Jagged Lines and Gordian Knots Managing and Integrating Donor-Funded Technical Assistance

by Mar 14, 2019Complexity & Simplicity, Managing People & Organizations, Performance Management

Advice, you would think, is the easiest thing to get. You listen and implement under the guidance of an experienced consultant. And advice, you would think, is the easiest thing to give. Especially, when a third party is paying for the service… and there is no real onus on the advisor to achieve the receiver’s objectives. Of course, there are many contributing elements and structural blockages in this process. Plus, there are so many donor organizations providing help and funds. It has become quite an industry, supporting the delivery of development advice.

What receiving organizations have realized is that it is neither easy nor straightforward to implement – to insert — the guidance of the ‘globalizers’ into their institutions, systems, or lives. The technical assistance can be workable, beneficial, a great model, approach, or system.  Yet it always must be adapted “organically” to the receiving context. The immediate concern is not implementation, but governance. 

Governance, as used in this analysis; is the management of defining expectations, granting power, verifying performance, and administering the processes.  In the globalizers’ view, this is governmental polity: structures, policy formulation, strategic objectives, and management controls. 

Governance has become a favorite, ubiquitous term in reference to organizational standards and effectiveness.  Three of the 6 common usages concern this discussion: new public management, good governance, and social-cybernetic systems. These usages have concepts in common; while the context or perspective is different. 

Different stakeholders or parties in the world of development bounce from one context to another, because of their area of experience or expertise. This partly explains the sometimes challenging communication between public administrators and consultants, who are working from two slightly different sets of perspective and formulation. Which leads us to the globalizers.

By Globalizers, for this discussion, it is meant those multilateral organizations that were set up as a result of the Bretton Woods agreement, in 1944 — and their offspring — to re-establish the world’s economic and trade system, after the disruptions and destructions of the Second World War.  Governance, an internal construct, and these global institutions shaping the environment, are both concerned with alignment.  Alignment in the order of things, to both get the results that are desired and the harmonization or efficiencies needed to get those results.

Before we can discuss and understand how public administrators can manage and integrate the governance policies and procedures recommended by the globalizers, it is necessary both to understand the nature of the dynamic of development and how the development industry got to where it is.

And before that, let it be stated that by governance, it is meant for the public administrator: to align each ministry (or governmental unit) with the:

  • Expectations of the government
  • Expectations of the citizenry
  • Expectations of the international community (to the relevant degree)
  • Contribution to the government’s role and responsibility for
    • service delivery (to citizens)
    • deciding on and creating the context for economic and social development
  • Setting the structures and policies needed to deliver this

The thesis of this paper is to establish why and how public administrators can get more positive outcomes for their own effectiveness from donor-funded technical assistance. This is a challenge complicated enough to characterize as a „gordian knot“.

Alexander cut through the ‚gordian knot‘ in order to actuate the prophecy that whoever did so would go on to rule Asia.  It is an apt allegory, as there is much concern with power and authority in the institutions and practice of ‚development‘. It is also true, this author believes, that improving the value of aid — the worthiness of the outcomes of the time and money and effort spent on aid – is a ‚problem insoluable in its own terms‘.  That is the definition of the ‚gordian knot‘.  The problems and values will not be solved by the donors, the globalizers. It will be solved by the implementors – both the receiving nations and institutions, with the implementation advisors, in the context of their own setting.

In 2005 The United Nations proclaimed its 8 Millenium Goals. The proclamation and programs after 50+ years of development activities is both a recognition that the system itself has not worked, and that it has.

By most measures the Millenium Goals will not be reached by the target date of 2015. They are ambitious, overarching, and backed up by a ‘very mixed’ track record of development success – of durable, sustainable success.  Of effectiveness.  In an onslaught of research, evaluation, and analysis over the past 10+ years, several structural and bias concerns have been examined in development agencies and of the programs funded. Success, it often appears, is more serendipitous than planned. Many researchers go so far as to claim ‘dis-development’ as the norm.

The development community has taken note. The eighth UN Millenium goal is: ‚Develop a global partnership for development’.  And in March 2006, the major donor agencies met in Paris and agreed to a ‘manifesto’, summarized by MfDR –Management for Development Results — that include a restatement of the Training for Results theme of the 1990’s:

  • Concrete outcomes and implementation plans
  • Indicators
  • Institutional capacity to strengthen planning
  • Monitoring and evaluation for learning and feedback
  • Results-based programming
  • Assessment of effectiveness

To any organizational or systems professional, these are clearly the most basic principles of Performance Management. The missing principle that needs to be addressed is alignment.  Once you have established what outcomes you are aiming to reach and how you will measure value/performance for the users or receivers of that service; then you have to back up into the organizational structure, policies, and work processes to make sure they are aligned to deliver.

