Learning and Project Design

Blog

August 29, 2019

Learning and Project Design

By John Cropper

Lead, Program Management and Humanitarian

This amazing photo comes via a colleague, Peter Marlow, and is from Tukongote School and Study Centre near the Victoria Falls at Livingstone in Zambia. You can find out more about the School and Tukongote Community Projects here.

I have been thinking about this quite a lot with respect to how we design, plan, and manage projects and programs across our sector.

I love the way that the flow cart states explicitly that we will make mistakes… Who knew? We work in some incredibly difficult places and contexts; of course, we will make mistakes. It would be incredible if we didn’t.

And yet…most projects and programs come out of the grant writing process as fully formed, complete works. We have budgets, implementation plans, assumptions, risks, stakeholder maps and a long list of etceteras. It can appear that the project is set in stone from a very early stage.

Where is the scope for making mistakes? I would argue that the one thing we probably can guarantee in project management in our sector is that things will change, probably quickly – and something will go wrong.

It would be easy at this point to stress the need for good risk and issue management. This is fine and it is important – but – how about including time and money for mistakes and learning.

Let’s try to build this iterative loop into our project and program design. It is really easy to say that we can’t change anything – or blame the donor for restrictive rules and processes (and we all have). I think, however, that if we work with grants teams to include iterative processes into project proposals, we may start to make project learning and adaptive management a reality.

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