In part II of this series I will be presenting the principles and innovative features of the Iraqi 3D Emergency Assistance Strategy’s decision-making model. Given the scope, this part is divided into three posts. First post discusses the Strategy’s decision-making model and process and related monitoring system that feeds into it. In the next post I will present a set of initially recommended decision-making methods and decision rules applicable to both well-ordered, regular situations and those where decisions must be taken urgently and under constraints. In the final post I will discuss the Strategy’s (decentralised) management modalities, related operational environment typology, and some implementation design features, such as modularity.
Part II(a): Decision-making Model and Process
The problem of Iraq is inherently political and it cannot be resolved by any of diplomatic, advisory, military, financial or capacity building assistance alone. All these are necessary delivery channels but at the heart of it is political activity—guided by proper and ongoing political and political economy (including conflict political economy) analyses, delivered right on the site by senior and middle level team leaders, politically knowledgeable and skilful managers, who have practical experience of dealing with such situations on the ground. They will lead the teams of subject-matter experts brought together (on temporary and permanent basis) to deliver technical (military, civil) assistance relevant to specific locality or level of interaction within the Iraqi context. The Strategy therefore attempts at putting emphasis right—political change (as per Strategy’s Theory of Change) supported by all the means listed above (made available through bringing ‘three Ds’ coherently under one umbrella). This would make the implementation relevant and demand-driven, limit the waste of time and resources, avoid further confusion, and open opportunities for lasting solutions.
Knowledge-intensive work environment
Usually, the international assistance strategies and programmes are developed to fit into the existing data—that is, initially data is collected and processed, analyses conducted, country support strategies devised (whether by international, multilateral or bilateral, national agencies) 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 and well-ordered environments, as we can witness with the failure of many policy programmes in liberal democracies, let alone in conflict and post-conflict situations), as the programmes so frequently fail to address the realities on the ground due to the outdated information and the rigid structures which do not allow revisiting strategies and programme documents. Instead, this Strategy’s approach is to generate data through own activities, compare and match it with secondary source reliable (to extent possible) information, to analyse it and use for anticipating, predicting the developments and adjusting to them in a timely manner.
Therefore, experimentation and continuous learning and sharing the knowledge—will be central feature of the Strategy’s work culture, at all levels. This includes sharing and, even more importantly, discussing information and new knowledge and making use of them within the Strategy’s implementation framework (vertically, horizontally) but also with the Strategy’s international and domestic partners. This will be achieved through flexible decision-making methods incentivising and encouraging this approach and through distribution of tasks across various levels and localities.
Recursive model of decision-making
To be successful, strategies and programmes in complex environments shall repeatedly test and adapt their assumptions in immediate response to new information and learning, thus managing by discovery and continuous refinement in pursuit of most effective path towards sustainable results. This requires that the Strategy adopts a flexible model of decision-making process—one that employs various decision-making methods (both computation- and intuition-based), iterative discussions and consensus-driven solutions.
The Strategy’s decision making process model is presented in Figure 2. It is based on a premise that the Strategy and its components/programs shall change over time in response to developments and new knowledge about what is working and what is not. It is directed to problem-solving in real time and employs a recursive method comprising four elements: situation awareness, decision, action, and the feedback loop. Whenever possible, testing the decision taken prior to implementation is also recommended. This may include simple (or simplified but still effectively useful versions of sophisticated) methods some of which I will briefly discuss in the next post. Theory of change (TOC), pillar and component objectives, operational plans, targets and delivery methods—all are subject to constant review and adjustment during the Strategy’s lifetime.
Review procedure at each round
Typically, the Strategy review process is organised on a regular (e.g. quarterly) basis. However, the implementation teams may decide to review TOC or any other planning document at any time and as frequently as deem necessary. Another feature of the review process is that it is decentralised and much authority is given to task forces and field teams, while the role of the Strategy’s senior management is to guide (rather ‘nudge’) and coordinate the process and eventually approve the justified and agreed upon changes suggested by teams, and ensure that it is done in consistent manner across the implementation localities, levels of interaction, and fields of intervention (broadly and conditionally as military/ political-military/ diplomatic/ political/ technical and more narrowly by policy domains/ societal sectors/ platforms etc).
