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Bryony Norman – Project Coordinator

I am virtually ecstatic to report that I have finally completed the mammoth adventure of interviewing all of the various project stakeholders for this project. Jaunty car rides around Kabul to various NGO and donor offices; terrible skype connections to eastern Africa; mix ups in time differences between Afghanistan and Somalia, and; copious amounts of minuting and writing up of interview notes are finally behind me. It has been an adventure indeed, but an interesting one, and one that has seen me network with the best of them. A special thank you to all of you wonderful organisations who committed time to meeting with me, sharing your remote monitoring experiences (or your feelings about it – both positive and terrible!), and reviewing my lengthy interview notes. You know who you are!

As with any project, there are always things that don’t go quite as expected, and little mishaps or changes that happen or have to be adapted to along the way. There were meetings that were re-arranged and re-arranged and some organisations that chose not to participate in the research, but I can happily report that I have been able to interview 32 different humanitarian and/or development actors – including national and international NGOs, UN agencies, institutional donor agencies, research and good practice organisations, and humanitarian coordinating bodies. Of a total of 45 different organisations and agencies contacted, 32 have directly participated (either by completing a survey questionnaire or by participating in an individual interview with me), and a further five who have participated indirectly (primarily via email, providing ‘remote’ guidance for the research project). Of those who were not able to participate or who chose not to, there is of course some disappointment but I hope that they may yet be interested to participate as the results of the research come out and the good practice innovation gets underway.

This week I am analysing and processing the interview data. Microsoft Excel and I have never been the ‘closest’ allies, but I’m hoping that it will begin to help me out this week as I take to drawing out the key trends and patterns in the research interviews, as well as the highlights from the baseline assessment of remote monitoring and beneficiary accountability practice (undertaken of Tearfund’s operations in Kandahar last month).

One thing that is immediately clear is that there is no great consensus on the practice of remote management. Some organisations interviewed have been practicing remote management for some time (three years plus); others are new to it but are trialling it out for the foreseeable future, and still; others that I have interviewed are completely opposed to the practice. Some have gone so far as to say that they would prefer to close their programme or project than to switch to a remote management approach. The reasons for this hostility tend to be focused on concerns primarily related to the safety of staff (whether it is a safe assumption to view local staff as being at any lower risk than national and/or expatriate in an insecure location); transfer of risk between the funding organisation and the local implementing partner or private contractor (as they take on the security risks in project implementation), and; programme quality (linked also with organisational reputation amongst communities). The fiercest opponents to remote management noted that there was no way that programme quality could be effectively and consistently measured and assured, and that adequate project monitoring was near impossible for projects which attempt to be remotely managed. Other organisations and humanitarian actors, however, disagree and have provided what they see as good examples highlighting the counter argument to what is stated above.

Consistently across the board, organisations (both those implementing remotely-managed programmes as well as those implementing directly-managed programmes) highlighted a variety of issues that they had themselves experienced in project monitoring and beneficiary accountability. Early indications from the research suggest that this is an area of humanitarian and development work that organisations are seeking to develop and improve, and one that is a particular focus for agencies at the moment. It is my hope that the research from this project will feed directly into these good practice development processes, and will be helpful for a variety of different humanitarian and/or development organisations.

This week, I’m attaching the questionnaire templates that I have used with the different groups of project stakeholders (humanitarian and/or development organisations; institutional donors agencies, and good practice and research organisations). I also thought it might be of interest to those of you following the blog to see a few of the interview scripts from completed interviews. I have been given permission by Afghanaid to post their interview this week. Whilst Afghanaid operates directly in all of the provinces in which it is working, the interviewee representing this organisation explained that they would be ‘open’ to remote management, should security in any of those provinces drastically deteriorate. I will contact a couple of the organisations who were less inclined to support remote management, to ask if I might post their interview scripts online as well…Watch this space!

As and when the analysis of all of the interview data is completed, I will also post said analysis up on the project’s profile page. Please feel free to review and comment on these documents, in response to the blog.

I can see already that there are going to be a few ‘mine-fields’ to cross in analysing and reporting on the data. Whilst a set of definitions was attached with this project (e.g. definition of remote management; definition of beneficiary accountability), it is clear to me from even the interviews undertaken even this last week, that individual humanitarian and/or development actors have quite different understandings of the terminology – particularly for remote management. Whilst some organisations deem ‘remote management’ to encompass any kind of project implementation whereby an expatriate is not permanently based in the project location, others see that way of working as their ‘standard’ approach and what organisations should seek to be working towards (particularly in view of capacity building of local and national staff and partners). I’m therefore realising that some attention will need to be paid even to this most basic differentiation of approach. Should any of my readers have an opinion on the topic, I’d again encourage you to drop me a line in response to the blog.

I’ll aim to get the research analysis up on the website in the next week or so! In the mean time, do post any comments that you have in relation to this blog.

Until next time,
Bryony

 

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