The many places a good project idea can go astray – 3

 Last time we examined donor approval and project preparation. In this last blog of the series, we look at what happens when the project moves to implementation.

Selection of expertise

Once the project is approved and prepared, the donor can select the mode of execution. In Germany, the major donors either carry out the project themselves or contract outside consultants. In both cases, depending on how the decisions are made, problems can occur. With our example in the last blog of the tourism project, it happened that the personnel selected came from the natural resources field and had no experience in tourism development – a recipe for unsuccessful implementation. In other cases, depending on how the selection or tender is carried out, the team selected can be very far removed from what is really required to solve the problem as initially identified.

Here the “reality check” can be expanded to review the changes in the field situation during the time lapsed prior to launching the project. Is the description of the technical expertise really up to date? Is the personnel proposed really appropriate for the job? It is important to ensure that the proposed team – international and local – is really capable of doing the job.

Some donors are now requiring that references be submitted for the experts proposed in a tender. I support this requirement, as I have seen countless projects for which ideal-looking CVs were submitted, when the people themselves were not only not capable of performing the task at hand but in some cases presented more serious challenges (recent mental breakdown, deportation from a country due to sexual harassment, to name just two specific examples). If consulting companies know that references will be checked, they may do so in advance themselves and thus improve the quality of their proposed teams.

Project launch

With the launching of the project, another phase begins, bringing its own pitfalls. The project team, usually not having been involved in the project to date, comes with its own agenda and priorities. And the inception phase – absolutely essential due to the long time span between conception and implementation – will often reveal significant changes in how the project needs to be carried out. However, financial, political, technical, contractual and other constraints may well conspire to prevent the necessary adjustments from being made. Usually, contracts with consulting companies do not allow such changes as removing a beneficiary or significantly reorienting the tasks into new fields or out of old ones, even if they would be good for overall project performance.

In my view, if it is clear that the project team is capable of an outstanding performance, it should be possible to dramatically change the project, based on the information obtained during the inception phase, should that lead to an improved effectiveness and efficiency. We need to build in enough flexibility – and control – that such changes can be made in certain circumstances and if warranted. And if it becomes clear during the inception phase that the true goals of the project cannot be met, an incentive should be set for acknowledging this and closing the project.

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