Making Development Projects Work
Over the past two decades, many development organisations provided direct assistance to communities to address development issues mainly for community facilities. Priority has been given to provide basic services like water and sanitation, health care and education. Typical projects are community centres, schools, and many other community-based initiatives. The grant assistance has been utilised to construct physical infrastructure, training and awareness raising etc.
Very little assistance has been used to assist communities to realise their long-term goals through the provision of institutional development and organisation strengthening (IDOS) support for economic development. There are various reasons for this increased attention. Firstly, the major reason has been for the better care to sustainability for the results of development projects. Too many project activities collapsed after the external partner’sassistance was terminated. In other words, the development project, its activities and the achieved results were not sustainable. Poor organisational set-up including unclear positioning of the project in the existing institutional setting is judged to be one of the major causes for sustainability problems. It is for the increased attention to local capacity building. Lack of sustainability is caused among other things by negligence of the incorporation of local institutions and organisations in the development processes.
Of course, local organisations were not neglected deliberately, but their importance was not recognised or their absorption capacity was considered not to be sufficient to be structurally involved in the project. Therefore, it was considered that development activities could be carried out more efficiently without involving local structures. In doing so, local capacity to continue with the development activities was not established. Thus, sustainable development not only requires involving local institutions and organisations, but also improving and their functioning if necessary,. Moreover, development project activities will often be taken over by relatively young organisations within new structures. Therefore, extra effort and attention is needed to embed these organisations and structures in their operational environment.
Secondly, the development projects and organisations often not only face a rapidly changing environment, but are also constrained in their way of coping with these changes because of the rigidity of project plans. Donor policies and economic, social and political changesall constitute a challenge to development. Organisations operating under these conditions require instruments and tools to adequately analyse these changes and to assess theirown capabilities to find adequate answers. Thirdly, more and more it is acknowledged that managerial and organisational questions are of primary importance for increased sustainability of development interventions. Not the technical superiority of the project design, but rather the organisational set-up and the managerial skills available determine the success of development interventions. In this respect, more and more attention is given to professionalisation of the management of development projects, requiring instruments, tools and approaches to improve upon the project set-up.
Thirdly, a necessary but complicating factor in development is that often many organisations of different natures are involved in a specific development activity, thus requiring utmost attention for coordination and mutual adjustment. Therefore, managerial and organisational matters need not only to be addressed at the level of individual organisations, but also at the level of a cluster or network of organisations.All development interventions, including IDOS, are eventually geared towards a target group. All development efforts should finally benefit the beneficiaries. The overall objective of development efforts is the satisfaction of the needs of the target group.
One of the phenomena that can endanger the sustainability of project results is the one-sided focus on project objectives, the contents of the activities so to speak. This may mean that not enough attention is given to the implementing organisation and its functioning in the operational environment. With the growing awareness of the often poor sustainability of project results, attention is now shifting towards the capacity of the involved organisations, the relations between organisations and the embedding of specific project activities within these organisations. Donors have become aware of the important role of involved organisations as intermediaries for the achievement of certain development objectives. It is suggested that those intermediary organisations, in addition to the specific project objectives, are the primary focus of project-related IDOS activities.
The IDOS concept is based on the idea that preparation and implementation of interventions should take into consideration the real needs of the target group, the capacity of existing organisations to meet these needs, and the importance of various complementary organisations working together to deliver a complete package of services and products. The IDOS analysis can take place at various levels: project, department, organisation, local government etc. The scope might be broad or limited, but always requires participation of the stakeholders.
The development projects should realise this element and should focus on IDOS support for economic development. The support from the development project to the communities should realise their long-term goals through provision of grants and technical assistance for IDOS support in order to provide a foundation for economic development. This creates self-sustaining, long-term economic development in rural areas through IDOS support. The support from the development project to the communities should address issues like institutional development, institutional strengthening, institutional capacity building, and organisational development. Though using different words, it all boils down the same recipe to different utensils but the recipe is the same with different taste and flavours with an increased attention to the organisational set-up of communities. Therefore, IDOS have become important activities in current development activities. As local capacity building is expected to become even more important in the near future, success of development activities will rely on properly planned and implemented IDOS interventions. A participatory approach is a prerequisite for such an intervention. The combination with practical methods and instruments that assist in analysing and designing IDOS interventions will be essential in this respect.
(Bhandari has been working for more than twenty years in the development sector in Nepal. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
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