Getting Past the Rhetoric #1 : Tendering for ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ in Large Facilities

It is commonplace to now find tenders littered with references to ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP). This leadership from donors is a good thing, but it also poses new challenges. Specifically:

  1. When the bids roll in, how might donors discern who has the operational and programmatic capabilities to actually ‘do TWP’ in practice? And;
  2. What does it take for donors to incentivise this way of working in large facilities once implementation has begun?

Drawing on Abt’s experiences mobilizing and managing three big facilities in Indonesia, Timor Leste and PNG, here’s what’s been learnt about question 1. I’ll tackle question 2 in the next blog…

What could donors look for at tender?

‘TWP-ing’ is arguably a higher order program management skill. Being able to ‘do development differently’ first requires one to ‘do development well’. This creates challenges for donors who must not only identify which organisations have the program and operation systems to deliver outputs on time and in budget – but whose systems can also allow for adaptation in response to the political context. In our experience, we see five key systems as mattering at tender. Facilities need:

  1. A program management system which not only does the ‘normal project cycle stuff’ (i.e. annual planning, design etc), but can also:
  • allow local staff to identify and analyse the political (and technical) aspects of problems being addressed (e.g. through rapid PEA assessments), and
  • develop multiple theories of change or action for the one problem.
  1. A monitoring, evaluation and learning system[1] which is embedded (not separate) to design or implementation. This system’s primary purpose should be to test Theories of Change[2]/ Action, and have both regular review and reflection points linked to budgeting and annual planning.
  2. A management structure that delegates appropriate levels of discretion over budget, activity decisions (i.e. creating/ adjusting/ stopping activities) and local networks/ relationships to program managers.
  3. Sufficient numbers of national staff in program management positions – with a focus on recruiting staff with political knowledge and insider networks (and not just in operational positions)
  4. A budget management system that not only tracks and forecasts expenditure against targets but can also move funds between activities in response to performance and changes in context.

…In an effort to get past the gumph, the following table outlines all this in a bit more detail…

On the left-hand side are the features a donor would expect to see under a more planned project management approach at each stage of the project cycle at tender. On the right-hand side are the systems or tools which (we believe) the donor would expect to see reflected by a bidder who knows how to not only ‘do development well’ but also ‘do TWP’ in practice.

procurement blog

…So what do you think? What have we missed?



[1] For more information on MEL see:

[2] For more information on what a Theory of Change is see:

One thought on “Getting Past the Rhetoric #1 : Tendering for ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ in Large Facilities

  1. Pingback: Getting Past the Rhetoric #2: Managing for ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ in Large Facilities – Governance Soapbox

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