Thursday, March 18, 2010

Research & Rescue Action Plan

As I leisurely walked into my humble but tastefully decorated office this morning, slowly digesting a dignified breakfast professionally prepared and served at my residence by two of my six “domestic helpers”, I beheld the HRI calendar on my desk (“if you have any questions about the content of this calendar please contact HRI” it says, under the touching picture with the big-eyed child, making one imagine a stakeholder calling: “I have a question about the content, how come August has 31 days, just like July?).

I beheld the calendar and realized that by the end of the month we need to provide one of our donors with the results of a research about the reasons behind gender-based violence in the Comoros. Except we don’t call the thing "research", we call it “M&E” because we know that our donors have a software that they run all funding proposals through and if they contain the word “research” they get automatically rejected, or at least, as was the case in point, the funding gets “restricted”. It’s actually an open-source spam guard software that was adapted for a reasonable price by a mixed team of IT and “programmatic” experts and is now “implemented” on all computers used by all members of the Grants commission at the headquarters of the respective donor.

This particular proposal was submitted in the financial year 2004 and it was compiled by Nikki, one of our interns at the time, hired since as a “project officer” based on her combination of Brandeis University degree and “experience in the field”, a box she ticked as a peace corps volunteer in Cameroon where, in addition to a ganja habit, she also acquired three words of French (one of them is “espece” and the other two cannot be printed in a family blog, in the words of one of our former employees), which consolidated her position as an HRI francophone country expert.

While the donor agency won’t fund “research” as a matter of principle, the feller who works for the donor at the local “mission” is particularly interested in “M&E” results because he hopes to put his name next to them so when former high-school colleagues in Ohio google him they find out he has published stuff which will obviously make that girl regret she did not go bowling with him back in 1983. He also doesn’t particularly like Moroni so he hopes a few publications under his belt will increase his chances of obtaining a posting closer to Pattaya, where he once spent memorable moments in the company of several talented karaoke artists. Meanwhile, the restrictions imposed on this research by the mentioned software need to be lifted but most of the budget has been “realigned” since, which means HRI is currently having a team of six permanent staff, three interns and a reasonably-paid consultant addressing some restrictions on money committed in 2004 and already spent years ago for different activities than the ones flagged by the software.

Naturally all people involved at the time on both sides have moved on and cannot be contacted anymore which makes the whole process even more interesting, while allowing all of us to just point the fingers ar vague “predecessors” while we try to figure out hhow we burry the whole thing under piles of papers. The fact that this particular donor is very much interested in “M&E” is not the same thing with their intense interest in “numbers of t-shirts distributed” or “numbers of stakeholeders trained” commonly reffered to as “impact indicators”.

Whatever the background, fact is there remain less than 2 weeks to complete this “M&E” process about gender based violence and, because we are go-getters, here is what we will do:
1. Nathan the intern will google gender based violence and Comoros;
2. He will then copy-paste whatever he finds into one document with a special focus on footnotes (“primary sources”)– we’ll refer to this step as “literature review”;
3. Make up a generic sounding story about a woman “whose name has been changed to protect her privacy”, as a believable “human interest story” and we’ll add some pictures Nathan took when he backpacked through east Africa on his way to Comoros.
4. Put together some vague references to cultural norms with references to islam;
5. Take the section “Expected Results” from the original proposal drafted by Nikki in 2004 and do a ctrl+F/ Replace All "2004" with "2010" and “will” with “have” along with some subsequent fine tuning;
6. Take a list of recommendations from a similar “M&E” process completed in nearby Madagascar and copy/ paste/ adjust them to Comoros;
7. Nathan the intern will then put all of it together in a “publication”, complete with the usual overexposed pictures of HRI staff under the logo and submit it to the duly procured printer.

Once all above steps are completed we will book the large conference room at the Itsandra Sun (which is to Comoros what the Sheraton is to Ethiopia) for sometimes in April and send out invitations for all stake-holders to attend the dissemination event. We’ll pick the date to be ever so slightly late, for credibility’s sake (as everyone knows when you get down to practice sometimes things get a bit more complicated etc etc) and we’ll ensure that he budget gets ever so slightly overspent – we’ll naturally offer to cover the diference ourselves, to show commitment (easily done by charging some staff time dedicated to this project to another donor) – that stuff goes a long way in increasing our funding next time around. We’ll print ca 20,000 copies of the report in high quality color and send many of them by DHL to regional and global “stakeholders”. We’ll then wrap it all up with a regional seminar at the Ellerman in Cape Town (a dignified long term partner of HRI), and call it a ground breaking success and a regional best practice. The whole thing being “M&E” of course will inform our programmatic decisions which means that we are well placed to apply for further funding and there you go, sorted.

Anyways, may I remind you all that we are still collecting “abstracts” and we are looking forward to host some quality submissions from colleagues out there.


  1. man you know exactly how it happens!

  2. i love this. "Nathan the intern" is the best!!
    i also really like that you expose M&E for what it is...a natural extension of the aid machine...Easterly and such like to prop it up as some "missing element" that can "save
    aid or something - but how can they not know it will just be co-opted (already has been) like everything else? Keep writing. This stuff is GOLD.