"Imagine that you\'re trying to improve production in a village wood lot. In addition to foresters, you might have a social anthropologist and — since men and women have different interests in the wood lot — socio-economic and gender specialists on your team." -Tim Dottridge, Director of IDRC\'s Special Initiatives Division [link]
Case Studies of a few ‘Failed’ Projects
Courtney Keene, Researcher. 2007.
Some overarching weaknesses of Development Projects/Strategies
– one or two-dimensional definition/understanding of poverty or socio-economic status.
– no consultation or needs assessment with the active participation of the community itself before implementing projects
– a disregard of the large political and economical context and history/genealogy of development issues and sectors
– poor implementation due to a lack of understanding of on the ground economic and cultural context, societal norms, gender dynamics...etc.
– Sectoral/fragmented approach to development initiatives – ignoring the complexity and overlaps in situations
– mentality that business goals and human rights or any social mission are mutually exclusive – the two can be integrated within a 'for social profit' scheme
– mentality that installing hardware or technologies can solve complex issues without adequate integration of socio-economic and political factors into approach
I. Fish Factory Project in Pastoral Kenya-
A Lesson on Disregarding Context
1. Situation: Turkana, a very poor remote province in northwestern Kenya, is very underdeveloped and vulnerable to the whims of drought. The Turkana people are semi-nomadic cattle herders who lose their livelihoods when herds die during dry spells. However, there is a lake, Lake Turkana, teeming with fish in the region that is hardly used as a source of food or income by the population.
2. Flawed Approach: The development agency of Norway decided that exploiting the resources of Lake Turkana would be a good development initiative for the region, increasing incomes, employment, and stability in the face of weather patterns and climate change. With these intentions, a fish-processing factory was constructed in the area during the 1980s and the herders were trained and hired as fishers and factory workers. The longstanding traditions and nomadic culture of the population were overlooked by the decision-makers at the top and the project was largely implemented without first consulting with the community.
3. Failed Outcome: “Twenty years on, the Kaalokol fish factory is another page in Africa's catalogue of reminders that successful aid require more than just money and good intentions.” The factory proved to be an unsustainable business due to its geographical remoteness, the nomadic culture of the workers needed to keep it up and running, and the cultural perspective on fishing in general in a society where owning cattle is a sign of wealth. The factory is now largely unused and has not contributed to the growth or development of the region as intended.
4. A Better Approach: This project seems to have been doomed from its initial conception because it was not based on the demands and leadership of the community. What a Norwegian development worker considers a viable livelihood and way of living cannot be simply planted, like a hybrid seed, into a new environment and be expected to take root. A better design for a project would be based on some kind of expressed need or demand from a population and would work in harmony, not against, the everyday flow and rhythm of life in that community.
Source: Cocks, Tim. “Kenya's Turkana learn from Failed Fish Project,” International Business Times, April 4, 2006. www.ibtimes.com
II. Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Project (BINP) -
Rethinking Growth Monitoring and Promotion Programs
1. Situation: Malnourishment among children in Bangladesh
2. Flawed Approach: The Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Project (BINP) consisted basically of a Growth monitoring and promotion program in which mothers or 'caretakers' were given minimal training in order to ensure that the program children received milk, nutrients, and/or supplementary food and were brought into the clinic regularly for monitoring.
3. Failed Outcome: In order to assess the effectiveness of the US$60 million BINP a study was conducted by UNICEF and Save the Children comparing the progress of malnourished children in the BINP project-areas with those in selected non-project areas (with similar socio-economic indicators). The study shows that there is no significant difference between the progress of the children in the two areas in spite of the five year nutrition project. Other studies have found that mothers enrolled in the monitoring and promotion programs have trouble really understanding growth charts, an important part of the project.
4. A Better Approach: The results of the study beg the question, how effective are growth and monitoring promotion programs that don't incorporate other important factors? Development actors need to consider integrating more factors into the design of a more effective and sustainable long term program. Examples of other factors relevant to child nutrition are education, environmental development, gender dynamics, health infrastructure and services and food security.
