Under pressure to support ‘innovative’ ideas, and often under pressure to spend their large budgets, donors often resort to funding projects they shouldn’t. What we end up with is a sector full of replication, failed pilots, secrecy and near-zero levels of collaboration.
This negatively impacts not only other poorly-planned initiatives, but it also complicates things for the better ones. On top of all that, it confuses the end user who is expected to make sense of the hundreds of tools that end up on offer. The policy of funding many in the hope that the odd one shines through – the so-called “let a thousand flowers bloom” scenario – belongs to an earlier era. Today, we know enough about what works and what doesn’t to be far more targeted in what is funded and supported.
Donors can fix this. Here’s how.
“After 60 years and $3 Trillion of development aid, with one big push following another and wave after wave of theories and jargon, there is depressingly little evidence that official development aid has any significant benign effect on third-world poverty.” Jonathon Foreman
Critical questions donors need to ask
Before any grant proposals are considered, donors should insist that project owners provide answers to twelve basic questions
- Do you understand the problem? Have you seen, experienced or witnessed the problem? Why are you the one fixing it?
- Does anything else exist that might solve the problem? Have you searched for existing solutions?
- Could anything that you found be adapted to solve the problem?
- Have you spoken to anyone working on the same problem? Is collaboration possible? If not, why not?
- Is your solution economically, technically and culturally appropriate?
- Have you carried out base research to understand the scale of the problem before you start?
- Will you be working with locally-based people and organisations to carry out your implementation? If not, why not?
- Are you making full use of the skills and experience of these local partners? How?
Evaluation and post‑implementation
- How do you plan to measure your impact? How will you know if your project was a success or not?
- Do you plan to scale up or scale out that impact? If not, why not? If yes, how?
- What is your business/sustainability model?
- Are you willing to have your summary project proposal, and any future summary progress reports, posted online for the benefit of transparency and more open sharing?
A dual benefit
There’s no shortage of information on best practice in the technology-for-development field, yet problems persist. A Donors Charter would be a major step forward in putting things right.
- Firstly, it would force implementers to consider key issues before reaching out for support, resulting in a reinforcement of best practice.
- Secondly, it will help the donors themselves by focusing their resources and dollars on projects which are better thought-out and less likely to fail.
The wider conversation
If you’re interested in best practice, and problems of sustainability and scalability in the technology-for-development field, here’s a few sites and articles you might like.