Children for Health is a very small, lean organisation and we like to think we are punching well above our weight through our various partnerships. We want to be efficient and deliver great value on the ground. We need to be accountable to the people we serve and to our donors who have placed their trust in us. We owe it to ourselves to use the best questions to be asking ourselves as we move forward. We want to balance being a reflective organisation with being one that practitioners from all over the world come back to again and again.
Children for Health is also keen to learn how approaches to development in the information communications technology world can inform international development. This was an idea first introduced to us by the Cambridge-based Humanitarian Centre, who led a year of focus on it in 2012. The people we met and the conversations we had during that year led to the launch of Children for Health. The principles behind ‘Agile development’ and ‘Iterative development’ are principles we try to apply in our work. It’s especially noticeable in how we are developing our mobi-site in Sierra Leone and our technology partners, Every1Mobile are helping to support and monitor this. We are writing up the case study on this programme in December, so do sign up and join our community if you are interested so you won’t miss it!
This ‘Donors Charter’ is an idea developed by Ken Banks – a friend and mentor to Children for Health in our very earliest days and one of those we met in that formative year. (We could argue that he held the baby!) We like the questions that the Donor’s Charter poses and we return to them again and again. We are getting close to being able to publish our answers to the list of critical questions, and when we do we will publish them on our website as FAQ’s.
Here are extracts from Ken’s ‘Donors Charter’ website.
Why a Donors Charter?
“After 60 years and $3 trillion of development aid, with one big push following another and wave after wave of theories and jargon, there is depressingly little evidence that official development aid has any significant benign effect on third-world poverty.” – Jonathan Foreman
Under pressure to support ‘innovative’ ideas, and often under pressure to spend their large budgets, donors often resort to funding projects they shouldn’t. What we end up with is a sector full of replication, failed pilots, secrecy and near-zero levels of collaboration.
This negatively impacts not only other poorly-planned initiatives, but it also complicates things for the better ones. On top of all that, it confuses the end user who is expected to make sense of the hundreds of tools that end up on offer. The policy of funding many in the hope that the odd one shines through – the so-called “let a thousand flowers bloom” scenario – belongs to an earlier era. Today, we know enough about what works and what doesn’t to be far more targeted in what is funded and supported.
Donors can fix this, here’s how:
Critical questions donors need to ask
Before any grant proposals are considered, donors should insist that project owners provide answers to twelve basic questions:
- Do you understand the problem? Have you seen, experienced or witnessed the problem? Why are you the one fixing it?
- Does anything else exist that might solve the problem? Have you searched for existing solutions?
- Could anything that you found be adapted to solve the problem?
- Have you spoken to anyone working on the same problem? Is collaboration possible? If not, why not?
- Is your solution economically, technically and culturally appropriate?
- Have you carried out base research to understand the scale of the problem before you start?
- Will you be working with locally-based people and organisations to carry out your implementation? If not, why not?
- Are you making full use of the skills and experience of these local partners? How?
Evaluation and post‑implementation
- How do you plan to measure your impact? How will you know if your project was a success or not?
- Do you plan to scale up or scale out that impact? If not, why not? If yes, how?
- What is your business/sustainability model?
- Are you willing to have your summary project proposal, and any future summary progress reports, posted online for the benefit of transparency and more open sharing?
A dual benefit
There’s no shortage of information on best practice in the technology-for-development field, yet problems persist. A Donors Charter would be a major step forward in putting things right.
Firstly, it would force implementers to consider key issues before reaching out for support, resulting in a reinforcement of best practice.
Secondly, it will help the donors themselves by focusing their resources and dollars on projects that are better thought-out and less likely to fail.
See also Principles for Digital Development.