Source: Hossain, Duffield, & Taylor. “An Evaluation of the impact of a US$60 million nutrition programme in Bangladesh.” Health, Policy and Planning, 20(1). Oxford University Press, 2005.
III. Failed Media & Gender Development Project in Afghanistan -
A lesson in Management on the Ground
1. Situation: The project by the Vancouver-based NGO, the Institute for Media Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS), was designed to train Afghani women in journalism and law. Specific targets of the project included establishing six or more radio stations in rural areas to be run by women, to create a monthly media law bulletin, provide training for media coverage of elections, and to facilitate exchanges between media resources in South Asia and Afghani women. The project began in 2003 and has since used approximately $3million.
2. Flawed Approach: While the initial idea and intentions of IMPACS seem sound, the implementation of the media project suffered from some very basic weaknesses. It seems the project's managerial staff were shipped to Afghanistan from Canada with little previous international experience and an inadequate understanding of the socio-economic context on the ground.
3. Failed Outcome: Some important aspects of the project were not covered by the staff during implementation, resulting in little results and wasted funds. In 2004 the project launched a publication (now defunct) written and published by and targeting Afghani women. The publication was launched without questioning the sustainability of such a project when the UN estimates that 80% of Afghani women and girls are illiterate.
4. A Better Approach: It is clear that this project lacked key elements in its design and implementation. Because of the low literacy rates among women in Afghanistan, the project would have benefited from integrating an educational element. This would have made the publication a more relevant initiative. In terms of implementation, project officers working on the ground, especially in extreme situations like Afghanistan, should have some overseas experience and background information before arriving. A successful project/organization is flexibale and able to adapt to various contexts and still maintain its basic functions (financial records, monitoring and evaluations). Monitoring and evaluation of project progress through indicators was necessary in a context where national institutions cannot be relied on. Similarly, alternative methods of keeping track of finances must be developed in the context of a cash-only local economy.
Source: Bailey, Sue. “Flawed Aid Program Funded Newspaper that most Afghans couldn't read: Audit,” Canadian Press: Ottowa, March 6, 2007. www.ca.news.yahoo.com
IV. Broken Water Pumps in Mozambique -
The Hardware/Software Disconnect
1. Situation: No access to safe drinking water.
2. Flawed Approach: Often projects to address water scarcity address the issue by installing cheap hardware, such as water pumps, without investing in training the local population to maintain the equipment.
3. Failed Outcome: An article on the WaterAid website narrates the story of Aliseni Kimo, an aged maize farmer in norther Mozambique, suffering during four days of diarrhea after drinking unsafe water from a nearby swamp. Even though Kimo's village does have a pump, it is not functioning- hasn't been for years, according to the residents. This is a common story. Water pumps are cheap, easy hardware carelessly installed by aid organizations and development projects rushing to move on to the next town or the next initiative. Though the pumps are said to last up to 14 years, in some cases they have stopped working after only a few days. The community is then left ill-equipped and unprepared to buy new parts and perform technical repairs to make the hardware sustainable.
4. A Better Approach: Although technology and cheap hardware are necessary to provide people with water, they must be accompanied by the necessary 'software' to make the project sustainable and include the benefiting community. The term software includes more social science-related practices like capacity building, qualitative assessments, and the creation of management/maintenance schemes according to social structures, dynamics and demands. It is also important for the community to be actively involved in decision-making from the very beginning of the project. One recommendation made in the article is to provide communities with information about their various hardware options (pump or well) and allow them to decide which to install according to their needs and maintenance capacities.
