income has provided food and clothes for her children, allowed her to finish the porch floor and render the wall. She is extremely proud of her achievements.

Over a three year period in Kalata Village, Alini Byson has made approx 2000 stoves. The income has provided food and clothes for her children, allowed her to finish the porch floor and render the wall. She is extremely proud of her achievements.