Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 8: “Australian aid in the medium-term after Covid-19: Implications for the Indo-Pacific”, Graham Teskey and Lavinia Tyrrel
In late May DFAT released ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s Covid-19 Development Response’. The working paper summarises Australia’s approach to supporting recovery in its sphere of interest in the Indo-Pacific. The document focuses on the next 12-24 months; how DFAT will amend Australia’s aid program in the short-term to respond to the urgency of the pandemic. This working paper takes a different perspective: we take a five-year view: after considering the impact of Covid-19 on pre-existing international and national trends, we outline an aid program that may best serve Australia’s strategic interests.
The authors provoke a debate on what the Australian aid program may look like in five years’ time. Most discussion in Australian development policy circles has necessarily been focused on the immediate impacts of Covid-19 in the Indo-Pacific, and the appropriateness, cost and timeliness of the Australian response. This approach is formalised by the ‘Partnerships for Recovery’ policy document. While this is necessary, we consider it a first step. By focusing on short-term ‘recovery and resilience’ – and not fully integrating this approach with the ambitions of ‘Step Up’ – we may be deflected from thinking about Australian aid in more relevant, strategic and transformational ways.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 7: “Uncertainty and COVID-19: A Turning Point for Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning?”, Lavinia Tyrrel, Linda Kelly, Chris Roche and Elisabeth Jackson.
This paper, a collaboration between the Abt Governance Development Practice and La Trobe University, asks an important and potentially wide-reaching question: in terms of Monitoring Evaluation Research and Learning (MERL), will the ‘aid-world’ let the crisis that is COVID-19 go to waste? While this phrasing is indeed a cliché used today in reference to all crises, it seems particularly relevant to the practice of MERL. The authors make it clear that we have known for a while what constitutes ‘good practice’ in MERL systems: localisation, national ownership, contextualisation and the ability to adapt as circumstances change.
The authors reflect on the extent to which the ‘critical juncture’ created by COVID-19 (the juncture being helpfully defined as “where the structural influences that drive behaviour are ‘significantly relaxed for a relatively short period”) will be seized upon by key actors in aid-world and usher in more enlightened and developmentally justifiable ways of working. Or will path dependency prove too strong, and once the crises subsides, we return to the bad old ways of expatriate-driven, fly-in fly-out, linear and rigid monitoring processes, delivering comforting and rather anaemic data to senior officials and ministers, who crave brevity, surety and simplicity? The outcome is unknowable. But as the paper concludes, all of us in aid-world have a role to play.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 6: “Monitoring, Evaluating and Learning for Complex Programs in Complex Contexts: Three Facility Case Studies”, Lavinia Tyrrel and Tara Davda.
This paper, the sixth in Abt Associates’ Governance Working Paper Series, addresses an issue of real strategic importance to both the Australian government and to Abt Associates: how do we judge the overall performance of aid and development Facilities? By their nature, Facilities create intellectual and management challenges not present in less complex and ambitious development initiatives: is it possible meaningfully to aggregate results arising from different programs? Just how much ‘contribution’ to a high-level development goal is required and how can such a convincing argument be constructed? Do we possess the skills to monitor progress in real-time and adapt our programs accordingly? And most importantly, to what extent does the use of the project framework hinder or help monitoring and learning about Facility-wide performance?
The authors here review Abt’s experience in managing three high-value, high-profile governance Facilities – in PNG, Timor-Leste and Indonesia. The findings are sobering. The development community has much to learn from these three initiatives if it wishes to demonstrate that argument of development effectiveness: that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.’ Identifying the problem is the first step to considering a solution.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 5: “Capacity Development and State Building: Reflections and Lessons”, Graham Teskey.
This paper, the fifth in Abt Associates’ Governance Working Paper Series, examines two critical questions: where and how can external actors be useful in the process of state-building and capacity development, and what is the relationship (if any) between them? The paper is relevant to Abt Associates experience of implementing three large Australian Government-funded facilities in Timor Leste, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In each case, Abt Associates works closely with local counterparts as well as the Australian Government to tackle the most critical governance challenges each country is facing. From this experience, we know that the process of ‘state-building’ is one which must – first and foremost – be led by a country’s own citizens and leaders. However, there are helpful ways in which external actors can contribute to this process.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 4: “An Analysis of Frontline Service Delivery in Rural Timor-Leste”, Bobby Anderson.