Donor organizations have high expectations and demands, and a track record of activity without durable results. Receivers of aid themselves have different agendas. Both have evolved. The ‚new public management‘ takes off from the theories of Performance Management, but attempts to do so with only tactical changes. And no changes within its structure to follow through with needed changes in program structures.  In the words of banking professional — with 40 years of experience — who had worked with several of the major donors, these organizations are a “bloody horror.”

But we do have to go further back to understand how these anecdotal claims, rigorous research, and frustration on the part of the receiving nations and institutions are inherently part of the approach and structure of the development infrastructure.  And what can be done to improve services to those nations receiving aid – those to be ‘developed’.

This is the Gordian knot. It is an ‘intractable problem, insoluble in its own terms’. This author would like to suggest a means to change the terms.  The terms of the industry of development.  However, the terms suit many of the participants – or stakeholders — in this development industry. Which means the system as it is works well and there is no real interest on the part of the donors to radically change.   Responsibilities must be shifted. 

There is no substantive, unified theory of development — economic and social development. In part this is because ‘development’ is such a complex multi-leveled, multi-system configuration.  Nothing prescribed has worked across all, or even many, eras or contexts. Yet there is an underlying belief in the application of ‚development principles‘ and the ultimate outcome. 

Embedded in the philosophy of Western European and subsequently American idealism is the concept, planted by Aristotle, of entelechy. That is to say, this concept of entelechy is part of the donors‘, the ‚developed‘ countries‘ (post World War II, the victors) approach and raison d‘etre.

The definition of entelechy is ‘a vital force that directs an organism toward self-fulfillment.’  The peach is inherent in the seed; the frog is inherent in the tadpole. And democratic capitalism, inherent in the entelechian premise of the developed nations, is – should be — the natural state of all nations.  In practice, in the practice of development, this combines with other profound philosophical premises.

This paper will not consider the research, theories and practices associated with the evolution of (a grand or unified) development theory. It will not touch on Dependency Theory, nor Modernization Theory, nor Marxism, nor the New Economics, on which the argument for the strength of globalization is based. What only will be said, quietly, surreptiously, is that the policies that originally got the mature countries developed are no longer allowed.

And this leads us to what is allowed. What is being promulgated.

A univerally accepted definition of development is difficult to find. Most of the definitions are cobbled together premises or practices with means, and that embedded assumption about the end results. The author’s illustrative, loosely explained palimpsest is cobbled together from official donor organization documents:

“Development, a theory about the goals of development (absolute growth, sustainable growth, more equitable distribution of assets, etc.) and the best means to achieve these goals (methods). Development approaches are thus cultural constructions inspired by a grand theory of socio-economic and socio-cultural change, embedded in humanitarian value and supported (to a viable extent) by empirical research findings.”

This definition, or explanation, of development clarifies nothing.  Yet it has within it all the philosophical and cultural presumptions around which the donor organizations structure themselves.  The philosophy and cultural premises prescribe how the polity of the donor agencies are valued and organized. Polity is an old word, found anew, with a power to capture the research and unified theory of the systems sciences: the structure, policies, management, communications, and strategic objectives of the organization.  In more common parlance, governance.

In the following diagram, these philosophical and cultural premises are laid out comparatively. As it will be noted, the specific organizational processes, tactics or operations and logistics, are not yet addressed. This is the conundrum with which we started. The disconnect – or non-alignment – of organizational goals and objectives with the development’s business processes and implementation.  Further comment is necessary before we get to these details



Do Good


National Interest

Reduce Risk of Large Scale Conflict


Natural order




Control and flow



First among equals

Reaction to and definition of ‘terrorism’


In our image





Prima facie

Heighten priority


Define rules to engage receivers





Millenium Goals

Globalization (capitalism)




Define commercial and financial rules of play



Compatible systems





Economic development




Evolution of theory


Next big idea

By goal


By region


?? Cross-
























Perspectives and Alignment

This chart above codifies three aspects of donor-funded aid. The motivations or explanations of aid are columned across the chart. In a sense, columns two, three, and four are derivations of entelechy.  Doing good, stabilization, and national interest; however, are each another step away from an abstract value, a priori, and applied to economic and political interests. Development is ‘real world’. Donors have their own agendas.

