Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Too busy to plan: Is PME capacity building at a human rights organization possible?

Life at an Indonesian human rights NGO is hectic. Every day there are new cases or new political developments to respond to. I'm calling it 'life at an Indonesian NGO' instead of 'work', because working here actually means living here. Practically, this means that most of my colleagues spend lots of time at work and little time at home. It means that they don't take the holidays they're entitled to or that if they do, people sometimes regard them as being not that committed.

And there I came: THE advisor on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (in short, PME). I was going to change this workaholic mentality (or diminish the workload) and help KontraS plan better. They would learn to work even more effectively and report about the outcomes in more detail. Starting in November 2009, I had the assumption that it would take me a few months to understand the way of working and that I would be able to implement a large body of PME changes fairly easily. Within two months, I analyzed the situation, wrote recommendations and a work plan to go with it. This was going to be an easy ride! Not only I myself had high expectations of my stay here, the staff also seemed to think my presence would miraculously bring beneficial change.

Amis Boersma, explaining a PME game.....

Work one on one with the ones who want to learn more
It was around my fourth month that reality began to kick in: change doesn't happen overnight and it certainly doesn't happen miraculously. Of course, I had read the articles on the topic, even took a course in change management. But it hadn't hit me yet that the theories actually made sense. People are reluctant to change. They are too busy with doing the important work they do to try new things. It's like the parable about the man chopping trees down in the wood with a saw. He doesn't want to stop to sharpen his saw, because he's too busy chopping...

Doing workshops together

So, there was a challenge. Even though I am a very open and outgoing person, I have a fervent dislike for anything that has a potential for conflict. So my initital tendency was not to push or insist. Instead I focused on other areas where I could be helpful – which luckily are many. However, this technique didn't help improve PME very much.

When people feel there are big changes ahead, which they cannot oversee, they tend to hold back. What to do when dealing with resistance? Mostly due to many discussions with my coach and my fellow capacity builders around the world, we came up with a set of recommendations which I am implementing now. One is to not come with a big set of changes, but with small changes, one at a time. Give many short workshops on a wide array of topics. Teach people how to write a proposal or analyze the organization together from different perspectives.

Work one on one with people that are interested to learn more. Help them writing proposals or reports. Not only this, but work on anything else that people need help with as long as it's not too far from the scope of your task. Setting an example or showing different ways of working is also a form of capacity building, I believe.

Make it fun!
As I teach English every Wednesday, I have created 'free' time with some of my colleagues (the class is open to all staff). I use the classes sometimes to discuss issues related to PME, such as cultural differences when it comes to experiencing time and planning. We've talked about leadership, learning and working towards a goal. The class gives a platform to talk about PME without having to call it that.

Gaming is fun.......

Make it fun! Over the past months, I have done a quiz on PME, where the winners got a prize (Dutch cookies). We wrote a 'recipe' for cooking the KontraS way - trying to find out what are the ingredients for successful work and what preparations make them so typical for KontraS. Also, I am working with a creative artist to make a PME manual that explains in a more accessible way what it is about. The price winners!

Very important is not to expect too much from your own intervention. Create small goals and take small steps. And most of all, cherish the small successes you achieve.

Amis Boersma
Young Professional ICCO - Togetthere

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