Developmental projects can be complex. Oxfam’s Angela Grunsell reflects on what she learned from being part of the project management group.

Don’t be purist (or, ‘three heads are better than one’)

The project arose from what had originally been three project proposals from each of the three agencies (Oxfam, Save the Children and Unicef). We were forced to work together by DfID telling us they were only prepared to offer a single joint agency grant. From a DfiD point of view this was largely to prevent single agency agendas being pursued in relation to similar work. At the time, with our separate agency emphases, the challenge of doing this seemed considerable and not particularly welcome.

Supported by Aileen McKenzie and Harm Jan Fricke, who undertook intensive development work with Andrew, Heather, Pete and myself, Developing Citizenship took shape as a project proposal. This new project had much greater clarity as to what was to be achieved because of the rigour and effort of developing mutual understanding about each other’s work, about models of change and about partnership.

The risks of setting up a project which included so many agencies and partnerships at different levels seemed formidable. But in practice the complexity of working with 3 DECs and their local schools and LEA advisers, in three different parts of the country, dictated a need for tight structure and timetable which Harm Jan’s meticulous planning focus ensured. Harm Jan’s skilful co-ordination and prioritisation of relationship building and maintenance at several levels, throughout the project, from where I sit, has been a strong factor in the project’s success. Also the open engagement of the DEC staff with each other and with project challenges has been a powerful element.

So often we look for problems in the wrong direction!

Contemplating the number of ‘layers’ and actors in the project was awesome at the outset and we were all very concerned as to how communication, comparability and parallel progress would work (at least I was).

However, in retrospect, a bigger problem was that in working out how to deal with the project’s complexity, we failed as a management group to engage adequately on a whole evaluation plan at the outset and with what everyone felt would be feasible and relevant to do and collect. I may misremember this, but I feel that although we had Aileen’s plan and we shared a sense of the importance of collecting the learning and the experiences of teachers and pupils, we were unclear, as a group,about the ‘whys’ as well as some of the ‘whats and hows’. 

Although developmental projects need to have room for organic growth and unanticipated learning outcomes, we could have spent more time sharing our ideas about this and formulating clarity about what we would be looking for and how. However, I am full of admiration for the DEC staff, in all three locations, who are also involved in other projects, but who have given so much time and encouragement to the schools and  managed to collect so much written material from participating teachers which is an unusual thing to achieve.

The Management Group, the DECs, the schools: learning together

I really enjoyed and learned from the joint involvement of the DEC and INGO staff on the project management group and the way we were able to work together. I feel we share ‘the biography’ of the project.

It was exciting for me to see the progression of the schools’ work from often flimsy and marginal starting points to more substantial and sustainable approaches. Three things seemed to contribute to this: the expectations of being part of a project, having access to considerable support from DEC experts and the contact with each other.

I don’t know how often DECs, let alone advisers, from different regions of the country, have opportunities to meet and be involved together in a common set of challenges, but it felt as if this too added a learning dimension for those involved as well as for me.

Where should projects invest resources?

Having a co-ordinator and investing time and money on regular face to face management meetings and workshops were crucial in my view. Strong detailed and consistent co-ordination independent of the agencies was effective. The pattern of meetings allowed the agency heads of education to fully delegate the project to the people doing it, the implementation of the project supplied the often missing link between funding a project and working with those involved and learning from them.

Outcomes

The biggest questions for me, in relation to various projects at present, is how to share learning and good practice effectively:

  • with colleagues, to inform strategy 
  • to help others develop their work in the global dimension locally and  nationally
  • to demonstrate the relevance and effectiveness of global citizenship education
  • to illustrate what is meant by the global dimension.

It seems to me that dissemination and promotion is something that the big agencies should be able to help with, given their bigger and more constant resources. But we need to explore in what different forms project learning can be published, presented, promoted, to form a plan in relationship to Developing Citizenship to do this and then monitor results!

Disseminating good practice is one of the icons of curriculum development, but less easily done effectively than said. One reason is that to say, ‘We did this and it was brilliant, now you try without any support’, doesn’t always go down well; people have to go through the learning themselves. Yet we all know that to be given models and starting points can be inspirational.

I guess that is where we are now as a project management group and that is the challenge of the next months and for the agencies to commit themselves to going forwards.

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