This paper, the fourth in Abt Associates’ Governance Working Paper Series, examines the experience of front line service delivery in Timor Leste. The paper is interesting for three reasons. First, it provides a vibrant and compelling description of the differing world views of the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery’ in a young, small and emerging state (Timor-Leste). When seen from the periphery, it is the centre that is institutionally and sometimes geographically remote. Second, the paper provides graphic evidence of the ‘stickiness’ of institutions. Development practitioners, commentators and researchers frequently bemoan limited sustainability in programs and projects; this study shows how some habits, practices and procedures are all too enduring. Thirdly, and most dramatically, this paper stands the conventional wisdom on its head. It is not the ‘periphery’ that is dysfunctional, disinterested and disorganized; it is the centre that is insular, unresponsive and self-obsessed.
Findings and analysis in this paper are drawn from research undertaken by Bobby Anderson and his team in 2016-17 in Timor-Leste, on behalf of the Australia – Timor-Leste Partnership for Human Development.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 3: “Managing Facilities: a stock-take from the first 12 months” Graham Teskey, Lavinia Tyrrel and Jacqui de Lacy.
This paper, the third in Abt Associates’ Governance Working Paper Series, examines the company’s experience in managing the first year of start-up for three large, multi-sector Facilities. All three Facilities are funded by the Australian Government: KOMPAK in Indonesia, what is now the Papua New Guinea – Australia Governance Partnership (what was called the PNG Governance Facility or PGF at the time of writing) and the Australia-Timor Leste Partnership for Human Development (ATLPHD).
The paper identifies five practices which the company used to manage the uncertainty and challenges posed in this first 12 months of operations. Based on our experience, we judge it is possible to identify a clear phasing for startup (which extends from office establishment to project re-alignment); a common approach to increasing program coherence (beginning with consolidating projects under a single operating platform and ending with intra- then inter- sector coordination); establishing and adapting a staffing profile which supports the above processes; developing a program management approach which aims to balance accountability and adaptability, and; putting in place a minimum set of conditions that the donor and managing contractor need to drive (what arguably sits at the heart of the Facility approach) flexible and politically-informed approaches to programming.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 2: “Thinking and Working Politically in large, multi-sector Facilities: lessons to date” By Graham Teskey and Lavinia Tyrrel.
This paper, the second in Abt Associates’ Governance Working Paper Series, examines the company’s experience in rolling out more politically-informed, iterative and adaptive approaches to development in three large, Australian Government, multi-sector Facilities. The authors find that progress on ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) in such Facilities is mixed; we seem to be better on the ‘thinking’ part than the ‘doing’ part. Some aspects of the agenda are easier to operationalise than others: taking account of context, understanding institutions (at least formal ones), designing regular ‘review and reflection’ exercises. Some, by contrast, are extremely challenging: understanding the incentives and interests of key individuals, the role of collective action, getting the right mix of staff and partners, replacing the principal-agent relationship between the donor and contractor with one based on partnership and having the right skills to implement, learn and adapt as we go.
Probably the most pertinent conclusion from this review is that such large multi-sector Facilities create their own constraints (at least in the first year) to TWP. Indeed, the context and the inheritance strongly favour doing development pretty much the same. The main factor here is the need to continue implementing legacy projects and immediately produce outputs to justify the Facility model. Looking forward, the authors believe it is possible to identify whether an implementer can match the rhetoric and actually ‘do TWP’ in a Facility mechanism. In concluding, the authors propose ways that donors can look for and incentivise these traits at tender and review.
Governance Working Paper Series – Issue 1: “Thinking and Working Politically: Are we seeing the emergence of a second orthodoxy?” By Graham Teskey.
This paper, the first in Abt Associates’ inaugural Governance Working Paper Series, examines whether a ‘second orthodoxy’ has emerged to stand alongside – or even supplant – the traditional project framework in the aid industry. This ‘second orthodoxy’ is characterized by a focus on clearly identifying and understanding the nature of the problem being addressed (in particular its political economy factors) and taking small, incremental steps and adjustments towards a long-term goal. It assumes that ‘solutions’ to complex development problems can only emerge through implementation, and are very hard to identify at the outset of a program. Such an approach stands in stark contrast to more traditional aid approaches (or the ‘first orthodoxy’) which tend to lock in inputs-outputs-outcomes up-front at design, and chart a linear course towards a given ‘solution’. The author concludes with a series of recommendations for aid practitioners to help them translate this ‘second orthodoxy’ into day-to-day aid program design, implementation and review.