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C I V I L - M I L I T A R Y



Alternative Project Management Approaches in Afghanistan

September 2011 Comprehensive Information on Complex Crises

Rainer Gonzalez Palau Infrastructure Knowledge Manager

This document discusses the potential to apply alternative project management approaches in complex post-conflict environments as Afghanistan. Further information is available at Hyperlinks to source material are highlighted in blue and underlined in the text.

rom 2002 to 2009, Afghanistan received USD 26.7 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA), according to Global Humanitarian Assistance. Additionally, as highlighted by the International Policy Network, there are around 1,500 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and 27 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) implementing hundreds of development and stabilisation initiatives countrywide. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB) note that macro-economic conditions have improved during the last decade. For example, inflation fell from 52.4% in 2002/2003 to the expected 2% in 2010/2011, and the real economy grew by 8%. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) doubled, and government-collected revenues increased from 3.2% of the GDP in 2002/2003 to 16% in 2009/2010. Furthermore, as exposed in the Civil-Military Fusion Centres (CFC) 2010 Annual Report on Afghanistan, at least 40% of Afghans perceive that their economic position has improved since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Nonetheless, in a report entitled Afghanistan: Development and Humanitarian Priorities, Oxfam noted that Afghanistan still faces a number of developmental challenges at the micro-level. Key challenges include finding viable alternatives to opium cultivation, addressing limited local capacities, attracting foreign investment and stabilising the security situation. The situation in the rural areas, where nearly 80% of Afghans reside, is reportedly harsh. As the aforementioned ADB report highlights, rural areas suffer on average, 40% malnutrition, life expectancy of around 45 years (20 year less than any other Asian country), a 20% child mortality rate, an illiteracy rate of 80% and widespread gender inequality. Furthermore, a paper published by the US militarys National Defense University (NDU), entitled Time Lag and Sequencing Dilemmas of Postconflict Reconstruction illustrates how post-conflict states suffer from lags between the development of rural and urban contexts. Likewise, rural contexts are described as having a relatively limited capability to absorb large volumes of aid in a short timespan. Several reports have analysed the impact of aid effectiveness in Afghanistan. The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) issued a major report, entitled Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan, which finds that much aid has been prescriptive and driven by donor priorities rather Afghan needs and priorities. According to the report, development projects in Afghanistan are designed to deliver rapid and visible results instead of achieving sustainable poverty reduction or capacity-building objectives (see Box 1, next page). In fact, as the NDU report states, successful development in fragile or failed states simply takes much longer to achieve than defence planners and diplomats can accept. Therefore, experts have found that, in order to hand over aid in a more effective way, it is essential to use holistic project management approaches that tackle the whole project cycle (identification, preparation, appraisal, implementation and evaluation) in a more flexible, iterative and participatory way.



Thematic Report: Alternative Project Management Approaches in Afghanistan

Box 1. The Case of Alice-Ghan Village Alice-Ghan, a village located 30 km North of Kabul in Parwan province, has been highlighted by several reports. The New York Times reports that the construction of the village was fully funded by the Australian government for USD 10 million, though the Afghan government, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and CARE International were also involved at various phases. The project involved building 1,100 houses in hopes of resettling Afghan refugees who had returned from Iran and Pakistan. The villages location, which was selected by Afghan authorities, posed problems. Far from Kabul or any other economic centre that would provide access to livelihoods for the villages residents, Alice-Ghan experienced corruption in the allocation of land plots, a culturallyinappropriate design (e.g. without privacy walls, women were unable to walk outside their houses), unreliable transport to and from the area and a lack basic services. These factors, combined with water scarcity, led many who had settled in the village to flee. Hazarat Mir, a village resident, told The New York Times that without water, a village is like a person it dies. Currently, only 300 of the 1,100 houses are occupied, though UNDP and the Australian government are making efforts to remedy this situation. The Australian reported how one villager remarked he was grateful for the assistance but wished that those involved had asked people about their needs rather than build a Western-style suburb in the middle of Afghanistan.

