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Building Accountability in Tanzania: Applying an Evolutionary/Venture Capitalist Theory of Change

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been catching up on our accountability work in Tanzania recently, and it continues to be really ground-breaking. Rather than churning out the standard logical framework of activities, outputs and predicted outcomes before the project even starts, the programme, known as Chukua Hatua (Swahili for ‘take action’) uses an evolutionary model of change (try out numerous approaches, drop the less successful ones, scale up and develop the winners). It’s more like a venture capitalist backing ten start-up firms knowing that most will fail, but some will win big. This has been possible partly because DFID has been willing to fund such an experimental approach as part of its ‘Accountability in Tanzania’ (AcT) programme (props to them).

18 months into the programme, it’s good to see that Chukua Hatua is, errmm, evolving, according to programme coordinator Jane Lonsdale.

The first phase piloted six approaches:

  1. Election promises tracking – training of ‘trackers’ in 36 communities prior to the 2010 elections. They recorded rally promises on voice recorders, took them back to the communities to agree priorities and are now following up progress against the leaders’ promises.
  2. Farmer animators – training more than 200 farmers nominated by their communities, to understand principles of accountability, how to hold those in power to account, and how to share their knowledge and facilitate their groups to take action.
  3. Active musicians – training 42 musicians on principles of accountability to act as seeds of change through their music, which is widely listened to by communities.
  4. Student Councils – building the skills of leaders at primary school level; linking students with community ‘champions’ to help them raise issues with teachers and school management committees.
  5. Community radio – creating a new space in Ngorongoro district to enable pastoralists to share information and debate.
  6. In addition to the pilots, Oxfam also supported local campaigns where communities were already active, most notably in Ngorongoro.

Last September came the difficult bit – killing off the less successful experiments. We got all the partners in a room, plus a couple of other NGOs, the consultants, some Oxfam staff from outside Tanzania and KPMG (which manages the programme for DFID). The group came up with four basic criteria on which to judge the pilots:

  • How much were they spreading awareness?
  • How successful were they in mobilising people to take action?
  • How effective were they at expanding ‘spaces’ in which people can claim their rights – this includes both taking advantage of existing ‘invited spaces’ and creating new ones
  • How responsive was the government (either local or national)?

Overall, the farm animators came out best. The musicians were better at awareness raising and mobilisation, but failed to get a good government response. We dropped some pilots and merged others. The student council approach was dropped and spun off to another funder (one unintended consequence of the venture capital approach  – generating other fundable spin-offs).

What didn’t work and why?

Geography: The active musicians were not able to work well in Ngorongoro, because the communities were too widely dispersed to reach. 

Government obstruction: The community radio never got off the ground because the government did not issue a licence. 

Informal v formal power: The farmer animators’ work was unsuccessful in spreading awareness beyond the groups that the animators belonged to. This might have been due to their lack of a ‘formal’ position in community leadership. 

Attitudes to youth: Students were able to make demands within their schools, but were unable to take this approach into the community– there was simply not enough respect for young people’s viewpoints.  

What have we learned for the next phase of the project?

Apart from the shake-out of pilots, a number of other issues have emerged:

  • The programme needs to do more to prepare for negative responses, especially from local officials (interestingly, reactions from the state have been most hostile where local opposition parties are strongest, whereas in communities dominated by the ruling CCM, officials are more open to dialogue). These have included threats by village executive officers to community members for being ‘trouble-makers’, arrests for demonstrating for electricity and closing a school for 2 days after students demanded more say in their education. Dealing with these responses will require training in negotiation skills and conflict resolution and linking citizens and partners to national organisations such as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition. The cycle of conflict and cooperation recurs in many change processes, and is always a real headache for both participants and NGOs like Oxfam.
  • In Tanzania, building ‘created spaces’ is much harder than helping citizens make better use of existing ‘invited spaces’ for consultation and accountability. In such fora, the main obstacle is often lack of capacity, so the next phase will continue to work with local elected leaders. The benefits of changing the behaviour and increasing the capacity of village leaders and ward councillors are two-fold - they are more likely to support citizens demands’, and they can be a key ally in taking citizens’ issues upwards to central government. 
  • Although there have been some notable successes, gender bias in Tanzania is very entrenched and work with women needs to be strengthened, especially looking at women’s leadership, men’s attitudes to women and women’s participation in public spaces. 

Perhaps most interesting for me is the wider impact on how Oxfam is working in Tanzania. The team is getting much more expert in understanding who has power at local level, and in the next phase will involve key local players such as faith leaders, traditional birth attendants and healers. Over to Jane for the last word:

‘I can’t differentiate programming from power analysis – they go hand in hand. We’re doing something different now, not just rolling out a load of community scorecards, or public expenditure tracking – the usual kind of governance work. We’re pushing ourselves to really think through how change happens in Tanzania and try out different things. The whole team and partners are now talking in terms of power analysis. We’ve got the same language to describe what change looks like. Everyone is picking up trends and patterns – it’s a lot better than conventional indicators.’

And here’s a nice 14m video covering the first phase of the project. As the commentary says ‘they all deserve a big-up’.
 

Photo Credit: David Berkowitz (on Flickr)

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