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Bryony Norman, Project Coordinator

And so ends the second week of this exciting new project. It has been pretty full on so far, but encouraging and productive; and early indications from various different NGOs, donors, and good practice organisations that I’ve spoken with, suggest that the research involved is timely, highly sought after, and filling a gap that NGOs have been battling more and more in the last few years.

But alas, I am getting ahead of myself. I am yet to introduce who I am or what I am doing. And so… To set the scene a little… I have been working with Tearfund now for approximately 4 years, mainly based in the UK (with a short stint in South Sudan), and more recently in Afghanistan, working as Tearfund’s Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. Afghanistan is not always ‘first choice’ in an aid worker’s mind in terms of an ideal placement, but for me this is the country that I have always wanted to work in. I begged, borrowed, and almost stole my way onto the programme, and here I have been working with Tearfund for the last year now. Based in Kabul, but with plenty of opportunities to travel out and about to northern, central and southern regions of Afghanistan, this year has seen me attempt (with varying degrees of success and ‘learning opportunities’!), to build the capacity of our project staff to understand the principles of effective project monitoring, as well as practical ways in which this can be undertaken. Watching staff interview beneficiaries, and the ‘west meets east’ clash of monitoring and accountability principles play out, I have seen with some amusement and frustration a definite gap that can be addressed in terms of improving the quality and effectiveness of both project monitoring and beneficiary accountability.

Four internal evaluations, 1 mid-year review, copius individual monitoring visits, and several dedicated trainings later, I am now beginning to embark on a new project that I hope will feed into improving Tearfund’s monitoring and accountability practice across our programmes, as well as the practice of other humanitarian and/or development organisations. I will continue in my role with Tearfund, supporting our project staff (both national and expatriate) with ongoing project monitoring and beneficiary accountability, but I will also begin coordinating research and innovative thinking into how insecurity in Afghanistan, which is forcing some NGOs and UN agencies to shift to remotely-managed project operating models, is impacting project quality, monitoring effectiveness, and beneficiary accountability practice. It is no small feat I can assure you, but it is certainly an issue that many organisations are increasingly having to grapple with, and there is excitement and strong interest in this project’s dedicated capacity to research the specific issues that remote-management throws up for projects, and how NGOs and other humanitarian and/or development organisations can innovatively address them.

The project has been funded by the Humanitarian Innovations Fund, and one of their stipulations is that I provide a regular update on the progress of the project, by way of a blog. I’m new to blogging, so please forgive me whilst I get used to a new forum for communication. I’m ‘wordy’ to be sure, but try not to be alarmed about the length of this initial post. I’m sure that as the workload piles on in the next few weeks and months, I’ll be pounding out shorter updates! Part of the reason this one is a bit more lengthy is to give an opportunity to introduce the project and outline the process for the next 6 months. I’ll plan to upload an update on a weekly to bi-weekly basis, commenting on any major head way that has been made in the research over that period, as well as addressing other specific topics.

So here goes…the project brief.
A duel-purpose project, the focus is first to research the issues faced by humanitarian and/or development organisations, donor agencies, and UN agencies, that currently implement (or are considering implementing) remote-management strategies as a response to high insecurity in project location areas, in regards to monitoring and beneficiary accountability practice. Secondly, this research will feed into the brainstorming and innovative development of solutions and practices which will address the issues raised. A final report is expected to be developed towards the end of the 6 month project implementation period, detailing the research produced, issues faced by individual agencies, and potential solutions that can be used to address these issues. Encouragingly, there has already been interest from both the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP) to consider publishing this report when it is finalised, making it widely available to different humanitarian and development agencies worldwide. An ambitious methodology to take the project forward has been developed.

Next week’s blog will focus on some of the individual processes in this methodology, and will update you on how it and the project approach is working out to date – including any issues that have arisen, elements of the project that are going particularly well, early research findings etc.! Watch this space. The project seeks to be as demand-led by humanitarian and development actors as possible, so as to ensure that the research and proposed solutions to address and enhance project monitoring and beneficiary accountability, can be as useful and relevant as possible to individual humanitarian and development agencies. To this end, individual humanitarian and development organisations, institutional donors, research and good practice organisations, have all been invited to participate in a combination of individual interviews and focus group discussions at key stages in the research and innovation processes of this project.

Activities that have been undertaken so far…
Since the beginning of August 2011, I have made contact with 45 individual agencies! Phew. A hefty task if ever there was one, especially combining the arrangement of meetings in-between various travel commitments, R&Rs, annual leave etc. etc.! Humanitarian and development workers are busy people! Six agencies have so far been interviewed, and there are plans throughout September, October and December to complete these interviews (predominately in Afghanistan, as well as in the UK and by phone or skype with organisations in Darfur, Somalia, the Republic of South Sudan, and Sri Lanka).

To ease the process of analysing and drawing patterns from the data that is established through the individual interviews, questionnaire templates have been developed (1 for each group of project stakeholders). The interviews that have already been conducted have proved a great success, and already I am seeing the potential for patterns of different issues and challenges that face humanitarian and/or development organisations developing, as well as practices to address these issues. More on this to follow next week… Further to initial individual interviews, a baseline assessment of Tearfund’s own monitoring and beneficiary accountability practice in Kandahar is also being arranged for September / October 2011. Findings and recommendations from this assessment will feed into the research and into the identification of solutions to address effective monitoring and beneficiary accountability practice that are both part of this project. I have also scheduled my own visits to Tearfund’s project locations in order to interview Tearfund’s own staff there, as well as to meet with Tearfund’s ‘peer monitors’ (monitoring staff who have agreed to monitor Tearfund’s project activities, progress, quality and impact over the next year).

And so it begins. I will blog again next week with an update on the details of the methodology as well as some immediate findings and amusing anecdotes from the [quote], “awesome interviews”, that have been undertaken to date (thanks P.S. – representative from an international NGO based in Afghanistan who wowed me with their ‘awesomeness’ when I met with them this week!). Feel free to post any comments or feedback, and keep reading… Bryony Norman

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