Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/Preparing a manual
Preparing a manual
One of the project objectives was to write a manual. The basic idea of Eugad was not to reach the public directly, but to facilitate the opinion makers in better reaching their public. The manual was meant to facilitate the use of the knowledge resources collected and shared by the project so that opinion makers could better inform about the scopes and challenges of international cooperation for development. But as the opinion makers were not revealing arrogant presuppositions about their self-claimed superiority we realized that it would have been better to organize the manual for those who were showing us an interest to learn. It was the activists working in small NGOs and in small political entities who revealed their interest to learn the tools for project management. They were interested to bypass the “experts” which were acting as intermediaries in communication with the project sponsors and with the general public.
We have been asked to share information and tools on how to present grant application to the donors and how to report the project progress. Most donors and sponsors ask for very elaborated documentation on all aspects of the project design and implementation methodology. This is a good thing, as it promotes professionalism and transparency. However this also tend to alienate from international cooperation many sincere and charismatic social workers, who very good in promoting inclusion of the poor and marginalized sections of society, but dislike the technicalities of “project management” and dislike the pedantry of the politically correct jargon. Some big international NGOs exploit this knowledge gap and they carve a niche for themselves acting as intermediators between those who provide the money for cooperation projects (the donors) and those who execute the projects (the local organizations). As local actors want to have a say in planning and evaluation, they need to learn the “project grammar” and the “project terminology”. Here is where they asked us to help out. And here is where we decided to step in.
There are many manuals on project management. But the language is very technical and they constitute a sort of breviary for the restrict circle of adepts of esoteric rituals. Professional project managers think of themselves as a sort of “elite” (“we are the “leaders”! we make the difference!”); so they tend to enforce a specialized jargon that only the initiated ones master. We received an invitation to do the opposite: to open up the terminological barriers and explain the tricks of the game in simple language and unpretentious style.
In order to enable easier understanding we decided to give less emphasis on terminology and more emphasis on the actual processes. We decided to narrate the phases of project design and management as they are stories with a repetitive plot structure. In fact each project is “a story”, that proceeds along standard steps and faces similar challenges. Along the project life there are typical crises and the tasks managers have to overcome typical dilemmas. By narrating how the project plot unfolds we can then explain to the project decision makers what are the typical challenges they have to face, give them advise on what are the strategic elements to consider and provide them with specific tools for facilitating the communication with all project stakeholders.
In a certain sense what we had in mind was to present project design as a sort of videogame adventure, where the hero has to proceed to various stages where different sorts of challenges arise. The manual would prepare them gradually to the various steps and equip them with the “tools” that they could use to overcome the difficulties. As we collected “stories” on the ground from different projects we could use them as examples of the challenges they face to face and use the testimonials as “advisors” or ”mentors”.
Since our intended targets were not “students of management” for appearing to competitive exams, but rather social actors who know how to do social world on the field but need to learn “the formal grammar” of project management, we found out that the “story” approach was much more similar to their mind set. As in fact every social activity is an adventure, i.e. is a “story”. So those who really know how to deal with the people have a much more a “narrative” perspective rather than the “mechanical” perspective which is more typical of bureaucrats and auditors.
That is also the reason why the course that are offered by the big “donors” on how to present applications for receiving grants for development projects are so cold, so bureaucratic, so mechanic that are almost incompressible to those who really do social work. The spirit that animates the real social worker has all to do with dignity and virtue; they think that what characterizes social action is the spirit that moves the action and that cannot be produced out of any “technique”. So they do not understand the purpose of that kind of sophisticate “project grammar” that is required by the international for writing project proposals and report project results. However that grammar is important, because it sets a number of standard steps and terminology that enables different people of different cultural background to speak the same language and so to express and understand each other. Grammar does not create poetry: but it enables an articulated speech that can also be used to express poetry. So the need to share that knowledge of grammar but do it in such a way that its adoption does not suffocate the vitality of the inspiration and enthusiasm that motivates the inspired and inspiring social workers.
So that was really the challenge we were taking in preparing this manual: bridging the gap between the social grammar of bureaucracy and the poetry of activism, by unfolding the project making plots and by narrating the adventures of development cooperation actors.