Process Vs Outcomes

21/08/2012

We locked our 'outcome orientated' Communications Manager in a room with a report about process & assurance. Just to see what would happen.

DEC Communications Manager Brendan Paddy

I am not a process person.  I am the guy you have to more or less drag into your terribly important meeting and who is petulant and disruptive unless the main item on the agenda is: WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO!  RIGHT NOW!  If the outcome of the meeting is hold more meetings, or consultant people or write a plan, there will be trouble.  I am in the management jargon ‘Outcome Orientated’.  I might just be the contempt of so many charity donors for administration and bureaucracy made flesh.  Perhaps charities should hire more people like me?  Perhaps, but my colleagues would tell you that one of me goes a long way.  And, more importantly, I am wrong.  Process matters.  Not for its own sake, mind you, but because good process means getting more of the right things done in a way that ultimately delivers the greatest impact.  

Which brings me to the 2011/12 DEC Accountability Framework Assessment (PDF viewer, opens in a new window).  We’ve just published this and if you’re expecting a standard learning or evaluation report you might find it a bit, well, odd.  It isn’t a Real Time Evaluation like the one we did for East Africa which can tell our member agencies in the middle of a crisis where they’re getting it right and how they can up their game. It isn’t a wider, after the fact, contribution to humanitarian learning like report we did on Disaster Risk Reduction in Pakistan. So what is it?  It is the wonkiest and most abstract part of the system that the DEC and its member agencies use for our joint evaluation and learning.  Sounds exactly like the kind of bureaucratic make-work that you don’t think charities should be funding?  Actually, no. It’s how we make sure that the kinds of lessons we learn from experience and from the first two types of studies get locked into the way we all work. This is important because it means we’re not relying on the personal experience of staff alone to ensure we learn from the past and keep raising the bar.  And it focuses on issues that really matter – this year there was a particular emphasis on:
 
• Value for money
• Preventing and Investigating fraud and loss
• Disaster Risk Reduction
• Participation of disaster affected communities in everything we do
• and complaints procedures for disaster affected communities.
 
Member Agencies self-report on how they ensure they deliver these things and their reports are checked and challenged by their peers against a set of common standards in a process led by independent experts – the One World Trust. But the focus isn’t on results, it’s on policies and systems.  Do they exist?  How are we checking they are being used in practice and that they are working as intended?  It’s pretty much pure process stuff and as we’ve established I’m not a process guy, so why am I not shouting the house down about how it’s a complete waste of time?  Because getting aid work right isn’t just about good people doing good work.  If you want the best possible results every time you also need good processes.