As promised in the post on the Syrian war (The Syrian War: How to Move from Chaos to Peace), here is a conceptual design of a Programme for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s conflict-torn countries. As such, it only briefly outlines the approach suggested to the proposed Programme’s design and management modalities and illustrates its architecture through a series of basic charts. This is not a business case but I believe that it constitutes the first step in that direction.
This publication aims at introducing a model and generating an interest among the development professionals, and a discussion on the concept and on how to bring this initiative forward. Ideally, a think tank or an international development consultancy would take lead in championing the idea and setting a network of practitioners who would then work together to share knowledge. In the meantime, I will keep assembling more detailed narrative on the Programme’s approach and content, for future presentations and discussions.
The Programme outline will be presented in two posts. The first briefly describes the Programme’s key features (focusing on those which in my view make difference). In the next post I will present the Programme architecture.
Key innovative features
1.General approach: In complex programme/project environments a failure (whatever small) in one component may unintentionally trigger a chain of uncontrollable failures of large magnitude all around the project and thus lead to disastrous outcomes (not only to the project in question, but to the entire country support strategy of the donor or the implementing agency). This is especially characteristic of the contexts with interactive, tightly correlated dimensions and sensitive issues or problems to deal with. Assistance programmes in conflict and post-conflict countries operate in this kind of environments.
The Public Policy 2.0 (Introducing Public Policy version 2.0) approach to designing and managing policies and programmes opens broad opportunities for matching a traditional, structured management by objectives method with more flexible management by discovery method, which is built on learning by doing and is believed to be better suited for volatile operational environments. Moreover, it allows increasing the adaptability to the rapidly changing circumstances, while localising the trouble of failures and decreasing the cost of co-ordination.
2. Programme: Under the Programme in this presentation I mean both ‘an endeavour (or an agenda) of the international community’ and ‘a specific set of related projects brought together to achieve a pre-defined goal and a set of objectives’, in partnership with and for the benefit of the recipient countries. In its current pre-design format the Programme’s hierarchy builds on several levels, from pillars at the top, through blocks, to components and sub-components. As a generalised term, I refer to all of them as components (at this stage it makes no sense going into detail of distributing these elements as programmes and projects—this is the job of those agencies which would sponsor the implementation).
3. Objectives and beneficiaries: The goal of this Programme is two establish a sustainable peace in Iraq and Syria. This will be achieved through a two-fold objective of (a) defeating the militant Islamists (namely, Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and al-Qaeda, and their affiliates); and (b) ending the violent confrontation of domestic political forces on the territory of these two countries. This Programme is a large-scale multi-year endeavour; however it has its narrow focus and does not intent at replacing other programmes, strategies and projects planned or under implementation by various international aid and development actors in these countries.
4. Primary focus: It is understood that, even though the war against militants and the violent internal conflicts at this point demand an active involvement of the international forces, for achieving the goal of a long-lasting peace the primary guarantor must be the states of Iraq and Syria. Therefore, building the capacity of host governments to manage internal political processes without resorting to violent confrontation, and to protect their borders, and to effectively maintain the law and order in their territories to ensure safety and security of their citizens—is essential. Considering the duality of the Programme’s purpose (both in terms of having two objectives and being implemented in two sovereign states), certain centralisation is imperative, in my view. This especially concerns the military pillar, where the campaign must be centrally coordinated while locally delivered. Also, the lifetimes of the Programme’s military and political pillars are different; therefore it makes sense to decouple them from the beginning, so that when the military pillar accomplishes its mission successfully, it can be closed without major changes to the Programme’s management. Figure 1 below illustrates the idea.
5. Knowledge-intensive work environment: Usually, the international assistance projects are developed to fit into the existing data—that is, initially data is collected and processed, analyses conducted, and very detailed designs produced, including the [set-in-a-stone] monitoring and evaluation indicators, etc. With fast changing volatile world, this approach does not hold anymore (even in peaceful conditions, let alone in a conflict-torn place), as the projects so frequently fail to address the realities on the ground due to the outdated information and the rigid structures which do not allow revisiting the project documents. Instead, this Programme’s approach is to generate data through its own activities, to analyse it and use for predicting the developments and adjusting to them in a timely manner. Therefore, the experimentation and continuous learning and sharing the knowledge—will be key features of the Programme’s work culture.
