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Podcast: Reimagining technical assistance over coffee: episode 1 - Dialogue

Alexandra Nastase discusses the day-to-day challenges faced by practitioners delivering technical assistance with Andrew Wyatt.

This podcast series comprises of a set of informal conversations with experienced practitioners and development partners on the practicalities for delivering effective technical assistance, the day-to-day challenges for doing things differently, and suggestions drawn from their own experiences. It’s about reimagining technical assistance over coffee, if you like.

The series comprises of six episodes, exploring various facets of the practicalities of doing development differently: we discuss some perspectives of development partners and their own dilemmas, the value of coaching and facilitation, the challenges and recommendations to further localise aid, and gender dynamics.

In this first episode, we’ve set the scene for these conversations with Andrew Wyatt. He has impressive experience working on public sector change, both as part of the government and as an external technical advisor (Bio below).

In our conversation, Andrew focused on the value of genuine dialogue to address the practical challenges in reimagining technical assistance.

Dialogue by first listening, then telling. Don’t start a technical assistance programme by assuming that you have an argument to win. Instead, start with a genuine (two-way) dialogue with the counterparts, take time to understand their lived experiences, the backstory. Arguments and evidence by themselves don’t always prevail when it comes to supporting large public sector change programmes. They may do, but what is even more critical is understanding the people you’re working with and the power structures. In practice, for the future of technical assistance, this may refer to a long-term, meaningful engagement with the government focused on coaching and facilitation – methods of support that have the government official in the centre of building capacity efforts.

Dialogue by talking to the person, not the institution. Even further, we generally refer to capacity development or state capability as if there is a single, unitary voice for the government. This is never the case, not even in one department or in offices on the floor of a government building. To engage genuinely and meaningfully with a program, one needs to ask themselves more often, ‘ What is the problem I am trying to solve? Whose problem is this? Whose problem isn’t this? Who decided on this problem?’ This approach may actually save a lot of time.

Dialogue by genuinely agreeing on what can realistically be achieved with the resources available. We envisage a wholescale transformation for the government by spending half a million dollars in the next 3 years.’ More often than not, implementers and development partners alike are caught up in an over conceived, overambitious project set to fail from the outset. Instead, what we could be doing is to spend time negotiating a vision for how to deploy support that is needed, where it is needed the most, being more flexible on the type of skills deployed and the type of problems to address. We’ve written a separate blog about the importance of recognising the limits of different technical assistance approaches and using them wisely to support government priorities.

Dialogue that is able to create a commitment to flexibility and adaptive management. Trust is essential to agile and adaptive management. Andrew believes this might be the queen of ‘easier said than done’ in delivering technical support. He suggests that the most important practical aspect is navigating this conundrum with an open, genuine dialogue between government – implementer and development partners, including a division of contractual and technical leadership responsibilities.

Internal dialogue and reflection. The one question we should ask ourselves more often, Andrew suggests, is: ‘What am I doing here?’ Andrew suggests that continuous reflection is key to making sure that development practitioners learn from their mistakes and successes, remain focused on the final results of their work, on supporting a government to work better for their people.

I hope you will enjoy this conversation just as much as I did. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to get in touch with Alexandra Nastase on LinkedIn via email.

About Andrew:

Andrew Wyatt served for over 23 years in the UK public service and 12 more as a consultant. He has provided support to a range of sectors across all stages of the policy cycle, from analysis and appraisal to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In recent years his work has focused particularly on the assessment and strengthening of institutional and organisational capacity. He has led functional reviews and institutional capacity assessments at national and sub-national levels in Antigua, Kenya, Lebanon, Rwanda, Zambia, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe and mainland Tanzania, led the provision of technical support for the establishment of a Social Assistance Agency in Moldova, and supported the development of a competency framework for health personnel in the State of Bihar. He has also led teams to design new public sector organisations and their supporting processes, systems and staff requirements, including a parliamentary foundation to support accountability and policy-making in Tanzania and a social protection secretariat for the Government of The Gambia.

About Alexandra:

Alexandra Nastase is an experienced development professional who designed, implemented and evaluated multiple public sector change programmes in the past decade. Alexandra’s work is centred on advancing structural reforms, strengthening state capability and government performance to deliver public services in Europe, Asia, Africa. She held multiple leadership and senior advisory roles for multi-million technical assistance programmes funded by the World Bank, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the European Commission, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and UN agencies. Before joining OPM, she also worked for the World Bank, UN, and non-governmental organisations.

Check out our series on the topic: