So is ‘Doing Development Differently’ a movement now? And if so, where’s it going?

March 30, 2017

     By Duncan Green     

Guest post by Graham Teskey, Principal Global Lead for Governance, Abt JTA, Australia and all round aid gurugraham-teskey

The fourth meeting of the ‘Doing Development Differently’ movement (as one of its founders, Michael Woolcock, calls it) was held over two days in Jakarta a couple of weeks ago. Jointly hosted by the Government of Indonesia, the World Bank and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the workshop attracted over 200 participants from south-east Asia, the Government of Indonesia, donors, civil society and the private sector. We were also joined by a bunch of highly skilled artistes (see the cartoons!).

Teskey 1Over the last twelve months or so, one of the questions facing the cheerleaders of DDD, and its sister ‘movement’, the International Community of Practice on Thinking and Working Politically, has been whether to deepen knowledge of the agenda, or broaden its appeal and support.  The workshop in Jakarta was designed to do both, delving into some specific issues that practitioners are grappling with. These were:

  • Taking DDD approaches to scale through replication and diffusion;
  • From ‘logframe’ to ‘search-frame’: iterative monitoring and learning;
  • Networks, movements and coalitions: beyond the usual suspects;
  • Flexible and accountable: making your authorising environment work for you;
  • Building the dream team: politically astute, problem driven and adaptive; and
  • Going against the grain: gender and inclusion.

I don’t know whether it was the sheer size of the gathering, the great food or the videos, but there was a real buzz about this event. It is clear that if nothing else, the language of DDD and TWP definitely strikes a chord across a diversity of development professionals. In the quieter moments of the event (there were few) I pondered why this should be. Is it because we all want to keep up with Harvard professors? Or we all want to be associated with the Next Big Thing?

I think it is pretty clear that something more fundamental is at play. And that is that development practitioners are, at one and the same time:

  • Committed to learning from experience;
  • Keen to improve their own program effectiveness;
  • Cognisant of the political maelstrom in which they all work;
  • Fed up with pretending that technical ‘solutions’ alone will lead to success’, and the seeming straight jacket of the project framework.

DDD and TWP are the first ‘formal’ practitioner-based movements (or whatever we want to call them) that start from these realities. Many of the participants in Jakarta were sublimely unaware of the Harvard Manifesto or Bill Easterly’s call for ‘searchers not planners’ or the existence of the TWP CoP. But they were aware of this change sweeping over the development profession. No let me re-phrase that. Trickling over the development profession.

In Jakarta it was clear that two features of DDD / TWP seemed to have captured the collective imagination more than any others: first,Teskey 2 the focus on the problem, and second, flexibility in implementation (being able to revise program design and shift budgets). By contrast, the ‘TWP approach’ of directly engaging with, and seeking to influence, the right-hand assumptions column of the project framework (previously often something akin to: “if we achieve our outputs, then assuming there is political will, we will achieve our outcomes”) gets much less attention. Why is this? Is it too hard? Too risky? Too unknowable? Or is it just too challenging for donors explicitly to align themselves with a cause? It seems we have few examples of successful practice here – the Coalitions for Change program in the Philippines is one, led by Jaime Faustino of The Asia Foundation. This is him in full flow – on the right. He really does look like that too.

It was interesting too that in Jakarta some presentations were not, strictly speaking, DDD or TWP. A number of activities and initiatives were badged as DDD, but really were no more than examples of good, solid professional development practice (based on data, designed and managed with extensive citizen participation, real time monitoring). They were DDP (Doing Development Properly), not DDD. This is not a problem – in some ways it is flattering – but it runs the risk of diluting the core features of DDD / TWP.

A big, ugly, practical question for many officials from donor organisations was – and is – the seeming challenge of balancing flexibility with accountability: how can I be accountable for results when I am building in flexibility in budgets, time-scales and even designs? (At this point I am reminded of a great comment by  my friend and ex-colleague Verena Fritz at the World Bank, who at an earlier meeting on DDD noted that the Bank has absolutely no problem whatsoever with flexibility and adaptation of its program designs – “as long as they coincide with the mid-term review”. Bravo!)

My suggested answer to this is the difference between the line of sight of accountability and the line of sight of results.

Teskey 3In this diagram, the line of sight of accountability is the lower arrow. We (practitioners, aid organisations) are accountable for problem identification and investment selection – including the initial theorisation of how change happens, the quality of the our political economy analysis, the quality of design, implementation and monitoring, tracking the delivery of outputs and the extent to which outcomes are likely – i.e. a reassessment of the theory of change, and the flexible, adaptive and responsive nature of the changes put in place as a result of progress and associated learning. Donors are thus accountable up to and including the theory of change they are working to. By contrast, the results line of sight, the upper arrow, refers to the way in which outputs are expected to be translated into outcomes and goal achievement. This is why the initiative is being funded, but it is not synonymous with the donors’ line of accountability.

So where does DDD4 leave us? Onwards and upwards I guess. The movement is gaining strength, there are an increasing number of initiatives practicing DDD and we are slowly learning from them. Overall the sense is that at last development is embracing the world of real politik; where stuff may happen at any time to throw initiatives off-course. Big challenges remain. Three for me stand out.

First is how to apply the ideas of DDD to the large-scale implementation of nation-wide programs: which bits of DDD (if any) are relevant? Sure – agree on the problem first – but beyond that? Should experimentation not precede ‘roll-out’? Are ministries of finance not leary about endorsing flaky spending commitments? Can nationwide programs such as, say, classroom construction be subject to constant review, reflection and redesign? Does this mean the relevance of DDD is circumscribed in some way – and if so just what are the boundaries?

Second, much of the growing experience has yet to be written up. The DFAT (Australian)-funded KOMPAK program in Indonesia has lots of DDD / TWP lessons, but staff have not yet had the time to write them up and synthesise them. This is about to change……

And third, DDD / TWP approaches are more staff intensive and skill intensive than what are sometimes horribly (but accurately) called ‘set and forget’ programs: staff are required that can read the vagaries of the domestic political economy in real time and respond appropriately. To do this requires technical depth, political skills and deep experience. Most donors are moving in the opposite direction: fewer, large scale programs to secure ‘efficiency savings’ are the order of the day. Deep skills are being scorned in favour of the generalist. In short, the ‘donor world’ authorising environment is increasingly hard to find.

Answers on a post card please. Well, on this blog site anyway.