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Looking back and looking forward – reflections at the start of a new year

Bruce Britton

Written by

6th Jan 2016

At this time of year the media are full of reflections on 2015 and articles looking forward to the New Year. Not to be outdone, I asked my Framework colleagues to share two of their highlights from 2015 and one thing they are looking forward to in 2016. This is what they said.

Órla told me that “A real highlight this year was teaching a module in monitoring and evaluation for students on the Masters in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the Open University of Catalunya. My students were insightful and diligent, and it was a wonderful opportunity to pull together and extend my expertise in monitoring, evaluation and learning. My students were scattered across three continents, working for a wide variety of organisations, so it was an exhilarating and interesting two months.”

She added “Towards the end of the year, I was delighted to be appointed consultant to the DFID Aura project – improving research and teaching capacity in African Universities, working with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, and the University of Loughborough to establish how to assess research and teaching capacity. I have worked with this team before, on monitoring and evaluating information literacy, so it’s lovely to re-establish relationships, working on an interesting – and stretching – project.”

Here’s what Bill had to say about his highlights: “Facilitating participatory programme planning with NCA Afghanistan and seven national partners. This in turn was based upon earlier facilitation of programme theories of change and strategic planning with NCA Afghanistan. The experience of full participatory planning was novel for almost all the participants (NCA and partners alike) and I believe that in addition to achieving an agreed programme plan, the process contributed positively to NCA’s partnership approach.”

Bill’s other highlight from 2015 also involved working in Afghanistan. “Training in M&E with senior programme and project staff in DRC Afghanistan and a review of DRC Afghanistan’s M&E system in December. While just being a happy and fulfilling experience working with a group of interested and committed local and foreign staff, the training ended with a real sense that new knowledge and skills would be put into practice.”

Gopal told me “It has been a rewarding experience and also a privilege to work with two international networks over the year in 2015. The programme activities and geographical areas of operation of the two networks are very different and significantly contrasting. Just Associates (JASS) focuses on “building women’s collective power for justice” and the Network of Asian and Pacific Producers (NAPP) concentrates on “securing a better deal for Fairtrade producers and farmers” in Asia and the Pacific.

“The success with JASS was to undertake a diagnostic study to evaluate finances and financial systems. My role was to establish short-term remedial measures and also raise awareness across the network about the strategic importance of longer-term financial sustainability. The outcome has been very positive, as the Network has ended the year 2015 with a surplus and the financial health for 2016 looks promising.

Gopal continued, “In the case of NAPP, which is two years old, it was truly enjoyable and motivating to facilitate a ‘business model canvas’ exercise for a new management team. The relatively young and energetic management team members have previously been working in silos in their respective areas such as marketing, product development and financial management. However, the business model canvas exercise provided an excellent opportunity to break down barriers and to take a more holistic and integrated approach to managing their business.”

One of Catherine’s highlights was facilitating a workshop for a Slovenian network of CSO support organisations and the Ministry of Administration. Catherine explained, “The workshop was successful on several levels: putting tools into practice in a meaningful way, building greater understanding between stakeholders, and facilitating a realistic plan for follow up. It was on the coast, and the workshop schedule included a two hour break for a swim in the sea every afternoon, and beautiful views and sunsets towards Venice across the water.”

Catherine and Brenda collaborated on an assignment in Nigeria. Both chose the same piece of work as a highlight and its easy to see why! Here’s Catherine’s description “Working with forty Sisters of St Louis, in a tiny village in Nigeria for seven days with Brenda, facilitating a workshop on strategic planning and management skills. We loved the nuns’ singing, role-plays and our working together.” And here’s Brenda’s perspective on the same workshop: “I loved working with Catherine and the forty feisty Nigerian and Ghanaian nuns. My fears that a seven day training course would be a drain on everyone’s energy were soon dissipated through a combination of creative and energizing methods and their inspirational commitment.”

Brenda also felt that in 2015 she had “experienced a bit of a ‘break through’ on the area of the M&E of organisational change – a combination of collective working with Framework colleagues with WWF and then adapting/developing some of the output for World Vision and again for participants in the INTRAC Advanced Partner Capacity Building course. A little progress in a very challenging and ‘murky’ area.”

My own highlights were working with WWF at an organisational development workshop hosted by WWF UK for colleagues in partner WWF organisations. It was great to be a participant at a really well organised and facilitated event and to have the opportunity to meet, discuss and conduct video interviews with such a lively group of enthusiastic OD practitioners.

I also really enjoyed conducting a review of Save the Children’s approach to child sponsorship. Through the many interviews I conducted and access to recent academic research I got a really fascinating insight into different perspectives on what is sometimes seen as a controversial way of engaging support for work on child rights issues. I was delighted that Save the Children felt the review provided them with practical ideas that they could use to further develop their approach to child sponsorship.

Here’s what my colleagues are looking forward to so far in 2016:

For Órla, “Completing the evaluation of Fight for Peace’s ‘Global Alumni Programme’ (rolling out FFPI’s model with CBOs) in Jamaica early January and the planned learning workshop with the FFPI team and Comic Relief in London in March.

Órla is also “very much looking forward to my sailing expedition from Norway to Eastern Greenland, though I accept that isn’t really part of my work portfolio!”

Bill is “looking forward to working in Africa for the first time in March, working with refugees in Uganda from neighbouring countries as part of an evaluation of civil society core partners of Finnish Aid.”

Gopal is excited about developing “a simple and yet robust framework for good governance in international networks. Governance is probably one of the weakest links in international networks. There are a whole range of systemic weaknesses and a narrow focus on statutory compliance – seen more as a tick box exercise. My dream for 2016 is to establish a governance framework that is motivating, simple to apply and recognises that one size does not fit all. For now, it is time to reflect on the fantastic work the international networks do and the potential opportunities to do more in efficient and effective ways.”

Catherine is eagerly anticipating “new ways of engaging with clients at the Bond Conference in London in February.”

Brenda is energised by a forthcoming assignment – but at the moment she could only divulge “Possibly working again with a client I truly respect and on a very exciting topic.”

As for me, I’m looking forward to re-visiting my Learning NGO Questionnaire as an ‘open source’ project, hopefully enlisting the help of some of the many organisations and individuals that have adapted and used it over the past decade.

All in all it looks like a busy and stimulating year!

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