Source: Caroll, Rory. “Broken Pumps, Dashed Dreams,” WaterAid Mozambique: Kwilazia, www.wateraid.org
V. The Gyandoot E-Government Project in India -
Innovative Designs, Practical Failures
1. Situation: In 2000 the Madhya Pradesh state government in India designed a very innovative e-government ICT development project in the rural Dhar district. The project consisted of installing a series of computer/Internet kiosks in the district in order to provide better government services and access to information such as welfare schemes, public grievances, land ownership documents, 'chat with the experts' farming tips, market prices, village publications...etc.
2. Flawed Approach : While the idea and intentions of the project were to meet the needs of poor local populations by bringing services and information to them and cutting down travel time and costs, the design seemed to lack a practical consideration of the context in which the kiosks were installed. Many of the kiosk locations suffered from a lack of reliable infrastructure; without a relatively regular flow of electricity installing an all-purpose kiosk is futile. Furthermore, the project was largely managed by local government, in which leadership is constantly in flux, causing inconsistencies and periods of abandonment. Another flaw of the approach was that, while the project focused on bringing information and services to the poor, it did not address the quality of information/service output on the side of the government. Therefore lots of information provided on the kiosk home page was outdated (such as the market prices provided for farmers), often causing e conomic losses for the people making decisions based on it.
3. Failed Outcome: At the outset of the project 2000, Gyandoot received several awards and recognition for the innovativeness of the design. However, by 2002, much of this fanfare died down in the face of the largely unsuccessful results. According to an eGovernment for Development case study on the Gyandoot project, “a number of kiosks lie idle for significant periods of time: around one-third appear to be permanently closed; many others are closed for hours or days at a time. Lack of electricity is one cause, as are ongoing telecommunications problems. Limited income and, related, the commitment of kiosk operators is another cause of closure. When kiosks are open, service response times are often poor because hardware capacity is limited, and because several kiosks may attempt to access services at the same time when the electricity comes on.” In some cases, the unreliability of the kiosks and infrequent usage lead kiosk managers t o lose confidence in their supposed source of livelihood and resort to demanding bribes for the kiosk services and information, in essence adding yet another intermediary layer of corruption to the situation for poor citizens.
4. A Better Approach: Although the initial Gyandoot idea was very creative and involved the integration of several key issues (government services, ICT development, education...etc), still not enough factors/issues were integrated into the design. The broad context of poverty and its affects on infrastructure, economic sustainability, and good governance need to be addressed to make the design more practical and holistic. Also a more bottom-up structured approach to the initial design, implementation and evaluation processes would increase sustainability and overall success of the project.
Source: Sanjay, Alok Kumar and Gupta, Vivek. “Gyandoot: Trying to Improve Government Services for Rural Citizens in India,” eGovernment for Development, eTransparency Case Study #11, 2000. www.egov4dev.org
VI. Digital Cameras and Voter Registration in Uganda -
Adding Technology without Improving the System
1. Situation: Voting fraud and other illegal voting election schemes are common occurrences in most countries. In the case of Uganda, the government designed a project to try to prevent people from being able to misrepresent themselves and vote more than once on election day.
2. Flawed Approach: Before Uganda's 2001 elections, the Interim Electoral Commission launched a citizen service project to photograph citizens with digital cameras during voting registration. The digital photos taken were supposed to be loaded onto an online database, managed by district electoral bodies, to accurately identify voters on election day. Approximately $22 million was spent on equipment, consultancies and operations.
3. Failed Outcome: Not only did the project face technical difficulties with the digital cameras and the online database in the context of poor infrastructure and poverty, the most glaring gap in the design is the fact that the issue of transparency among the voting registration operators was not addressed. Thus, the new technology added to an old system only politicized things further and incited accusations and reactionary government behavior towards opposition. The 2001 elections were only considered successful logistically due to the pre-existing system and nonviolent due to the force of the military.
4. A Better Approach: A more holistic approach to improving the transparency of the voter registration system would focus less on the technology used and more on the structure of the system itself. While it is important to have mechanisms that prevent citizens from voting illegally, it is equally important that there be mechanisms to ensure accountability among operators within the system itself. Therefore a successful project would require capacity building, a good governance element, political education for the citizens and perhaps would need to be initially implemented and tested on a smaller scale.
