Development cooperation is twisted

The idea of result based management is basically OK. I think most agree. What should be measured if not what has been accomplished?
Lately, the phenomenon of “obsessive measurement disorder” in result-based management has been observed. And relevant explanations are given.  and (in Swedish) These mainly concern the practice and application of RBM – the “how”, but not very much the “what”.
Perhaps the word result is frightening when standing there naked, alone. Let us reintroduce the word dialogue.
The dialogue was lost somewhere in the process when management by objectives was introduced in the mid-eighties. We can speculate about the reasons. At introduction, the discourse around the objectives was emphasised. A discussion of goals and (performance) measures between the partners was part of the model. Where then are the partners at later stages in the project? Leadership must include dialogue with those concerned not only at the start, but also during the process. We clarify together what should be achieved – and what we are achieving, in the dialogue. Not in boxes. Together we may recognise that results in different respects mismatch – and good figures might not correspond to our experience and feelings (terrible!) that things are not all right.  And we may acknowledge changes over time – some results are unexpected, some worse and some better – and we should be prepared even to modify the programme strategy and design. However, that is not always happening.
The gradually more performance oriented management system turned the attention to the centre, to anxious staff at donor headquarters and financers who required box results – instead of towards those that needed the support. Furthermore it turned the attention of local actors to the demands of the donors. This is how the twisted demand/supply model of development cooperation was created.
The second component of result based management which has been neglected is the overview, the context. There is a tendency, a strong push towards short term and details.
– From the whole to the parts. From the forest to the trees.
– From long-term and persistent effects to short-term output.
– From the forest growth and its wellbeing to planting of the seedlings.

Leadership includes the overview – without missing the details. And lack of leadership is definitely a reason behind “obsessive measurement disorder”. But lack of focus is an even worse reason. The “how” is important, but the steering must start with the “what”!

It appears that the idea of result-based management needs to be constantly re-conquered, just like democracy.

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