RE: What can we do to improve the quality of development projects? | Eval Forward

Hi Carlos,

Thank you for outlining quite some interesting action points to aid the achievement of improved development project performance.

One of your actions which really catches my attention is the use of lessons learnt from previous interventions in the domain/country to design new or follow up projects or programmes, which is indisputable. However, my experience is that this is not being done, which is why we are experiencing recurring project failures, especially in our part of the world (West Africa in general and my country, The Gambia in particular). I think the issue of not using past lessons to inform future programming is "cultural and institutional" about Africans (generally speaking). As such it requires a paradigm shift in terms of national development policies and programmes, but also a shift in orientation on the part of the personnel who participate in or influence development project designs and appraisal.

I think there should be proactive actions in place (documented and signed as part of Financing Agreements) to change the ball game. For instance, actions such as making it mandatory for projects to develop and validate key lessons, innovations and good practices experienced during program implementation  could help on the one hand; and then, ensuring that new design/appraisal missions make reference to and use of those lessons/innovations/good practices to inform future interventions could help the situation.

Another of your proposed actions I want to react to is the one on the Project Steering Committee (PSC) Meetings. My experience is that PSCs are not effective at what they are set out to do and this is for the following reasons: (i) members of PSCs are often not knowledgeable about the project they are "steering" (most have not laid their hands on the project design/appraisal report); (ii) these are generally civil servants occupying top positions in their Ministries or Departments and so do not have time to add value to the project; (iii) PSC meetings are usually well attended for the sitting allowances members will collect rather than the job they're tasked to do, which is to critically review project implementation and provide directive for improvement. For instance, is it feasible that a PSC meeting held in just 3 or 4 hours can do justice to the task?

So, my conclusion is that people's orientation must change to realise the good promises of project management and the institutional and legal frameworks governing projects should be revisited to bring about effectiveness in project implementation. Here, beneficiary awareness to the point that they are conscious of their right to hold project management units and concerned ministries to account, is critical. One's commitment to the profession of project management (across its core areas) should come to light in what actions one takes in project implementation, bearing in mind that development projects are meant to transform the lives and livelihoods of nations, communities and societies for good. Social engineering to bring about transformational change amongst the citizens is key. Nationalization and empowerment of M&E is also critical to this: perhaps set up Ministry of Evaluation to coordinate evaluation of development projects/programmes effectiveness across the country is one of several options for consideration. Strengthening of civil society organizations and promoting their inclusion in the implementation of development projects can help a lot in sustaining development outcomes as well as holding governments to account for the resources invested in projects.

Thank you