Getting Past the Rhetoric #2: Managing for ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ in Large Facilities

The first blog discussed what donors could be looking for at tender, to ensure bidders can actually ‘do TWP’ in practice.

This blog looks at what it takes for donors to incentivise TWP once implementation has begun.

Drawing on our experiences mobilizing and managing three big facilities in Indonesia, Timor Leste and PNG, here’s what I see as some of our key lessons …

What can donors do during implementation?

As implementation begins, it is inevitable for programs to become focused on the minutiae of day-to-day programming and begin to slip back in to planned project management approaches (i.e. did we faithfully implement our log-frame?).

While the incentives to ‘do TWP’ must to be enforced by programs themselves, there are also ways for donors to hold programs accountable during implementation. These include:

  • Focusing performance milestones on the quality of the programs aforementioned systems for designing and delivering ‘TWP’ programs versus only the quality of outputs and even inputs.

E.g. “how robust was the political analysis which informed problem selection?” vs input questions such as “why are you putting X advisers in X department”

E.g. “how well placed are the programs local partners/ staffs networks to influence those with power?” vs “do you have a final org chart in place yet”.

  • Over time (and as the Facility moves out of mobilisation), focusing performance milestones on how strong the programs evidence base is that they are on track to achieve overall outcomes, versus only tracking whether pre-determined inputs and outputs were achieved.
  • Setting performance milestones which reward how many projects/ activities changed as a result of review and reflection exercises, as well as frank review sessions between the donor and program where program failure is admitted and responded to.
  • Clearly distinguishing between roles of the donor and program with regard to program management (see diagram below). This means leaving the nitty-gritty of activity design (choice of input/ outputs, grant management, financial management within certain thresholds etc) to the program and instead assessing:
    • quality of program management systems and rigour of decision-making systems
    • quality of evidence used to justify whether the project is on track or not
    • how strong are the programs local relationships
    • quality of political analysis used to inform decision making and
    • how responsive the program is to changes in the local operating context.

The below diagram depicts differing roles of a donor and program staff/ managing contractor in large Facilities which are attempting to TWP. The further down the diagram you go, the more responsibility the program has for day-to-day project management – whereas the further up you move the more authority the donor would have (with its counterparts) over policy and strategy.

blog 2

Donors also have a critical role to play in setting agreeing the overall focus of the facility with the host government (i.e. main work-areas and goals), and continuing to keep the political space open with government for the program to use TWP approaches.

Concluding thoughts….

It is a good thing that donors are increasingly calling for implementers to display ‘TWP’ skills, and that implementers are responding in kind. Yet much of this is still stuck at the rhetoric stage. There is limited guidance for donors to discern at tender who actually has the operational and programmatic capabilities to ‘do TWP’ in practice, and little documented on what it then takes to then incentivize this way of working once implementation has begun.

Based on our experiences implementing three large facilities in the Indo-Pacific, these two blogs have outlined some rough ideas on what is required in practice.

In short. If there is one take away from this discussion, it is that ‘doing development differently’ first requires one to ‘do development well’. This means donors must not only identify at tender 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. And this cannot simply be left a tender. TWP-ing needs to be actively incentivised by donors come implementation – requiring, perhaps, quite a different relationship between the donor and managing contractor to the traditional principal-agent default.

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