When we’re tied up with a successful development project, it is sometimes difficult to let go and allow our partners in the community to take over. Planning a painless exit strategy is a critical task for those of us involved in rural development. I asked my colleagues in the university to think about these questions with a promise to feature their answers on Devcompage:
1) Should we leave a successful project in the hands of our local partners?
2) How long should it take before we leave a development project and let our local partners take over?
2) What would be a fool-proof exit strategy?
My friend, Efren Saz, Director of the Institute of Strategic Research and Development Studies, emailed me his take on these questions. Here it is:
I think these questions ought to provoke many of us who claim to have worked in projects that involve communities.
1. On the first question: Should we leave a successful project in the hands of our partners? My answer to this is, if we could not leave it in their hands, then it is not successful at all. A successful project should be run by our partners be they communities, bureaucracies, universities, organizations, etc. This really brings us to the issue of ownership. Much has been said about this and I subscribe to the truism that for a project to succeed, it should be owned by those who have a stake to its success. If we start a project with this in mind, there is no issue about turning over because the project is theirs from day one.
Our role might be more intense at the beginning but it should not be confused with ownership. The project is owned by “them”–partners and as the days move on we recede from the picture until the project stage finally ends and the project is mainstreamed. This means our roles will have to evolve according to the life of the project until that time when, according to veterans, we become obsolete, meaning they won’t need us anymore. Now for the sake of argument let’s say we did not do the things we ought to do at the outset, there must be a turnover, yes by all means we should turnover the project to our partners. Fears that the project might fail after turning over to the partners is simply anchored on the elitist belief that “we” know better than “them.” Also, this fear is probably a product of a realization that we may have been remiss in “preparing” the “natives” for “self rule.”
A side issue on this is about the partners’ response. The many laments that I heard about this is: Now that there is no more foreign assistance (read: budgets, vehicles, travel, supplies, conferences, honoraria, etc) they’re going to give the project to us. How can we assure the same level of intensity and commitment when we don’t have the same level of resources at our disposal? Well, you just have to leave it to your partners one way or the other. You’re not going to stay in the project forever, they are.
2. How long before we leave? I say there is no fixed time table because the problems and milieu vary. However, projects usually have a life because they are supposed to deal with specific problems. Some take three years, five years or more. I believe the benchmarks that we had set in the beginning ought to tell us if we have achieved our goals and should also tell us whether its time to go.
3. What is a fool-proof exit strategy? I’ll start by asking the question “is there a fool-proof exit strategy? I have read somewhere that one failure of management of any project is failure to end the project whether it is successful or a failure. If it failed, we want to continue until we succeed. If it succeeded, we must continue because “sayang.” I must confess that in my previous and current involvements, we never have yet exited a project in an organized, systematic way.
In one, I remember, the exit was kind of unceremonious because the project was left hanging in the air with the loss of support (financial), the many threats by some quarters (rebels) and the general failure of the many initiatives under the project. I believe we committed the usual mistake of hatching ideas by ourselves
and bringing these to the “people” because it is “good for them.” We thought we knew what was good for them (and they didn’t). It was “our” project which we designed for “them.” From hindsight, we could have prepared ourselves before even thinking of preparing them (social prep). WE could have disabused ourselves first of the idea that we knew better. We could have asked them what they needed and how best could these be met. We could have employed our skills in SWOT, problem tree analysis, the whole RRA/PRA tool box but we thought we knew better.
Going back to the original question, what is a fool-proof exit strategy? I think, the first steps become part of the exit strategy already. When you let them become owners from day one, when methodologies are systematic and clear, when goals are clear and achievable, when lines of authority are clear, when commitments are firm, you will have formulated already your exit strategy. Fool-proof? Maybe maybe not.
Thanks to Efren Saz for this post.
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