This document will analyse the potential of alternative project management approaches in order to improve development effectiveness as a whole in the particular case of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the main, if not the primary, recipients of development aid. Tens of International Organisations (IOs) and financial global institutions are operating within Afghanistan, each one with its own project management and planning approaches. IOs, for instance, often channel funds and projects through local or international NGOs. Multilateral or regional banks primarily finance large-scale projects or programmes, which are planned and appraised through CostBenefit Analysis (CBA) techniques. On the other hand, bilateral agencies and NGOs commonly use the Logical Framework Approach (LFA) to manage and plan projects. During the production of this paper, PRTs were contacted, and several PRT personnel noted that no particular project management approach was used systematically aside from the US governments District Stability Framework (DSF); however, this method focuses on stability operations rather than on the day-to-day management of development projects. The CBA, the LFA and the DSF reflect to the so-called blueprint approach to project management (or planning). This paper comprises a chronological review of how development practitioners and academics advocate for a switch from blueprint approaches to process approaches in order to tackle development initiatives in a way that attempts to incorporate the complex social, cultural and economic challenges of post-conflict Afghanistan.

Planning Perceived as a Blueprint

Between the 1950s and 1970s, discrete projects (as opposed to programmes or continuous processes) were consolidated as the basic unit of intervention in development. The blueprint approach became the common way of action to undertake development project-orientated interventions. In the paper entitled Changing Approaches and Methods in Development Planning: Operationalizing the Capability Approach with Participatory and Learning Process Approaches, the authors point out the five main features associated with blueprint approaches (Figure 1).

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Thematic Report: Alternative Project Management Approaches in Afghanistan

Figure 1. Main Characteristics of the Blueprint Approach

External prescriptive planning Causal inference between intervention actions and effects on change is assumed and assumedly predictable Accurate pre-planning of the whole intervention, assuming that no uncertainties must be dealt by the management team No deviation of the original planning which is seen as a result of either poor planning or management Engineering desk detail

Source: Adapted from Changing Approaches and Methods in Development Planning: Operationalizing the Capability Approach with Participatory and Learning Process Approaches.

As described by Tacconi and Tisdell in Rural Development Projects in LDCs1, the blueprint approach emerged in a period when development projects were often associated with the physical delivery of goods and services (e.g., food, water, books, etc.). Hence, the measure of their success essentially relied upon basic measures of cost, time and quality. The approach requires a rigorous accountability framework to ensure that what is planned for will also be delivered. However, according to Tacconi and Tisdell, outcomes such as project sustainability, capacity-building, participation or appropriateness, which require longer timeframes to become apparent and are difficult to measure, are largely excluded. The blueprint approach as initially conceived, does not prioritise the involvement of beneficiaries whom projects are designed to aid, suggests Hulme in Projects, Politics and Professionals: Alternative Approach for Project Identification and Project Planning. Moreover in Process Approaches to Development, Bond and Hulme state that planners see the completion of a project as primary main purpose rather than improvement of living conditions for beneficiaries. As Tacconi and Tisdell write, beneficiary participation, capacity-building or participation are still observed by many project planners as disruptions or sources of delays rather than as opportunities. Furthermore, the blueprint approach, as initially conceived, paid relatively little attention to the measurement of results and impact (rather than outputs, or items distributed). In fact, it was not until the late 1980s that evaluation was introduced as an additional project component.

The Logical Framework Approach2

LFA3, heavily grounded in the blueprint approach, has been the most common project planning instrument since it was introduced in the 1970s by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). As Bell notices in Logical Framework, Aristotle and Soft Systems, the LFA is usually the only linking factor between

LDCs stands for least developed countries. The term Logical Framework Approach will be used in this paper to embrace all the different sub-approaches that work under a LFA philosophy, including the commonly used LogFrame. 3 For more background on the LFA, see The Logical Framework Approach: Handbook for objectives-oriented planning.