This is important, for several reasons, but at this juncture it is important to understand that most multilateral donor agencies were founded out of Bretton Woods, the meeting that was held to stabilize the world economy after the devastation and radical changes resulting from World War II.

The chart is set up to align the (cascading) perspectives. The main reason to present this information is that the upper three perspectives are the emphasis of most the analyses and critique of development, but are rarely discussed internally or with practitioners. However, the perspectives drive the process. Strategy is most often an internal consideration, a management decision. 

The bottom two perspectives tactics and logistics receive high visibility and activity.  And here is another disconnect. There was a time when donor organizations developed and delivered development experts and development projects.  Now that is outsourced.  Donor agencies contract implementing partners, mostly non-profit organizations.  Many of those organizations subcontract the implementation of programs to smaller, specialized firms or individuals. Often those specialized firms partner with experts in the specific area detailed in the program contract. Most practitioners, those advisors and consultants, who actually work with the host country institutions, enter the process at the tactical or logistical level. 

Recipients often do not recognize that there are other motivations besides “helping” that drive donors. All of these motivations are acting simultaneously, confusingly, and weighing in at different points; thereby, dis-aligning the systems.

In fact, there is virtually no serious study of either the alignment of these perspectives – and their ramifications – or, specifically, the linkage between implementation and what the agencies are trying to accomplish. This can result in policies, structures, leadership, and communication to be mis-aligned.

Parallel to the polity of the donor agencies are the academic hypotheses and approaches to development. From our definition we have established there is no unified theory of development. Rather “big ideas” have been postulated, integrated into donor strategy, and – with the recognition of negative, unintended consequences – refinement or replacement of the Big Idea has evolved. This process has been repeated, at the rate of 10 years increments. That is a slow process.

There are additional weights and dangers to the development process at this stage, the next stage.  The weights and dangers are from two directions. The first is that the bases of the donor structures, the Bretton Woods Agreement, are no longer operative.  The core premises were stability derived from a gold-backed reserve currency (the US dollar), an agreed exchange rate between and among currencies, and a financial and commercial system based on that.  So although the philosophical and cultural principles may remain, the polity has changed.

Secondly, the polity has changed in other ways. It has evolved. The donor agencies and their offspring (both the parallel institutional donors and implementers) are no longer directly part of the agencies, but outsourced deliverers, as was stated above. This aspect of the change is in how the donor agencies manage the oversight and monitoring of the delivering/implementing agencies.

The current ‘Big Idea’ is Policy Formulation with Institutional Strengthening and the supporting (and continuation of) Capacity Development.  This idea and its value stems from the acceptance and application in large part of the “new economics/new management”. This package of ideas as the current Big Idea is being implemented, but measurement – an inherent part of the idea – is difficult without a clear idea of what constitutes a strong public institution.

Evolution of Development Approaches


Leading approach

Prevailing assumption

Resulting conclusion



To save the poor from themselves

Made more people poor


Economic growth, technology transfer

Once economic growth is happening, this will necessarily raise standards of living (human development)

Increasing average national income is not equivalent to development; economic development is unequal


Economic development

Once economic development takes hold, social development will follow

People (nationals) regarded as passive targets


Basic human needs, directly addressing social development

State provided goods and services

People regarded as beneficiaries

Late 80s

Improving the quality of people’s lives

Human capabilities is the ultimate goal

Focused on ends, instead of means

(ends are human well-being and freedom)

Mid 90s

Sustainable development

Concern about environmental degradation

Economic, trade and  political concerns focus on “sustainable” – need to show successes


Institutional and human capacity building

Expanding capabilities and increasing choices

Cannot equate economic growth with development; nature/character of growth is an issue


Millennium goals, poverty eradication;

budgets following crises

Conflicting assumptions and priorities

Not getting the results (we are paying for)—better approaches needed! But what?


A definition or conceptualization of ‘strong public institutions’ was developed using data, based on studies using World Bank programs and evaluations.

