Learning from projects & programmes in Africa (i)

23rd July 2012

Last week I presented a paper at the PMI Conference which described the analysis of lessons learned data from 53 projects in Ethiopia and the wider Horn region of Africa. The results gave rise to a new model - PROFIDE. This is the first of two thought pieces based on that paper. As ever, your feedback would be welcome...

Over the past 3 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work in Ethiopia, delivering project management and programme management education and training to senior military officers and government officials. Working in that environment has been a whole new experience for me, both in terms of the culture, the context and the content of security and development projects and programmes. More than that, it has stirred my interest in trying to see how project and programme practices of more mature sectors might be used to support improvements in this very challenging and relatively immature sector (from a project management and programme management perspective) - and also to understand what we can learn from security and development projects and programmes in return.

Just to say a few words about the setting for the research. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations on the planet with a population of around 84 million - the largest of any land locked nation in the world. Yet Ethiopia has one of the most ambitious reform agendas that any country in the developing world has ever attempted, involving multiple, parallel reforms and a massive scale-up of institutional development efforts across tiers of government. 

With the support of international donors and agencies, the Government of Ethiopia has made significant progress over the past 10 years (the first democratic elections took place in 1996) in a number of core sectors: a near ten fold increase in the number of children in primary school, a halving of the child mortality rate, increased rural access to safe water for 66% from 19% of the population - all the while building local government capacity for service delivery and increased accountability (World Bank Group, 2011).

Much, if not all, of this development activity takes the form of investment in projects or programmes. The World Bank alone has provided lending for over 130 projects in the past decade and as at February 2011, their portfolio has 25 active projects with a net commitment value of over US$ 3.6 billion.

However, despite the growing importance of projects and programmes in Ethiopia and the field of security and development assistance more generally, there is very little research in the area. Even after nearly 20 years of international conferences, reviews of in-country initiatives still consistently remark on the lack of coordination across a broad range and a high number of donor and agency led projects and programmes. Others have commented on the way in which ‘siloed’ approaches appear to undermine the very principles which support the delivery of development aid and security sector assistance.

For example, in the review of Security and Justice Sector Reform in Africa (2007) it was reported that:

'A large number of the activities are stand-alone projects and many of those do not appear to be related to broader programs. Stand-alone projects are less likely to reflect all the attributes of a coherent approach of having the impact of programs.'

That report called for the adoption of a ‘coherent strategic approach’ and others have described the need to move from ‘project’ to ‘programme’ in response to the emergent and long term nature of security and development developments. There appears to be a need to ensure a ‘fit’ between short term (emergency) actions and long-term development objectives. Action in response to emergencies and natural disasters will always be taken as a matter of urgency. In such cases, time will clearly be of the essence. But when the need is for sustainable development, for political transformation and democratisation, and reform of key sectors such as justice, education and health, there is a need to take a longer term, more strategic approach. In such case, those who provide funding - donors - need to “rethink how to conduct their support activities with regard to timelines, funding mechanisms, the expertise required of national personnel and programme management” (Ball, 2007). 

Put another way, short-term stabilisation actions need to be balanced with longer-term thinking to support host country strategies. 

The research data was taken from 30 World Bank Project Completion Reports (for the period 1983 to 1995) together with 20 World Bank Implementation Completion Reports for projects reported in 2010. These projects covered all sectors - education, health, roads, housing, energy and so on – with circa 80% in Ethiopia and the wider horn region, and others from Sudan, Uganda and Nigeria. All the project lessons-learned data - over 200 lessons in all - was then consolidated to allow analysis and the identification of the following six key themes: 

  • Process: elements relating to specific processes such as life cycle, scheduling, risk management, benefits management;
  • Definition: including scope definition, changes in scope, defined vs. emergent scope, alignment to strategy;
  • Governance: including structures boundaries, roles and responsibilities, key forum and decision making bodies;
  • Stakeholders: engagement, management, communication, collaboration, stakeholder engagement and management;
  • Capacity: including human resource availability, training needs, people development, use of external consultants; and
  • Policy: matters relating to government policy affecting PPM

Next week, I’ll present these six themes in the form of a diagram and share my views on some of the special challenges in security and development, and how I think this model might be able to help. Meanwhile, if you'd like a copy of the full paper please email me.

© Dr Bill Egginton, 23 July 2012


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