Source: “Failed Electronic Voter Registration in Uganda,” eGovernment for Development, eTransparency Case Study #22, 2001. www.egov4dev.org
VII. Pierre and the Mills -
An Inorganic Project in Kafinare, Mali
1. Situation: In 1987 an aid organization with religious backing (ORB) designed a project for installing mills in rural communities in Mali. The women of the community were overtaxed, spending their days traveling to gather firewood and water, farming in the wet season, spinning cotton in the dry season, pounding grain and making coco butter. The purpose of the project was to work through women and local churches to operate and maintain the mill, which would relieve some of the work burden of the local community, especially the women.
2. Flawed Approach: In order to implement the mill project the ORB sent a young American worker named Pierre to the project sites in Mali with strict instructions and conditions for the management of the mills. The mills, their equipment and finances, were to be managed only by the women's associations of the communities, in affiliation with local churches. Condition two was that the president and treasurer of the women's association/mill management team had to be Christian women and the vice president and secretary, Muslim women, in order to facilitate 'collaboration across religions.' The third condition was that, in spite of the low income of the community, the mil's operation would be dependent on the payments of the population and a ten percent of the profits would go to a local church as tithe.
3. Failed Outcome: The most stringent aspect of the ORB conditions was its inflexibility in the face of unexpected factors and inappropriate contexts. Upon Pierre's arrival in the rural setting of Kafinare, Mali, where he was directed to install the ORB mills project, he was surprised to discover that the community already had a locally run mill. The mill, though only two years old and still very functional, was barely making ends meet due to the competition of another mill in the next town over (15k away) and the seasonality of mill usage by the community women. In spite of the fragile situation Pierre found himself in, he went along with the rigid ORB plan which caused a rift of loyalties within the community from the outset of the project. Furthermore the inflexible conditions for the management of the mill were not relevant to the context of Kafinare. The women were not organized into an association, and were not pleased with being asked to take on the full resp onsibility of physically maintaining and managing the finances of the mill, activities usually delegated to men. The women, directed to create their formal association, ended up electing the officials based on a melange of the ORB requirements and their own common sense (contradicting the ORB requirements). While Pierre had enthusiastically boasted that the project would be up and running in three months and men and women of the community invested time and money into building it, the mills did not start working until a full year later. Two weeks after the grand opening Pierre left Mali. By then three out of the four mills he had installed in the region were already broken. A week later the Kafinare mill stopped working. Pierre, having thought ahead that this might occur since, after all, the mill stones were made for grinding coffee beans and not grain, had arranged for a local textile company to perform all repairs of the nearby mills. However, having no written contract s igned, and Pierre and the ORB long gone, the community had not means of holding the company to their agreement.
4. A Better Approach: This is case is riddled with obvious mistakes. The first puzzling decision on the part of Pierre and the ORB was to go ahead with the project at a location that already had a functional, locally-run mill. This and the rigid conditions for the ORB mill's management demonstrate a decisive top-down approach in which the actual needs and demands of the community are not really considered. Also, while 'empowering women' is a good objective of a project, this should be done by allowing women to express their own needs and participate in the planning process; not by having them carry the burden of operating an ill-designed project. Even when focusing on women, it is essential to include men in the process in order for the project and the hoped-for gender equality to be sustainable. Capacity building was another essential element of the project that was missing; instead of depending on an unreliable partner for repairs, the ORB should have invested in training community members how to build, maintain, and perhaps even improve the mills. The ORB project would have been more successful if managed by someone more familiar with the local culture and context of Kafinare and someone who would not simply go home without follow-up after the opening of the mills.
Source: Carlson, Joyce. “The Stranger's Eyes,” Notes on Anthropology and Intercultural Community Work, 20:34-38, Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1995. www.sil.org