Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lasting change or passing fancy?

On how to make your work more sustainable

Working as a temporary advisor at a local organization can turn you into a manic depressive in a way. You will have your high highs and very low lows. Sometimes you feel elated because you see people have changed their way of working after you gave a training. But expect to also be disappointed when two months later they seem to have slipped back into old patterns.

Most local organizations are overloaded with work. At the Indonesian human rights organization I work for, more than seventy percent of the work (that's my guess) happens ad hoc. The Minister of Law and Justice says something about a law he would like to have revised, my colleagues immideatly respond. A video comes out of military officers torturing a group of Papuan prisoners, the office phones will not stop ringing for hours. Journalists, other organizations and international NGO's will all want to know what KontraS' opinion is.

My colleagues feel that they don't have time for monitoring and evaluation. Even though I know that it's an investment in the future, I can often relate to them. American management guru Stephen Covey speaks of the difference between urgent and important work. Important being the bigger projects, the in-depth analysis, and self-reflection, while the urgent comprises emails and telephone calls. In my case the challenge is to ensure the important is not always swallowed up by the urgent. How do make the lessons you taught stick? How do you make sure that the change will last?

A group of capacity builders working all over the world, came up with the following eleven tips for making your work sustainable. Very importantly: be realistic and don't let it get you down if big change doesn't happen right away. Instead, celebrate the small successes. They are more important than you may realize!

1. Give positive feedback to your colleagues, so that they gain confidence - in themselves but also in you. This is also a way of building trust. You let them know that you are not here to change everything, you are here to help improve things based on what's are already going smoothly.

2. Break the lessons you want to teach up into small bite-size bits. Do exercises during trainings which people will easily remember or refer to. For example, I use the happy horse analogy for discussing the chain of results in planning, monitoring and evaluation. Now in meetings, my colleagues will refer to “the horse is happy” when we discuss our overall goals.

3. Work with motivated people and those who are open to learn. Help the people that come to you for advise and involve them in your trainings or work. Let them for instance pick methods and share ownership of the work you're trying to do.

4. Don't forget that making your work sustainable takes time. Try to see it as an investment and give yourself time to build trust. Also, plan ample time to go from knowledge sharing to other's actually doing their work differently than before.

5. Convince people of the benefit of your intervention. Make it clear why you are there. First you have to show things and then make people part of the experience.

6. Build in a monitoring system together with your colleagues, to monitor the change process and have a learning process together.

7. Focus on the people, not the systems. Even when your goal is to strengthen the organizational capacity of an organization, start by working with some people you see are interested. By helping them develop the skills, on the long term organisational changes will occur.

8. Work with a counterpart in your work, so that that person is able to adapt new ways of working in the organisation.

9. Try to check if the right conditions are there (such as funds for printing the handbook you wrote), and include these conditions into your plans.

10. Plan for a return visit, several months or years after you have completed your placement. It gives you the opportunity to review the work you have done and give suggestions for improving it.

11. Plan a meeting (at least 6 months before your placement ends) where you remind your colleagues and supervisors that you are leaving. Ask them what they want to have in place or accomplished as a sustainable result before you leave.

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