I’m feeling very depressed: solving the relief/development divide, part 2.

Let’s summarise the state of play.

Finding  1: DRR types are now, and always have been, a bunch of miserable buggers.

Now look, before we go any further, I’m not making scurrilous comments about a crucial species of the genus Aidworkus for shits and giggles. It brings me no pleasure. But it must be done for the explanatory power it brings to the failure of emergency response and longer term development programmes to get on in theory, and get it on in practice.

Put simply, mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction into both of these disciplines is critical to ensuring their overall coherence; the success and sustainability of all aid interventions; and thus peace, poverty-reduction and ponies for everyone. But such mainstreaming efforts are a non-starter if its practitioners are so miserable and dull on a personal level that no one wants to go to the pub with them, where all relationships and innovations of any note are brought into focus. Seriously, YOU try buying rounds with someone who wants to talk about how the professional nirvana they seek is “a well-regulated, highly functioning market in appropriate insurance, re-insurance and micro-insurance services.”

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We’ll all be rooned: Solving the relief/development divide, part 1

I’m publishing a short series of posts as the definitive word on tackling the root cause of the failures of humanitarian and development practitioners to reconcile, resolve and otherwise deal with their differences in approach.  There is certainly much more that can be said, and probably volumes that can and will be written, but it will all be wrong.

Saundra and Dennis have been sharing some poetry. I’m going to join in, as there’s a poem that provides a useful longitudinal perspective with which to begin exploring one of the many long standing problems in aid slash international development today.

Why, oh why, are rapid-onset emergency responses and longer term development programmes such uneasy bedfellows? Apart from the former stomping in with their water trucking, the mountains of GIK, the local partner and partner-staff nicking, the smelly loggies, the cavalcade-of-CNN, the carnivale-of-wannabes, and/or the occasional stupidly well funded public mega-appeals of late. Apart from the latter being left to pour a neat gin and weep (by candlelight please, to complete the image) as they draft unfortunate letters about force majeure and project suspension and think about where their work of the last two years went.

Oh, no. Those are simply proximal causes. We need to bulldoze the problem tree, tie a chain around its stump, and yank it out of the ground. We’ve got to get a good look at the root cause here.

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aid and venture capitalism

Ian has a thought-provoking post springboarding off William Savedoff at CGD about the role of a VC approach in aid. So provoked, here are some thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

Email: KM killer or KM salvation?

Right then.

We know these things:

  • In an emergency, critical roles can be held by a series of staff, all involved for a short period. They might be on site and involved for a couple of months, a couple of weeks, or even a handful of days.
  • In emergencies — and at other times – a lot of the core discussions and decisions are chiefly documented in, or at least circulated by, email.
  • When staff leave a job a or country, their email repositories go with them. They’re not available as a source of knowledge or narrative about what’s gone on for the team, even if they stay working for your agency elsewhere.

We know these things cause this problem:

  • When institutional knowledge about even recent day to day decisions is unavailable or difficult to obtain for new staff, it has a detrimental impact on our ability to work coherently internally, as well as with external actors like partners and donors. In short, it contributes to institutional idiocy and is a barrier to getting on with good programme delivery across the phases of a response. Read the rest of this entry »


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a few good opinions, must be in want of a blog. And at the risk of setting a bad precedent by starting off with a royal pronoun…

We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident (or at least working premises, at least until I get around to unpacking them in later posts):

1. Aid exists.

2. Donor government ministries, agencies of the UN system, and international NGOs, will continue to be involved in the above for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, and this is the important bit:

3. Let’s do it better.

I’m not setting out to weigh in on the grand macroscopic debates of the millennium, its Goals, or indeed even its Villages. I’ll cede that stratosphere to the hot air balloons. But I work in an international NGO, and there are a grind of everyday issues and actions, that consume hundreds, thousands or indeed tens of thousands of hours of effort of people working across the sector every year. Some of these things I’m involved in run the gamut of catchphrases like capacity building, knowledge management, grant management, institutional learning, information systems, collaboration, ways of working, project management, budgeting, monitoring, reporting, accountability, audits and evaluation. Thrilling stuff, you might say! But it’s all hours of effort that our donors – public and private – are paying for. Hours of effort that we have to be very thoughtful about: to not waste our donors’ resources; to not waste each other’s time; and to ensure in the end we’re really doing something useful.

So let’s talk about those. I hope you’re interested. If you’re not, that’s okay, there will probably also be gratuitous hacking on celebrities and a bloody truckload of snark. For example, I bet if we took Clooney’s satellites and put Bill Gates’ lasers on them, I reckon we could sort out the whole malaria thing by around Tuesday next week. Who’s with me?