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Thematic Report: Alternative Project Management Approaches in Afghanistan

development projects regardless of scope, content or context. Although the LFA was first conceived with a fixed format, development organisations soon modified the LFA according their specific organisational needs. Nonetheless, the blueprinted nature and philosophy of the method remained. The reason for its widespread adoption can be attributed to its simplicity as well as its systematic methodology, which fits perfectly with the accountability and standardised procedures and bureaucracy of large organisations. However, as the use of the LFA became popular, many professionals within the development community began to question whether it was having a negative impact upon project quality. In that sense, Gasper in Evaluating the Logical Framework Approach focuses his arguments around the potential for the LFA to be misused. He particularly notes that this approach leaves ltitle room for project learning and adaptation. Other authors such as Smith in Evaluating Development Policies and Programmes in the Third World critiqued the LFAs assumed causal inference between outcomes and impacts. That is, many have used the method to try and suggest that any improvement in local conditions is directly the result of external assistance, even when credible evidence for such a linkage may be lacking.

Polarizing Development Interventions: Blueprint vs. Process Approach

As noted above, the blueprint approach has been criticised though also remains in widespread use. According to Hirschmans Hiding Hands Theory the blueprint approach often faces challenges in adapting to uncertainties which are a common feature of conflict-affected contexts. For example, in a country such as Afghanistan, there are numerous socioeconomic, cultural and ethnical complexities at play which may require frequent adaptations to development projects. Yet many blueprint approaches are inflexible given that donors have allocated funds strictly so that implementing agencies such as IOs and NGOs will follow a blueprint such as a logical framework. Paramjit, in Development Planning: An Adaptive Approach, noted that development projects must deal with two types of complexities: project and organisational complexities. On one hand, the project complexity is made up of technological and economic factors related to the project internal organisational dynamics (e.g. complex constructive methods to build a specific infrastructure, mismanagement of resources by the organisation implementing the project, etc.). On the other hand, organisational complexity describes the contextual factors within which development projects operate (e.g. economic vulnerability of the country where the project is being implemented, lack of specialised human resources locally, etc.). For example, a traditional infrastructure project will have to face more project complexities during its development, as it depends less on the contextual factors where the project is being implemented, while a capacity-building project framed in a more vulnerable sociocultural context such Afghanistan will encounter more organisational complexities. Hence, in order to ensure that the project management method can respond effectively to uncertainties, the process approach was introduced. As Korten and Chambers indicate, the process approach includes a focus on flexibility, participation and experimentation (trial and error). Generally, two schools of thought can be distinguished within the process approach: the purists and the managerialists. Purists advocated abolishing the use of projects and the role of external actors in development, instead tending towards an internal development based on participatory processes that reinforce and commit local capabilities. The managerialist school of thinking, led by Rondinelli, focused upon managerial flexibility and adaptability in development projects. The main difference between the purists and the managerialists is quite simple; purists attempt to pre-empt uncertainties by closely involving beneficiaries and other stakeholders while managerialists attempt to focus upon responding to uncertainties with a flexible approach to management when they emerge. These two means of understanding the implementation of a process approach should not be perceived as incompatible but rather as two different means of achieving the same objective.

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Giving Shape to the Process Approach

In Lessons for the large-scale application of process approaches in Sri Lanka, Bond identifies five pillars that constitute the process approach: (i) Flexible and Phased Implementation; (ii) Learning Experience; (iii) Beneficiary Participation; (iv) Institutional Support; and (v) Programme Management (see Figure 2, below). Rondinelli in Contingency Planning for Innovative Projects implicitly adds up another pillar, innovative management.

Figure 2. The Six Pillars of the Process Approach

Flexible and Phased Implementation Start small and expand Long time frames Experimentation Action learning cycles Institutional Support Political support Devolved authority Use of permanent institutions Local capacity building Organisational change Facilitation beneficiary organisation

Learning from Experience Embracing error Links between implementation and planning Iterative improvement of small interventions Be effective, become efficient and then expand Appropriate technologies


Programme Management Well-qualified and motivated leadership New professionalism Retention of key staff Variety of short-term technical assistance Long-term technical assistance in a facilitation role Project Management Unit with flexible, informal approach Interorganisational relations

Beneficiary Participation in problem analysis in planning and decision making in resource mobilization and implementation in monitoring and evaluation Empowerment of beneficiaries


Innovative Management Creative Management Inclusive Development Market-based Strategies

Source: The author; adapted from Process Approaches to Development, Development Project as Policy Experiments and Lessons from Selected Development Policies and Practices.

