Saturday, April 10, 2010

Haiti - transparency accountability ... coordination and reinventing the wheel

Dear Colleagues

In a recent message a friend observed in connection with Katrina as follows:
>>>> a plethora of disconnected parties, each intent on doing things their own way. The uncoordinated response created a situation in which the wheel was reinvented constantly. Things didn’t happen — and still aren’t happening — fast enough. We are seeing the same phenomena with Haiti relief. >>>>

What is depressing is that the same was being said about the Ethiopian famine relief in the 1980s ... and every emergency for the past three decades. I characterize the solutions that have been implemented over the past thirty years as being layer after layer of "band aids" ... and if you recall it was Band Aid and Live Aid that did some of the funding way back then ... and the same issues then as now about how badly the money was used!

What I have seen in my UN experience has been some amazing work done by the people of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In my experience, they are the only UN agency that has a core focus on the field and the people ... the refugees ... that are their responsibility. By doing people centric planning, they get a lot done fast, and at a very economic cost. Their management process is very effective ... what is needed? ... do as much as you can today ... see how you are doing ... do better (more, less, different) ... assess and get lessons learned. In the UNHCR model all of this is happening with a daily rhythm. It is a long time now since I worked directly with UNHCR and I fear they are now more bureaucratic than they used to be ... but I am fairly certain they are an order of magnitude more responsive than most of the rest of the big UN/ODA organizations and major NGOs.

My lesson learned from previous emergencies and from systemic development failure is that the planning and coordination is all "at the top" and almost 100% bureaucratic and procedural. Almost all the coordination initiatives have been "on top of" existing organizations and the outcome has been little more than just another place to fight turf wars.

Over the years I have seen great success in community development where it has been possible to get local coordination and true multi-sector collaboration. The only progress that is cost effective and sustainable is progress that is largely based on the work of local people ... everything else has little chance of working for long after the assistance stops.

Community Analytics (CA) has evolved from these lessons. Simply by having meaningful metrics about a community, and especially the people of the community, there are going to be huge improvements in the decisions that get made ... and with metrics there is accountability. The progress of a community can be observed over time. The causes of progress and the performance of the community can be observed. People can try things and see whether things get better or not. When "help" is offered and taken, the impact of the help can be observed. Very simple stuff ... but very powerful.

Frankly, I find it amazing that community centric data are not universally available in a form that is useful for the public and for society. Data are accessible at a price for corporate product and service marketing. Data are available in some cases for government and political purposes. Yet society as a whole has a tough time getting meaningful data.

In the Haiti situation a planning framework for each community will start to bring some order out of the chaos. At the moment organizations are standing in line with projects to get the funding that is promised. When the plans have community focus ... the best project and organization to deliver on a need in the community can be in play ... and then the performance of the project in the community can be observed. This is not rocket science ... but the basics of simple management.

Please stay tuned ...

Peter Burgess

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