Researchers Kaufman, Kray and Zoido-Lobotan identified six characteristics of a strong institution, government. These are:

  • Voice and accountability
  • Political stability
  • Governmental effectiveness
  • Regulatory quality
  • Rule of law
  • Control of corruption

In the usual tradition of Big Ideas, once presented, the donor community took the idea to heart. Little had been done to test or adapt this “model” to the realities and differences across regions or cultures. However, one major evaluation of the effectiveness of tactics to achieve these criteria was done, with the following effect.  Focusing on “governmental effectiveness” as the key to institutional strengthening, the following results were observed:

  • Voice and accountability                                ≈ (no change)
  • Political stability                                 ↓
  • Governmental effectiveness        ↑
  • Regulatory quality                              ↓
  • Rule of law                                        ↓
  • Control of corruption                                     ≈

Thus, the focus on effectiveness created no change in two areas, and actually decreased results in three others!  But because the practitioners are linking their tactics to developmental theories that cycle through the process, there is often little or no connection between what is being done and why.  Who suffers from this?  Looking back up through the perspectives, to the cultural level, there are very little consequences for failure to achieve “development” on the part of the agencies or practitioners.

Clearly any deficiencies in performance affect the host country and its institutions. In addition to the research, critique, and questioning of the development approach internal to its agencies and directed at its governance; there has also been a response from the receiving nations. Clearly there needs to be changes in the management and delivery of donor-funded aid.  The ‘gordian knot’ must be cut. 

Four quotes follow which highlight what the concerns and responses have been. These are illustrative, for the purposes of validating the effort that must be made to improve the management of the delivery of aid.

Response and Receptivity? 

The reaction to both market forces and globalization was the rise of a variety of new concepts, including entrepreneurial management, accentuated emphasis on the bottom line, focus on results rather than on process…there was a series of losses for the discipline and practice of public administration: management replaced administration; professionalism and the ethics of responsibility took a back seat to success no matter what the means were; disregard for indigenous cultures and values; disappearance of the possibility for dialogue because of the profound belief that one size fits all and that there was one and only one recipe for doing things and societies can ignore it at their own risk; erosion of commitment to democratic values, to the ‘common good’ and the ‘well being’ of society, and because of blind allegiance to power and to one’s own ambition, public servants were deprived or ignored altogether the dilemma of choices when faced by challenging and at times vague public policies.

Dr. Bidhya Bowornwathana, Thailand

Important questions arise: are these globalizers acting as indisputable satraps that can do no wrong because of their control of huge amounts of money and/or power? What kinds of reforms are needed in order to make these international organizations accountable, ethical, and serving the entire world and not only the interest of the West? Are these international institutions truly helping states build up capacity? To what extent to they take into consideration local and indigenous cultures? What has been their track record?

Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Al-Salaiti, United Arab Emirates

This agreement – unprecedented in scope, specificity, and backing by donors and partners – redefined the conditions of the development partnership and opened a window of opportunity.  For many African development practitioners, however, these commitments sounded a bit too familiar. Much of what was agreed to in Paris has long been labeled ‘best practice’ in managing aid and is consistent with a long line of reports stretching back for more than a decade. The test will be putting these commitments into practice.

A Revolution in Capacity Development? Africans Ask Tough Questions
Batthylie Misska-Werzba, OECD
Mark Nelson, WBI

…accept that no single power, religion, or ideology, can conquer the world or remake it in its owqn image. The world is too diverse. Different races, cultures, religions, languages, and histories require different paths to democracy and the free market. Societies in a globalized world will influence and affect one another. And what social system best meets the needs of a people at a particular stage in their development will be settled internally.

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore (1959-1990)

In fact, success means expanding the program: making the problem bigger. The rewards within the development community are bigger budgets, not more valuable outcomes or solutions.

There are clearly questions about philosophy, culture and polity from both the donors themselves, the receiving governments, and from the community of people evaluating the effectiveness of donor-funded aid. This is still all happening within the framework of “higher level” considerations. In order to transition to the “lower level” – operational – concerns.

‘Stakeholder’ is a familiar term in the development community.  Those that have a stake in the process.  To go back to the original, Webster’s dictionary defines stake as “money risked” in a venture. The development community has watered that down from “risk” to “an interest in”. But we need to consider it from a totally different point of view, from that governance/performance point of view. Where in the performance system do these key players fit in?

