Listening and Programme Design

Just over 6 months ago, I finalized the development of a proposal for an integrated programme aimed at enhancing the resilience of local communities dependent on their natural resources.

At the onset of the exercise, I was determined to ensure that the design was informed by the realities and needs on the ground and that local communities and the partners were involved in a meaningful manner. In other words – I wanted very much to avoid a process that resulted in a document that looked perfect on paper and a programme that sank the moment it hit reality.

We were very lucky and worked under conditions that, alas, are not typical – Our development partner provided us with a grant that gave us the time and resources we needed for a meaningful design process. More importantly, the development partner worked with us, listening and providing guidance. We were able to form partnerships from the very beginning with national and local government entities that would be involved in implementation. We had individuals on the design team that came from the target areas and, therefore, that not only had in-depth knowledge of and established relationships with stakeholders but were also invested in developing a programme that could bring about positive change.

Perhaps most importantly, we were prepared to listen. We tried to avoid making assumptions about what we thought were the problems and how best to fix them. We had experienced facilitators in our team that were able to engage local communities and had methods and tools that they could quickly adapt and draw upon in order to ensure that as many individuals as possible could contribute to design…Women, men, literate, and illiterate. We particularly found Rich Pictures extremely helpful in engaging the community to help us gain some insight into complex situations relatively quickly.

Did we have the perfect process – of course not, there is much we learned. Yes, our spaces for engagement were genuine and, as a result, the knowledge and information that informed design was rich and invaluable. However, we struggled to understand and navigate the invisible – such as power and unspoken motives.

Did we emerge with the perfectly designed programme – no, of course not. However, we did emerge with a Programme that was responsive to the needs identified, that drew on solutions that were realistic and appropriate to each of the different sites and we built into design the flexibility for learning and adaptive management.

Mine Pabari

Further Reading: Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation’s site on Managing for Sustainable Development Impact has some great resources on strategic planning and design. Here’s the page on Theory of Change which I find extremely helpful when thinking about programme and project planning.