polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Making Development Planning and Management Effective

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

National and local governments, NGO’s and international development actors most often apply high doses of good intentions and highly sophisticated theoretical discourses to their development initiatives. It is true that much of their leaders and staff might not be exemplarily committed to the cause they are working for. We know that many concentrate their efforts in their personal interests and use their positions for that purpose. Those are not the people I will dedicate this post to. Today I will write about those who are truly committed, or at least about those who are willing to give priority to the quality of their work (I’m excluding those who just do it for the sake of their personal career, who will hardly do any good to anyone else but themselves). This post is thus mainly about effectiveness, in other words, about the capacity of well intended actions to achieve their objectives. This also applies to urban researchers, planners and managers.

Since the early 1970’s, the work of national and local governments, NGO’s and international development actors across the World have been gradually adopting a methodology for project planning and management based on goals or results. The most used name for this methodology is the Logical Framework Approach (LFA).

This goals-oriented approach might seem obvious, but once inside large and complex programmes and organizations, it is very easy to lose sight of expected results and objectives and end up dispersing activities without a clear purpose. This is still very common, and in many organizations it is cultural, despite that almost every one of them plan their projects using the LFA or similar tools.

Isolated activities might have praiseworthy intentions and profound theoretical foundations, but they rarely solve complex developmental problems alone, especially if what we want is to help people come out of poverty in the long run. There is one simple reason: poverty is a multidimensional reality closely linked to governance issues and addressing it requires a set of articulated actions related to different disciplines that depend on each other to generate the desired effect. Acting separately without considering how they relate to each other in their contribution to the expected results and objectives is a path to failure. And that is what has been happening in many development projects and programmes around the world.

Source: European Commission

In large and complex programmes and organizations, goals-oriented planning and management is a difficult and demanding task that requires proper training and/or experience. That is particularly so where it requires changes in the organization’s culture, which is the case for most government structures in the developing world, specially in small and medium size cities. Part of the change in management culture required in complex development projects/programmes lies in that LFA implies multidisciplinary and interorganizational work, it implies discipline in regards to regular planning and monitoring exercises that require critical reflection and horizontal team management (as opposed to hierarchical). Another important consideration about LFA and similar tools is that it consists of an aid to thinking rather than a rigid procedure. LFA helps unite and structure every team member’s capacities, critical views and creativity towards the predefined goals and objectives.
In 2004, the European Commission published a useful project planning and management guide book that explains the LFA (see chapter 5).