  • Donor agency
  • Host country government
  • Host country institutions
  • Other donor organizations
  • Donor local management
  • Technical assistance management
  • Other technical assistance projects
  • Procurement/contracts officers
  • Dynamics of national political, business, civil society

Who is the boss?  Who is the client?  And of critical notice is that the technical assistance is separate from, albeit an extension of, the donor agencies and host country institutions.  These complex, matrixed relations require sophisticated management. Already it has been determined that there is a recognition of the need for improved management, responsibility and decision making, and implementation. But it is difficult to control that when the system of development is compartmentalized; when reporting relationships are not necessarily clear, and monitoring and technical knowledge are not at the level to ensure performance.

This challenge of performance is well known. In a review of surveys and critiques – done both internal to donor agencies and by external analysts – the following list of issues about development agencies has surfaced:

  • Hegemonic
  • No systematic approach
  • Sector specific methods
  • Sectors compete
  • Not open to research or new approaches
  • Preferred solutions (the way we always do it)
  • No systemic thinking
  • Project design lags behind problem identification/request
  • Who owns the project?
  • Know not getting impact: keep on, no changes
  • Contracts restrict or delimit
  • Time frames too short
  • Long timeframe, Technical assistance is not monitored
  • Project succeeds but no sustainable/durable outcome
  • Little or no evaluation
  • Staff do not use information on
    • Development approaches
    • Methodologies
    • Tools
    • Best practices
    • Indicators
    • Monitoring
    • Evaluation
  • Critical program process issue –

         Design → strategy → project development → implementation

In addition other structural constraints have surfaced:

  • Donor rigidity
  • Not enough time for analysis/modeling
  • Timelags, while the situation evolves and contract/solution no longer relevant
  • Evaluation/reporting linked to internal process, not linked to client’s outcome
  • Projects hide what has not worked à funding continues/no evaluation/no improvement
  • Host country organization’s agenda not performance linked
  • Unintended consequences /remodeling not allowed contractually
  • Entrenching “stovepiping” so that structures not linked
  • Aid overload, too many projects, too much time assisting
  • Monitoring and feedback: it is not clear who is working for whom
  • Waning interest on topic/project
  • Politicians and senior managers voted out/rotated so must start over
  • “We don’t need your project, just your money”
    • Not interested in operations, only equipment
    • Local knowledge not considered

These lists of obstacles to the execution, implementation and oversight of donor-funded aid projects are formidable. There are two immediate and substantive responses. The first flows from an observation of Marcus Aurelius, one of the 5 Good Emperors of Rome:

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

The non-obvious part of success is the system management puts in place, the governance. The current system is broken. And that Marcus Aurelius, almost 2000 years ago, identified that it was the system of management gives us pause.  Although governance must be defined by the organization, good governance has long been key. That the new public management takes some pieces of that is not to say it has organized the non-obvious. Rather, look to the skills and approach of social-cybernetic system scientists.

And that first question would be are the projects resulting in value for the receivers?

With a clearer understanding of the context and premises of working with the donor agencies, it is now possible to transition to the discussion of practice. Typically the host country, or recipients of aid will be the focus of multiple donors, multiple programs from each donor, multiple projects within each program, and multiple implementors subcontracted (or outsourcing of the outsourced) who actually advise, facilitate, and /or train.

And here is the point where the recipients of aid need to change the language and shift the responsibilities.  Minimally, throw out the word „recipient“ and start with the term „user“.  The recipient is now the user, the client, understanding that there is a co-outcome, for the donor agency and for the host country. The issue is who is in charge of a country’s policies and programs? 

In the ‚performance system‘ of a government, there are many stakeholders; but who is working for whom? 

  • Host country government
  • Host country institution
  • Host country unit or function (where the action is happening)
  • Donor organization
  • Multilateral and national interests represented
  • Subcontracted development agency
  • Subcontracted experts
  • Other donors
  • Other programs/projects
  • Other experts

One relationship is clear: subcontracted experts work for the agency which hired them. This puts a strong pressure on all parties to make sure that the project succeeds.

That is, the contract is fulfilled between the consultant and the subcontracted (by the donor organization) development agency. The host country institution, recipient of aid, may or may not benefit. 

Managing the aid

The rationale and evolution of the ‘modern age’ of development leads us to a new relationship, a new status quo.  It is clear that the current structure, policies, and management of the donor organizations will not significantly change, in the short run.  As always the challenges, needs, and opportunities for the receiving nations are now.  The significant difference is that both the host country governments and the host country institutions have a body of knowledge and experience from which they can pull to create their own template for development.

