Should you keep innovating as a programme matures? Dilemmas from (another) ground-breaking accountability programme in Tanzania
Certain countries seem to produce more than their share of great programmes. Vietnam is one, and Tanzania appears to be another. After the much-blogged-on Twaweza workshop in Tanzania last week, I headed up North to visit the Chukua Hatua accountability programme. It’s one of my favourites among Oxfam’s governance work, not least because it has a really top notch theory of change (keep clicking) I often get asked for a good real life practical example of a ToC – in governance work, this is the best I’ve seen.
Over a series of conversations with Oxfam staff and partners, village activists, officials and others, one intriguing issue struck me: even if you start out as innovative, what happens next?
Let me explain. Chukua Hatua started out with a really interesting theory of change – adopt an evolutionary approach of variation-selection-amplification. That meant trying out lots of things in phase 1 (2010/11), then sifting through the results to identify the most successful variant(s) and scaling that up.
The variant that stood out was that of animation: training farmers selected by their communities to become animators – entrepreneurial, networked activists identifying problems in their communities and bringing people together (both villagers and those in power) to find solutions. This has worked brilliantly, so phase 2 (2012/13) has scaled that up.
Chukua Hatua is now largely synonymous with animation. Our partners have trained 400 animators, many of whom have in turn trained up or simply inspired lots of others. Other parts of phase 2 included doing more ‘supply side’ – training 200 ‘village chairpersons’ and 160 village councillors (all elected by their villages and unpaid).
So far, so inspiring, but there’s a catch. Or rather several catches:
First, you don’t just train animators and wish them well – they want support and it would be unethical to say ‘sorry, got to innovate’ and leave them in the lurch. Sometimes they push hard enough to get into trouble, and then you’re into lawyers and courts. Plus you want to know how they’re doing – lots of monitoring going on. So as time goes on, and the numbers grow, the effort of servicing the project’s successes grows, and starts to squeeze out the time for trying out new stuff.
Second, the focus on training has become a bit of a bottleneck: would-be activists feel that unless they have received the magic ingredient, they can’t claim to be ‘real’ animators. Would it be possible to get past this either by having a ‘starter pack’ that provides some ideas and confers recognition even before training starts, or slimming down the training into a basic social franchising-type package that can easily be reproduced and spread by animators to new recruits?
Third, a practical point, as you near the end of the project, starting big new innovative approaches becomes less sensible – there isn’t time to complete them. Learning as much as you can about the successes and failures of the existing work starts to take priority, as does laying the foundations for a follow up project (it would be tragic if something as exciting as Chukua Hatua ground to a halt at the end of next year when the 3rd and final phase of its current incarnation ends).
Fourth, our particular model of animation has got a bit stuck in the ‘farmer animator’ mode, with a focus on collective action and a fair degree of confrontation. But that model might not work for other kinds of people. As we travelled and talked, we become increasingly aware of other potential sources of animators, based on the many nodes of social capital in any village: savings groups, faith groups, kiosks, choirs, ‘sungusungu’ militia, football fans (big crowds for premiership games, and far too many Arsenal fans for my liking), hair salons. Plus the big convening moments in a village’s life – celebrations, funerals, festivals, sports competitions. There’s a lot to work with, and I’m sure a careful observation of a few villages would reveal many more.
So in good evolutionary style, maybe we should now seek to encourage variation within the successful animation model. Maybe find Christian and Muslim partners to develop faith-based animation models, or something different for savings groups or soccer fans? Different approaches would also include more recognition of the less confrontational forms of action – raising money for good causes, organizing events etc, which can produce some easy wins and build momentum, as people start to see that taking action can produce tangible results.
More broadly, is the urge to stay innovative even as a project matures a bit like dad dancing – defying the natural process of aging, trying to stay forever young and hip, however silly you look? Or should the nature of innovation change, or maybe it should even be accepted that mature projects are less innovative?
Not that the animators are waiting for us to decide these things – lots are coming up with new approaches off their own initiative (for example peopledon’t want to attend official village meetings, because they are so dull and procedural, so some animators have started organizing much more lively village dialogues, promoting pique and envy among officials at the turnout and participation). As time goes on, an increasing part of Chukua Hatua’s effort may need to be devoted to ‘positive deviance’ work – watching how the animators do their jobs, and spotting their innovations, especially if they can be replicated elsewhere.
There’s an exciting element of losing control there, though it may make life a bit stickier for the evaluators trying to prove attribution (sorry guys).
And here’s a 14m video explaining the original idea