The Power of Purpose
In the past week leaders met in New York to reflect on progress on Agenda 2030 during the High Level Policy Forum on Sustainable Development. While implementing Agenda 2030 the potential power of purpose cannot be overestimated.
Development cooperation is known for approaches that value goal setting. Many practitioners in development cooperation are quite familiar with the logical framework approach (which was developed by USAID in the sixtees). I got it introduced to me in a Project Cycle Management course by MDF in the ninetees. where it was called Objective Oriented Programme Planning (OOPP). It was introduced to me with its German name ZOPP: Zielorientierte Projektplanung.
I could not find an etymological connection between the German word Ziel and the English word zeal, which originates from the greek word Zelos that is understood as the fervour or tireless devotion for a person, cause, or ideal and determination in its furtherance. The German word "Ziel", which is translated as goal or destination, still pays tribute to what I consider an important contributor to achieving results: The willingness to get there.
Rhineland and Anglo-Saxon features
The Logical Framework approach has been considered too rigid though its planning rigor has been widely recognized. What is often forgotten is that the approach was to be complemented by a proper problem analysis to establish the interlinkages between symptoms, problems and root causes. A so called problem tree is an important intermediate step in developing a logical framework . And according to the German ZOPP it is to be informed by a SWOP analysis. Yes this is not a typo. It is again a subtle difference between the Rhineland and Anglo-Saxon approach in managing for results. SWOP is used in Germany and stands for Strength, Weaknesses, Obstacles and Potentials. Here again I like the German choice of words over the Anglo-Saxon SWOT analysis that uses Opportunities and Threats instead. A preference for flow and energy over a rather opportunistic and defensive winner-takes-all approach. This approach is also favoured by Brian Levy in his book "Working with the grain. Integrating Governance and Growth in Development Strategies" that he wrote in 2014, partly inspired by Douglas North's "'adaptive efficiency". Levy articulates an approach to development that is more considerate to chaos. Levy introduces the book as an exploration on the meeting of theory and action. This is also a critical element in a Theories of Change approach where assumptiona are a more pronounced part of the intervention logic and also subject to monitoring. A "with-the-grain" approach conceptualizes change in an evoluationary rather than an engineering way.o
The deliberations in New York showed that the critical mass has not been mobilised yet, resulting in insufficient progress on many of the Sustainable Development Goals. In Theories of Change assumptions are made a.o. on contributions of others, finances being leveraged, capacity being developed or already in place etc. However, what if these assumption turn out to be false. What if sufficient money is available but not sufficient capacity to deliver? Going with the grain may not always work out well. It may be a good advise in change trajectories that only require minor corrections. However, what if radical change is required? Will the world be able to get their acts together or is everyone looking to each other for making the first move? Increasingly citizens turn away from governments as they no longer belief they are of much help in protecting the public goods. How can confidence in the multilateral system and governments in general be restored and public interest regain its primacy over individual country ambitions or personal gain?
Unified country cooperation frameworks
It is good to see that the UN finally has embarked on unified country development frameworks using a Theory of Change approach. The aspiration is to deal effectively with vested interests of individual UN agencies. Most importantly it should lead to a country-lead results framework that will improve mutual accountability while honouring alignment and country ownership ambitions that were already formulated in Paris back in 2005. If the UN will be successful in doing so, it is up to the bilaterals to follow suit, and ensure that their efforts support country systems and the multilaterals in a common strive to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.
In the context of international development cooperation this will require from individual agencies as well as individual countries to put cooperation and collaboration ahead of competition and organizational or national interests. A true recognition of ones own limitations is as important as knowing the specific value add one can bring to the table.
Mobilizing all resources
Despite the efforts to bring different resources and capacities together for a common cause, something else seems to be needed on top of it. This something else may be closer to a common purpose than a common cause. Could there be alternative futures to the doom and gloom scenario's that currently dominate the discourse? This is where the theory of change approach comes in strongly as a tool to formulate desired outcomes. It is not only about the results we achieve, but it is first and foremost to what outcomes they contribute.
A purpose driven development cooperation needs to tap into all people's resources, including abilities, intellect, ambitions, inspirations and hopes. Like the poster of a basketball player my son used to have at the wall of his bedroom with a quote of Ralph Emerson: "The task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us."
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.
Ede, the Netherlands
+31 (0)6 1429 1569