This necessarily is part of that first step. It is important to place the advice  — the aid, the technical assistance — into a frame of reference.  Best practices of management are understood (if not completely understood, as in The New Management),  and if applied with both a systematic and systemic approach, organically, to the institution. What are the objectives of the institution, or the system of public administration? 

The decisions depend on where the government is in its development, and in its relationship with the electorate. As was stated earlier, there are key considerations that any government must consider, design, and verify:

  • Expectations of the government
  • Expectations of the citizenry
  • Expectations of the international community (to the relevant degree)
  • Contributions to the government’s role and responsibility for
    • service delivery (to citizens)
    • deciding on and creating the context for economic and social development
  • Setting the structures and policies needed to deliver this

It is important not to replicate the structural and process complications of the donor agencies. The second step of managing aid is to create a steering committee with both polity and strategic responsibilities.  This is not a figurehead organization. Nor should it be the launderer of development monies. Nor should it be a purely political organization. It is synthesizer of the government’s needs and priorities, donor agency suggestions and programs, and key communications link between and among the key stakeholders; especially and including the ‘users’ of the technical assistance/aid.

Then the incoming aid should be treated as advisory services. What is it the institution or system needs? What is working? What is not working? 

The risks are several. This is why a project manager is necessary, a “template” manager.  But there can be no one person who understands all of the technical requirements, in any organization. This is the reason to have a coordinating, or steering, committee for the discussions of what is needed, the priority, and the absorptive capacity. 

Template management is the key to getting the programs that are needed, minimizing overlap and ‘donor fatigue’ amongst host country institutions, synthesizing and coordinating different approaches (of donors, development agencies, and experts), and analyzing and acting on evaluations. It is also necessary to appoint a ‘project manager’ or leader of the Steering Committee, with a support staff. This staff can themselves be donor-funded or government-funded, but report to the Committee. That must be made clear: the client is the steering committee, a host country advocate.

Development recipients and donors must understand that incoming advice and decision making is much like a jigsaw puzzle. The frame must be in place, the easy parts put together to ground the work, and slowly and systematically the missing pieces need to be placed in the picture.

The risks include:

  • Multiple programs with multiple premises, that do not fit together, nor the host country’s objectives (including multiple national interests or approaches)
  • Multiple programs that distract – and exhaust — host country institution staff from focusing either on strategic or tactical objectives
  • Monitoring of programs and projects, that is, monitoring the implementing technical assistance, by the donor agency, and not evaluating the impact on the host country institution
  • Programs not adapting the model to host country situation, especially not taking into consideration the local knowledge
  • Time lag between request, funding, contract/SOW development, and implementation
  • Technical assistance expert is knowledgeable but not skilled at advisory services
  • Programs are not linked to organizational strategy or operations, so they are neither sustainable nor durable

These risks are so commonplace that it is necessary to plan for them, as part of the template management. And it is this management that is the key. 

Donor organizations do not manage institutional development; they manage programs and influence.  So the first consideration is making sure the client (the recipient, the user) has input into the program or project’s statement of work (SOW).

It is not usual for the host country organization or government to attend to such details. There is a peculiar proverb in many cultures, roughly, ‘the devil is in the details’.  Details including the timeframe, objectives, valuation, and approach are critical, and all this is based on making sure these solutions fit the actual problem or need. These details are what frame the success of the project, for the implementor, to the donor. Where is the host country in this process?

What is it that is expected as an outcome from this service, this advice?  And how will it be monitored?  The host country institution must prepare itself to monitor the project and evaluate the outcomes, as well as define how the donor organization will not only monitor the project, but the institutional progress. This puts a burden in both directions, the delivery and the integration.  It also shifts the activities away from a ‘checklist’ on the part of the technical assistance implementor and on to serious consulting, for the benefit and use by the host country institution. 

This includes the issue of adapting the model used by the implementors.  This model has worked somewhere else and this project/implementors are expert in that model.  But what is not considered, frequently, is the long term success of the model.  There are many instances when the model has been discredited, over time in the original setting, but that information is not factored into the new application. 

There is the clear knowledge on the part of systems modelers that no model is perfectly applicable to a new situation – that it must be adapted, adapted, and again adapted.