6. Delivery of benefits: The Programme is focusing its main interventions at tactical level of intervention—this is where the real change happens and where it is possible to timely detect problems and for the mid-managers to take corrective actions. This implies that the driving vehicle behind the Programme’s (and its components’) delivery are direct results (i.e. outputs). They will be in the focus of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation (and their revision, if the need be).
7. Degree of modularity as a design rule: Advantages and limitations of using integrated programme/project design in international development assistance are well known. Its multi-sector approach helps setting the reinforcing relations between various intervention areas, with (as it is believed) a potential of producing sustainable benefits from establishing long-term relations between various public and private institutions. However, its close component interdependence is not well-suited for experimental, trial and error approach.
One remedy to the threat of domino-effect-like massive failures could be a modular architecture of the assistance programmes. Modularity is a form of product and process design which creates a high degree of independence between components: it will serve to decompose the Programme’s components at various levels and to allow experimenting, making changes in one component (module) without generally requiring or triggering a change to other modules. Additionally, by controlling only the required output of components the Programme can achieve more effective and less costly coordination.
Given that neither total modularity nor overall integration are possible (and necessary in the case of such a multifaceted endeavour), it makes sense to establish a degree of modularity as a design rule. Under modularity in this Programme I mean interdependence between components/sub-components (and once it goes into implementation, between projects) in performing certain tasks and delivering the specified outputs. Four types of inter- and intra-component relationship can be established based on the function/structure dichotomy: from highly integrated (multiple outputs across multiple units); through moderately integrated (one output dispersed across multiple units, and multiple outputs assigned to one unit); to purely modular (single output to one unit). This classification will be of use for the managers, since it would allow them identifying interdependencies in the delivery of outputs (and thus allocation of resources) early on.
8. Typology of operational environment: Components of the Programme will operate in different operational environments. From the management point of view, it is crucial to establish their typology, so that to enable better distribution of tasks and co-ordination mechanisms, operating procedures, standardised interfaces (communication protocols), and progress indicators—to help minimising conflicts, waste and reinvention. A combination of two characteristics will be used to define the typology of the operational environments: physical complexity and the degree of interactivity. The former varies along such parameters as lifetime, (co)location, and the number of implementing organisations (programmes, projects, their units). The latter concerns the way how tasks are managed across certain components or within a particular component/sub-component. The following four types are suggested:
— atomic [parameters: simple ecology/ low interactivity; e.g., working with different ministries on unrelated capacity building tasks];
— combined [parameters: simple ecology/ high interactivity; e.g., reengineering the policy co-ordination processes in the government’s central executive office and simultaneously strengthening the capacity of the policy units in central ministries];
— merged [parameters: complex ecology/ low interactivity; e.g., special operation force (SOF) units act on ad hoc tasks while being co-located across the territory with instructors who build the capacity of the local military];
— highly integrated [parameters: complex ecology/ high interactivity; e.g., assistance to security sector reform, where various components/sub-components work with different government agencies, at various places across the country and abroad, but in a highly reciprocal, synchronised fashion].
9. Entry points: This is the approach suggested for this Programme that, in most cases (whenever feasible), the interdependencies between components (especially large components) shall be minimised. Along with reasons outlined above, this is also a condition to allow multiple international actors (with their own methodologies, resources, funding and partnership mechanisms etc.) to join the implementation of this large-scale endeavour with minimal conflict and cost-effective co-ordination. With that said, the interactions between smaller components (consider these as single-output projects) and sub-components within them shall be maximised (it has been proven in business processes that this brings about overall production effectiveness and reduces lifecycle costs).
In terms of management, the Programme considers using a design feature known [in product architecture] as ‘nucleus’—that is, normally one of the component’s constituent parts (sub-component) acts as its functional centre and other sub-components are grouped around it. In project management we usually use the phrase entry point for what such central sub-components offer. They are (a) better placed within the component, in terms of having many relationships with other sub-components; (b) have the most effective access to an array of needs addressed by the component; and (c) produce the results which directly and indirectly benefit all other sub-components.
Figure 4 illustrates how sub-components can be organised around the central unit, on the example of assisting the host country implementing a security sector reform (SSR).