Centralisation and decentralisation – field office

In the previous blog we looked at the role of headquarters.  Here the role of the field office is discussed, along with some of the pitfalls and how to solve them.

In the ideal world, the strengths of the field office lie in:

  • ensuring local conditions and situations are included in project conception and choice
  • establishing coherency in and between projects
  • maintaining good, intensive and constructive relationships with local decision-makers
  • saving time when budget and approval decisions can be taken locally
  • adapting new concepts to local conditions, culture and requirements
  • providing a forum for exchange among local projects
  • improved cost control due to shorter decision times
  • offering the possibility to link, harmonise and coordinate all in-country activities of the donor
  • offering a reality check for programmes and projects through intimate knowledge of local conditions – simplifies programming work

Head office can often experience the field office as being: – too close to the local conditions, decision-makers and political trends (and therefore insufficiently objective) – too dependent on headquarters guidance for small issues (or too independent of headquarters altogether!) – too caught up in short-term thinking, inattentive or non-responsive to reporting and other informational requirements – too flexible concerning the application of regulations, approaches, limitations, etc., handed down from headquarters – or too inflexible concerning applying new concepts, ideas, etc.

I see the issue here as more of a communications challenge than a process problem. Once the headquarters-field processes have been clarified, the problems raised here may still persist. We tend to send off a mail or an order without considering what the recipient may feel or think.

The solution lies correspondingly in a much clearer communication on both sides of the expectations and what each one is prepared to provide. When was the last time that colleagues from both headquarters and a particular field office sat together and specifically spoke about their expectations and their respective abilities to fulfil these?

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