The process approach emphasises the role of flexibility and continuous planning as a key to ensuring project success. The flexibility is based on using an trial and error iterative process, initially intervening at small-scale and increasing as long as the effectiveness and efficiency of the intervention is controlled. As Hulme points out in Learning and Not Learning from Experience in Rural Project Planning, in order to plan efficiently future activities, this experimental process must feed managers with continuous flows of information. Hulme also notes that project managers must approach errors not as threats or failures but as crucial learning opportunities. As a result, in order to manage efficiently development projects, the process approach requires more adaptive project management skills and competences than those required by the blueprint approach.
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Bond represented the project cycle under the process approach through concentric cycles. Each cycle comprises four stages: Plan, Act, Review and Reflect (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Process Approachs Project Cycle

Source: Planning and managing development projects in Handbook on Development Policy and Management.

Process Approach as a Driving Force for Development Projects

As Bond highlights, the main pillars of the process approach, namely flexibility, beneficiary participation and experimentation (trial and error), are often incompatible with the highly bureaucratised organisational dynamics of the majority of development stakeholders. In that sense, there is a need to find the right balance between the strategic needs of development interventions and the organisational needs of the major development stakeholders. Organisations that have tended to adapt more flexible and participative approaches, such as the UKs Department of International Development (DFID) or the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), reportedly operate partly on a blueprint model4. They have successfully implemented intermediate approaches combining elements of the blueprint and process approaches that enhanced the strategic needs of development initiatives in complex sociocultural environments. In that sense, Bond classifies a range of intermediate alternatives between the process and the blueprint approach: 1. Blueprint then Process: quick, efficient pre-planned improvement of key services followed by longer term participatory programme to improve livelihoods. For example, this could involve the implementation of small basic infrastructure projects such as wells, electricity and communication through a blueprint approach followed by a long-term participatory strategy to improve livelihoods through a process approach. 2. Process and then Blueprint: participatory analysis and experimentation to establish local needs and effective responses followed by conventional series of project to expand impact. For example, needs would be identified under a participatory trial and error process approach at lower scale (e.g. household level), and once the strategy has been identified and tested, this would be implemented and expanded through a series of blueprint projects. 3. Blueprint/Process Continuum: a selection from both approaches blended to fit the situation. For example, a programme targeting a whole community and different sectors (infrastructure, livelihoods, governance, etc.), for which each approach will be applied according to the needs.

Practical examples are the Forest Management Projects in Uganda, Ghana and Guyana by DFID or the NORAD-financed Monergala Integrated Rural Development Program in Sri Lanka.

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4. Blueprint in Process: a process approach to a programme made up of smaller blueprint projects. For example, a programme identified and defined under a process approach targeting a whole district and implemented under several blueprint projects targeting communities. 5. Process in Blueprint: a clear, pre-determined programme structure with considerable flexibility as to the means of operationalisation at field level. For example, a blueprint programme with clear and defined objectives to improve livelihoods at district level made up of several processes projects targeting the different communities within the district. The process-versus-blueprint dichotomy may be seen as a continuum from which project managers and planners may choose depending on their goals and local context, says Roe in Development Narratives, Or Making the Best of Blueprint Development.

Afghanistan has received large flows of development aid during the last decade, and the country contains a wide range of different development agencies which approach project management in a wide variety of manners. There remains a tremendous opportunity to compare these approaches, if development agencies, PRTs and others are willing to clearly compare and assess them in order to determine which are most appropriate for which situations and types of projects. Such a comparison or assessment if its results are acted upon may help the international community to avoid problematic interventions such as the Alice-Ghan Village project noted earlier in this report. In order to make the most of the limited resources and overcome the uncertainties that jeopardise the success of development projects, the process approach can contribute a great deal in itself or when combined with stillrelevant elements of the blueprint approach.

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