Recently I read a few articles that made me feel quite disheartened about the willingness of NGOs to design, develop, and evaluate projects based on stakeholder needs. I want to believe that these are exceptions to the rule, rather than being common, but they are worth mentioning either way.
At the World Bank ‘Development Impact’ blog, one blog post that is part of Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel’s “Learning From Failure” series noted the unwillingness of NGOs to participate in an SMS-based stakeholder study by IPA and Global Giving in Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador. More than half of the ‘treatment’ sample – 13 out of 18 NGOs in a total sample of 36 organizations refused to participate in the study.
Main reasons for not participating included
1) a belief that the work was too sensitive.
2) the study would take too much time from the NGO.
3) some feedback might jeopardize donor funding.
The first reason is understandable and the second is arguably so as well, but the third is all too depressing. Until and unless development projects learn to accept failure and learn from it, projects will never improve.
Another blog post that I read recently was an article in The Conversation that described a sanitation project in Laos in which failure to listen to stakeholder needs resulted in continued open defecation and the use of the newly-built latrine to store rice!
Again, I am not naive enough to think that this is the only failed project or that it will be the only project to fail. I just think that these examples serve as reminders that beneficiaries and their needs have to be part of project design.
I am not here to bash NGOs and CBOs. I am just citing these examples as reminder to be circumspect about what is done in the name of development. Additionally, it is worth noting that I could just as easily come up with examples of how local, district, or central government is neglecting its citizens OR how the private sector, for various reasons, is not functioning well and thus neglecting potential customers in the context of service delivery.
Past project successes and failures, along with contextual information on a development sector’s enabling environment, are just part of the overall puzzle that should be analyzed before projects are designed or money is spent. I’ve done this sort of analysis in the WASH sector, and I believe in its value. If you do as well, and have any particular needs in this regard, feel free to send me a note.