Each Strategy review round consists of four steps, as presented in Figure 3. After each round of review the task/field teams submit the completed documentation to the designated unit or member of senior management in charge. This includes the revised planning documents and justification for the change/adjustment proposed. Submissions are assessed and feedback provided, with eventual decision taken upon mutual agreement. Reviews of the Strategy’s overarching TOC and planning documents (PD) are conducted on a regular basis with involvement of all field/task leaders.
Monitoring and assessment
It is acknowledged by practitioners that traditional monitoring approaches and tools alone are not enough to track changes in volatile, politically sensitive environments. Moreover, in highly sensitive and locality-specific political situation of Iraq (which is characteristic to many conflict and post-conflict countries) it is difficult to predict the outcome from the outset and therefore to establish quantifiable indicators. Rigidly set monitoring and assessment methods tend to produce predefined uncompromising indicators which may turn misleading and counterproductive in terms of informing the decision-making, as the developments keep unfolding (frequent-times, in unpredictable way).
Also, it is very important to set the target of monitoring correctly—for strategies and programmes with political change at the centre of TOC, the right monitoring target is local agents of change and, more generally, political and social actors. Working with them directly or through various avenues offered or supported by the Strategy (such as platforms, coalitions, alliances etc.) the implementers will keep their finger on the country’s and its each locality’s political pulse, and gauge the change respectively. This is the kind of monitoring that feeds directly into decision making and enables timely adjustments. There are various methods available to do so, which are ‘soft’ but more useful for that purpose (one of my favourites is Outcome Mapping technique).
The monitoring approach suggested for the Iraqi Strategy is suited to complex and politically-charged context and also instrumental to recursive, adaptive decision-making process it employs. It aims at monitoring and gauging changes in external social and political environment—both influenced by the Strategy interventions and those developing independently (the combination of and correct disaggregation between the two is imperative for analysis and action). This requires a combination of traditional (mostly inward-oriented) monitoring of deliverables (number of meetings, events, people trained) and their immediate outputs (initiatives introduced/direct results obtained) with outward monitoring of the Strategy’s multiple structured contexts and actors (resulting from quantitative and qualitative/discursive methods of data collection, and comprising a combination of figures, indicators, indexes and, above all, narratives).
Early warning tool
To support the regular revisions and adjustments within decision-making process the Strategy will employ a simplified early warning system. The Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) set by the Strategy management is a tool whose primary objective is to timely inform decision-making on political developments, trends, and potential threats. It uses the systematic collection, processing and analysis of information (quantitative or qualitative) about political developments (not limited to conflict situations) and offers recommendations on available response options and related resources. The organisational and conceptual principle underlining the Strategy (the one bringing together diplomacy, development, defence) offers an unrivalled opportunity to compare, integrate, synthesise and make use of various sources of intelligence. The EWRS will work on continuous basis, issuing regular reports and warnings (when appropriate), with one cycle feeding into the next, and so forth. Figure 3 illustrates the stages within a single cycle. It will be managed from the Strategy’s headquarters, by political unit or situation centre.
Real-time information collection and dissemination
Another important feature of the Strategy’s monitoring system and early warning tool is that it makes information readily available in real time to all the implementation teams, from central unit to localities, so that managers could be aware of (often-time unexpected and especially at early stages of the implementation, violent risk related) events and developments across Iraq and take appropriate immediate decisions and measures. This information could be from local (field) teams, central political unit, or reliable secondary sources and may take various forms and delivery channels (emails, text messages, Intranet).
Initially published on LinkedIn. To be continued. Next post II(b): Decision-making Methods.
The first part of Diplomacy, Development, Defence in Action: 3D Emergency Strategy for Iraq posted on PolicyLabs: The Strategy’s Foundations
About the author: Dr. Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state-building and political processes in post-conflict countries. Most recently, he has worked in Baghdad assisting the Iraqi Government on a range of administrative initiatives and policy reforms. Before that, he helped building local governance structures and capacity through community-based natural resource management and local economic development initiatives in rural Afghanistan. In the course of eight years he has worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he held various positions in the field (starting as head of field office in Srebrenica) and headquarters; have designed, implemented and overseen a broad range of reform strategies and demand-driven local and nation-wide initiatives; and have chaired and participated in the work of civil-military situation awareness groups, political coordination boards at all levels.