The adaptation is necessary, of course, because of the unique context or environment of the host country, as well as the delay from project conceptualization to realization. The host country institution has not been ‘frozen’ in time and status. Decisions have been made, impacts have been felt, and individuals have wisened.  Further, the strengths of the host country institution or system are unique. What is working? And how will this new approach or knowledge be integrated into the old (operating) system?

And most importantly, what are the consequences of this new approach, both intended and unintended?  This analysis is rare in development, and critical.  Frequently the ‘unintended consequences’ are the result of the compartmentalization of the projects, into what are called sectors or technical areas. If the business development programs are successful in reducing fees and taxes, that is a success.  But what if those same fees and taxes are used to fund the health care in the country?  How is this to be balanced?

The maxim that ‘change = opportunity PLUS danger’  is most applicable in the development context, since so much change is occurring.  There is no guarantee nor possibility that donors will stay — will fund — the program or the institutional changeover through its completion.  Organization change takes roughly 30 months to introduce, implement, and take hold. Then it must be done over, or renewed. Putting several pieces into the system simultaneously unbalances the system.  There is a danger of developing many individuals or jobs or processes – improved and best practice – but not able to integrate those into the system. The system is always stronger than the individual effort.

Long term commitments of donor initiatives must also be considered. Who is in charge?  When aid becomes institutionalized then the host country institution or system is not able to convert to integrating the technical assistance nor managing it. This is most commonly evidenced in the ‘nation building’ attempts, for example, in Bosnia i Herzegovina and Kosovo.  Without responsibility, projects revert to the ‘default position’, that is the ‘old way of doing things’ because a new system – and its consequences and controls – has not been put into place.

These issues and controls for managing aid are key, although by no means complete.  There is one last issue that local managers and recipients are keenly aware of, yet receives relatively little attention: the language of concepts.  By this it is meant not only terminology, but the ‘knowledges of interpretation”:

  • Knowledge of the host country and its language
  • Knowledge of the context and approach of the country of origin (of the model)
  • Syntax or structures of the terminology
  • Relevant equivalents, contrastive knowledge
  • Real world knowledge, specific applications or styles

It is not enough to translate words. Clearly, anyone with experience in multi-cultural situations has experienced this frustration and challenge. It is immediately and significantly relevant to practitioners.  Yet it is clearly not factored in to the development context on a programmatic or modelling level.  For example, the new management also presumes an understanding of the difference between the concepts and practice of ‘personnel management’ and ‘human resources management’.  Yet those are both outdated. Current management practices consider ‘human capital’.

Approaches and measures refer back to these concepts.  If they are not ‘translatable’ firstly with an equivalent term, and more importantly, with an equivalent concept and practice; then these must be developed and agreed.  To whom does this matter?

These suggestions and approaches to managing aid, donor-funded technical assistance, are premised on the worthiness of the effort. Government’s role – as implemented by the public administration – is to provide services and to decide upon and create the context for the economic and social development for and by the citizenry.  It is the responsibility of the host country government, its institutions, and its people.

Donors have multiple agendas; which may be in perfect concert with the host country’s objectives. It is the responsibility of the receivers, the users of aid to coordinate, integrate, and follow through with the values that are relevant.


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Cite as:

Novak, M.M and Kelly S.J. (2019) Jagged Lines and Gordian Knots Managing and Integrating Donor-Funded Technical Assistance. Being Better Matters 14 March. Available at https://www.beingbettermatters.net/jagged-lines-and-gordian-knots-managing-and-integrating-donor-funded-technical-assistance/ (accessed: date of your access)

Authors profile:

M. Mari Novak

Mari Novak has worked in the area of improving organizational and individual results for over 35 years. She has worked in the corporate, development, and governmental arenas. Over the past 24 years, she has focused her work geographically on the transitioning social, economic, and business challenges in Central Europe, Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. Mari has successfully applied "systems thinking" and structured performance analytical to all aspects of the development cycle.

Articles published on Being Better Matters

Email: mari.novak.kno@gmail.com
Website knoworldwide.com

Steven Kelly

Steven is a senior partner with KNO Worldwide, and has worked in performance improvement since the late 1970s. His early years were spent in organization development, assessment and training delivery. During the last three and a half decades, since his re-location to Central Europe in 1991, he has expanded his efforts to include institutional and capacity building, management of large-scale organizational change efforts, performance assessments, and evaluation of project success or ROI.

Articles published on Being Better Matters

Email: steven.kelly.kno@gmail.com
Website knoworldwide.com