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Podcast: Reimagining technical assistance over coffee: episode 2 - Approaches

The second in our six-part podcast series exploring all aspects of delivering technical assistance. In this episode Alexandra Nastase discusses different approaches with Geoff King.

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

In this second episode, we discuss what is realistic to expect from approaches that advance doing development differently with Geoff King (bio below).

Building on his impressive experience, Geoff discusses the importance of designing convincing governance frameworks to manage risks and having the right people on board.

We started our discussion from the assumption that most of our listeners will be familiar with the plethora of approaches that support a more innovative, adaptive, and systemic way of thinking and working in development to replace the traditional ‘plan and control’ type of programme. There is plenty of literature to explain these adaptative approaches such as here or here.

The paradigm shift from the traditional to innovative approaches that we promote and seek in our programmes may be too ambitious. These ‘new’ approaches are part of a toolkit, and they need to be judiciously employed to deliver results. In my guest’s view, in many situations, the realities are rather traditional, so the programme design needs to account for that, and identify the space where more innovative approaches make sense. In the previous episode we discussed the default option of managing expectations about who is doing the work and how to negotiate a space for facilitation and enablement. In this context, Geoff reminded us that ‘ we are here with some resources to support national counterparts to drive reforms. We don’t deliver development. We enable it.’

Flexibility and autonomy are only possible when clear governance frameworks are in place to manage risks. The donors are under pressure to be transparent and effective when spending large budgets of taxpayer's money. They get plenty of reassurance when applying blueprint approaches, when outputs are clearly defined upfront, and less so when they are presented with a roadmap and a process. In these circumstances, to create the space for innovation, entrepreneurship, flexibility and autonomy, implementers need to put in place strong and clear governance frameworks that show the early warning mechanisms for identifying and managing risks. Geoff mentioned a few elements that were put in place as part of the coalitions for change programme:

  • Well-established governance and risk management structure
  • System of managing risks at all implementation levels
  • Process to review ongoing reforms
  • External third parties to provide advice to decision-makers on the potential risks, and recommendations to manage risks
  • A portfolio of projects for both small areas of reform where the risk for failure is lower, combined with high risk- high potential for transformation.

We overinvest in the written design of the programmes and underinvest in finding the right leadership teams. Geoff and I both agreed that it's a lot easier to implement a traditional technical assistance programme. Finding the right people to drive a successful adaptive programme is challenging for a few reasons. On a structural level, it isn't easy to find people who have the right network and are connected to the right people, but who are truly outside the well-entrenched system and are ready to challenge the status quo. On a programme level, many experienced consultants are comfortable with the traditional approaches of delivering technical support i.e. hands-on consulting, providing training etc. and less familiar with the facilitative approaches. To address this, design teams should be spending most of their time finding the right people whose importance will prevail in the success of the programme implementation.

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 Geoff:

For the last two years, Geoff King has worked as the Counsellor for Justice, Accountability and Subnational development at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby. He has worked with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for fifteen years having held a variety of positions including leading the PNG governance team in Canberra, working as a Governance Advisor across the Australian aid program and as the Counsellor for Governance and Humanitarian at the Australian Embassy in the Philippines. Prior to joining DFAT, Geoff worked in a number of government agencies in Australia and Canada with a particular focus on working with indigenous communities.

About Alexandra:

Alexandra Nastase is an experienced development professional who has 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: