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The Reo II Tools and its possible consequences and impacts

January 24, 2012 | LND | SDC Experiences |

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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.

 

Comments to“The Reo II Tools and its possible consequences and impacts”


  1. Adrian Gnägi says:

    Thanks a lot Denis, very well put. I like your idea of a partner day as CS monitoring tool. And I share your concern that SDC is becoming a report production machine, instead of a change facilitator. We are organizing a report writing workshop for SDC and partner program officers in Ulaan Bataar in early April: quicker, more participatory, bettere stories. Helping staff to free up time for real work.

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  2. Adrian Maitre says:

    We rather agree, the introduction of new instruments does not mean that just by introducing those capacities and knowledge are improved, therefore training, coaching, quality assessments and management support is vital.

    In principle we agree, quality or results cannot be achieved without quality of other things. However your statement is not clear to us: what is the “roof, what is the basement” in your view?

    On the issue of Country Strategy Monitoring systems: We agree completely that the questions on “why, for whom etc” should be answered maybe even before you work specifically on indicators, sources, methods and reports. However, we disagree strongly with your statement that introducing a result oriented Monitoring System might be “a joke”. With the introduction of annual reports and the monitoring concept the aim was to strengthen the strategic level and to foster an adqueate definition of our contribution to country development. This does not mean that improvements on project level are not necessary. If “the basement” is still so weak after so many years (as you describe it) it should be not the fault of the new instruments…

    We completely agree that in order to put the Country Strategy Monitoring guidelines into practice, training is needed, and we also agree with the reference to the fact that the guidelines are not easily read. However, your statement that CS monitoring implies that there are “countless indicators” is not shared by us.

    The feeling, that time for field visits, coaching, listening to realities etc has been reduced due to more time for reporting and paperwork is an issue that needs follow up. Experience and feelings here are not unanimous and the tools were definitely not designed for having this effect. However, your statements in this respect as well as regarding to the image of the quality of SDC’s work are an important alert. This should definitely not be the outcome of a strengthened result orientation. We have to discuss how to use the instruments wisely in order to avoid that. We are convinced that there are ways to do so. In addition: results reporting and managing for results is part of our work and not opposed to it.

    We would like to state clearly that training on PCM should be and is among the priorities of the divisions and of QA.

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  3. Schlaefli Kuno says:

    Thank you Denis, for these important reflecions on our practices. Let me add a “rudimentars political economy analysis” of the framework, which I think is important in order to understand what is happening.
    Undoubtledly, we all feel an increasing pressure to contribute to justify SDC’s expenditures. The way proposed is by linking expenditures (inputs in the Logframe) to immediate aqnd visible life improvement of people (outcomes). This is difficult, in some cases, for instance in long term state reforms (like decentralisation and democratisation; like negociating multi-level government competences and access to resources, like empowering civil society for achieving more accountable states, etc.

    I see two tendencies/threats at SDC – but in fact all cooperation agencies are subject to these pressures which try to deal with that “domestic accountability challenge”-:
    First, the HQ leadership thrives to be better informed, to get “things under control”, to be able to steer strategies. This puts increasing reporting burdens on programme officers, operational divisions, thematic focal points and field offices, intensifies exchanges between FO and HQ, and absorbes increasing capacities of the FO which are lacking for follow-up of field operations, partnership work etc. – a trend you describe above.

    The second is the danger to fall into the trap of privileging easily communicable strategies and simpler concepts: it may seem easier to justify infrastructure projects, water holes construction, or health services, in comparison with complexe public administration reforms, governance, fiscal arrangements, legal processes, election support, etc. However, support to services this may be easier to explain, but the root causes of most development problems (also sectorwise) are linked to governance and institutional issues. The question for SDc is therefore not: “is it developmental (in terms of outcomes) to assist partner countries to establish an accountable state” (since there is no way around that), but the question is rather: “is SDC ready to get engaged in complexe reforms over time, to accept risks of fallbacks…and to defend and explain that to our Parliament”!!

    Instead of investing so much into “Field Office to HQ reporting”, I think it would be more “developmental” (effective) to better valorize partipative outcome assessment approches. The beneficiaries (mothers who send their children to school, but also Mayors, teachers, techniciens in the administration, members of local parliaments and of political parties in the partner countries) should get voice in that dialogue. One could say: let’s do both, we need both. But as we all know, there is an end in heaping up tasks and activities while resources remain limitied. Choices have to be made and priorities to be set.

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