Reorganisation in SDC brought fourth a set of new or adapted tools aiming to optimize the impact of SDC’s work. From his personal perspective, a former SDC colleague casts a critical eye on these tools and the capacity of field offices to put them into practice and suggests a series of measures to tackle the related challenges.
By Denis Bugnard
During the last years I managed several Programme Cycle Management (PCM) training courses, I coached colleagues in Cooperation Strategy (CS) Monitoring, new tools issued from the SDC Reorganization II (Reo II) exercise and instruments in various continents and countries: Western Balkans, South Asia and North Africa and of course in Switzerland. Everywhere I have made more or less the same observations, which I’d like to share with you.
• Ways to approach the Cooperation Strategy Monitoring guidelines are quite different according to the experiences Swiss Cooperation Offices (SCO) and Field Offices (FO) people have had with
such instruments. Frequently people are not confident enough with terminology such as Result Framework, Synopsis, Logical Framework, Impact Logic, and of course Outcomes and Ouputs;
• It seems that SDC is actually investing time and energy to beautiful the roof of the house (in other words to improve the quality of results) but forgetting that the basement of the house is deteriorating inexorably;
• The time invested in developing a Cooperation Strategy Monitoring system in each Swiss Cooperation Office and Field Office is huge and I seriously doubt if such time has been well invested. I had the feeling that SCO people “have to” formulate a CS monitoring, but for what, for whom, to do what, are among the open questions. When people are not confident with the basement of the PCM system, and especially Monitoring mechanism, to develop a Cooperation Strategy Monitoring is a joke. To understand the Cooperation Strategy Monitoring guidelines requires a 3-day training course at least, it is largely not enough to send the tool to concerned people or to edit it in Intraweb. I experienced that in North Africa. Better would be to advice SCOs to manage a partners’ day to collect results in terms of outcomes and outputs directly from partners. They will learn much more than applying a Cooperation Strategy Monitoring with countless indicators.
• The large set of SDC instruments – new ones or partially updated even retooled – that SCOs and Field Offices have to use might have some dramatic consequences in term of outcomes of the SDC programmes and projects:
- the calendar is mostly dictated by the Head Office (for instance Financial Expenditures in February, Office Management Report in April, Internal Control System in June, Annual Report in September/October), and less by the context and even worse by partners’ priorities;
- Swiss Cooperation Offices and Field Office’s priorities might have been shifted towards “reporting to Head Office” from development partners’ priorities, opportunities and innovations ;
- time to be invested in field visit, coaching, support and advice has dramatically been reduced putting people in paperwork rather than in listening to realities;
- in fact many SDC people in the field have only partially been informed about the Reo II and its consequences. They have to know why, how and what it is about to be able to answer to partners’ questions regarding new procedures, requirements and instruments.
• Quality of key document: it is a real problem for both sides. On the one hand, the quality criterions are largely dependent on the Head Office responsible person (e.g. head of Division) who likes or doesn’t like the formulation of an Entry- or Credit Proposal on his/her own. On the other hand, SCO people are not trained properly to write such key documents, or SCO Management has not enough time – even expertise – to coach Programme Officer, or competencies to assess a Project Document (ProDoc) efficiently. The lack of confidence in developing a joint, clear, achievable planning tool such as a logical framework is a reality.
• In addition to that I was dramatically surprised that many Swiss Cooperation Offices and Field Offices do not have proper and adequate management instruments. That is why it is difficult to fix their own priorities in order to protect themselves against too many unplanned demands, to know where to put energy and emphasis, where to book time and when to say “No” to additional requests.
• Status of documents put in Intraweb not crystal clear: if the SDC Quality Assurance Section makes a good work, sometimes it is not easy to recognize whether the document is a Quality Assurance Section’s proposal or a document endorsed by SDC top Management. It confuses our colleagues in SCOs and FOs.
• I am a little bit afraid that SDC orients itself towards a machinery to produce reports — reports which might not be reflecting the reality of the development work — if Swiss Cooperation Offices’- and Field Offices’ personnel has the feeling that Head Office must be satisfied by receiving reports on time.
• In addition to that, I was wondering about the – good – image and the SDC’s quality of work. It could be quickly damaged if no corrective measures are taken.
Some suggestions for the near future
• Re-build the foundations: continuous training on Programme Cycle Management (PCM) and procedures must be intensified, delivered yearly in each SCO or region, based on practical cases. They should not be theoretic and participants should be able to exploit the aquired knowledge and to pass it on to their colleagues in Swiss Cooperation Offices and Field Offices.
• Quality Assurance Section people in each Department or Division should be able to deliver such training courses, maybe tailor-made according to the needs of the field.
• It is urgent and important to (re) build local capacities in Programme Cycle Management and procedures to ensure continuous training of Swiss Cooperation Offices’-, Field Offices’ and Partners’ project people.
• It is also urgent and important to simplify and as far as possible to uniform the SDC chain of command: which steps need to have a green light from Head Office and which not. Which document is considered as a joint document – for instance a ProDoc or a Logical framework developed jointly with local partners – and should not be modified by Head Office? And which one could be?
I am ready to give a hand in this regard.