One step back, two steps forward: CARE’s journey towards doing development differently

by 07th Aug 2017
Ibrahim, a farmer in Malawi, with the rainfall record he keeps for his farmers committee Ibrahim, a farmer in Malawi, with the rainfall record he keeps for his farmers committee

The Doing Development Different (DDD) community emerged in August 2014 and advocates that (a) the barriers to development are as much political as technical; (b) international development agencies therefore need to design programmes to be problem-driven, locally led, flexible and adaptive, and politically smart. As Duncan Green mentioned in his blog on 4 August, NGOs have turned up late to the party, but we are doing plenty on the ground that fits under the DDD umbrella. Plus, much of what is supposedly “different” are things we ought to be doing anyway.

CARE’s programming principles reflect many of those in the DDD manifesto, particularly empowerment, partnership, learning, accountability and sustainability. The manifesto is a helpful reminder of how we can walk the talk. It also forces us to recognise that, to achieve these goals, CARE has to reconsider whose change we are contributing to, who we listen to, who we work with to achieve that change, and ultimately, how we share power with those whose empowerment we’re talking about.

Adapting the key aspects of the manifesto, and with insights from the Thinking and Working Politically community of practice and the Collaborating Learning and Adapting learning lab, I would highlight the following CARE learning and priorities so far:

  • Genuine collaboration and partnership with local actors

We need to let go of a CARE-centric approach. So we need to maintain and expand commitments to ask local women’s organisations where they think we should focus, including marginalised concerns such as the labour rights of domestic workers or standing behind partners to promote pastoralist cross-border mobility and security.

  • More politically smart and locally owned analysis and planning

Doing development differently requires a focus on power relations, and a more grounded understanding of political context. CARE has increasingly learned the value of adapting political economy analyses to make them more problem-driven, participatory, iterative, and gender-sensitive. And there’s more to come; the Gender and Development Network’s (GADN) Women’s Participation and Leadership Group, which CARE co-leads, is developing more practical guidance on how to bring gender into political economy analysis. That’s an important step to make the many faces of power more visible and adapt our programming accordingly.

  • Adaptable programme design and implementation

We have shifted attention from a narrow focus on project-specific attribution to contribution to systems change. Using theory-based approaches such as outcome mapping and contribution tracing and the use of vignettes have been particularly helpful to identify the right data and capture complex social change processes more effectively. We have defined core standards to help operationalise adaptive management, formulated complexity-aware monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning guidance, and developed learning and reflection tools to support country teams and partners to better adapt programming to achieve transformative and sustainable change.

  • Fast feedback and learning loops

We need to listen more systematically to partners and project participants. We have experimented with Keystone’s constituent voice model to help make feedback from impact populations and partners routine and as easy to use as possible. Increasing focus on knowledge management will also help ensure decisions are more evidence-based.

  • Brokering multi-stakeholder engagement to shift power

We have seen an increase in CARE’s role as a broker for multi-stakeholder engagement. This includes bridging scientific and community knowledge through participatory scenario planning (PSP) and supporting citizens to prioritise their own concerns and dialogue with power-holders through community score cards (CSC), and using ICT platforms to scale these up.

  • Manage risk through small bets

Flexible central funding such as the Scale X Design has helped cultivate promising innovation from country teams, such as a smartphone application to digitise Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) groups in Tanzania, or rapid prototyping for input supply shops which serve last-mile farmers.

Emergent learning about what it takes to do development differently

  • Ambitious manifesto pledge

To do development differently, agencies should be doing all of these things together. Yet, very few of CARE’s projects coherently integrate more than a few of these features. We need to break down the walls between analysis, implementation, evaluation, accountability and learning. For example, how we can ensure that more politically smart analysis is systematically linked to M&E planning cycles and citizen feedback systems? This requires a significant refocusing of energy and resources, as these are often seen as optional “extras” rather than core business priorities.

  • Organisational infrastructure

To do development differently, we need to better understand who we are, where we are, what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. Developing the hardware such as a CARE-wide strategy, an accountability framework, and an impact reporting system are key battles won. And these allow us to better define priorities (around gender equality, inclusive governance and resilience) and take the pulse of the organisation. But now comes the fight to change some of our software; a focus on staff capacity and attitudes to make sure we really walk the talk.

  • To collaborate or compete

To do development differently, we need to let go of some of our own power; and recognise that doing so works. We should be supporting able, but underfunded, local women’s organisations rather than under-cutting their funding and sub-granting. “Brokering” means we need to listen and facilitate, and take a back seat when it really counts.

  • Donor flexibility

To do development differently, more than anything else, agencies like CARE need a more flexible funding structure. Roughly three-quarters of CARE’s funding is restricted, and yet the majority of our best DDD examples were made possible through flexible donor funding streams such as framework agreements from DFID, Danida, or other private donors. Despite pockets of support within institutional donors, the Value for Money and Payment by Results agendas will only make the DDD agenda more difficult. So, we need a coherent narrative to show how flexible funding, like flexible money (eg cash transfers), is more effective in delivering the change citizens themselves really care about. We can also leverage current efforts to promote more locally led humanitarian response through the Charter 4 Change and the Grand Bargain which aims to cut bureaucracy and put more money in the hands of local responders.

Making positive deviance into common practice

The good news is that the very mention of CARE’s silence at the party has triggered a discussion internally many levels above my head to speak up and own the principles of the agenda. But the real test will be whether we can make some of this positive deviance into common practice, to promote more politically smart, collaborative and flexible ways of working across programming. We need to highlight when donors are doing the right thing, and ask for more of it.

Tom Aston

Currently I am working as the monitoring and evaluation and research lead for the inclusive governance team. I am particularly looking at the application of theory-based evaluation methods such as contribution tracing and outcome mapping.

I joined CARE International UK in 2012, providing support to the Latin America and the Caribbean and Middle East and North Africa regions, particularly in conducting political economy analyses, and conducting studies on social accountability and advocacy.

I have an MSc in Development Administration and Planning from University College London (UCL) and am doing a PhD on the political economy of cash transfers, with Bolivia as a case study. Previously I worked for CARE Bolivia and as a consultant for the ODI and UCL on issues of social protection and disaster risk reduction.

One good thing I've read

For those of you looking to unlock the activist inside you I recommend Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the dark: Untold histories, wild possibilities.

Email: Aston@careinternational.org