What can soccer tactics tell us about the limitations of planning and logframes?
Universal outrage over Fifagate reflects the fact that football/soccer is fast becoming a universal institution (at least for the
male half of the universe), creating some useful common reference points. As an example, check out this use of soccer tactics to explain the limitations of the logistical framework tools that we increasingly depend on (logframes to insiders), from an organization with the rather baffling name of Global Partners Governance. (American readers please note, for us Brits, soccer = football)
‘The logic of football offers one way to understand the limitations of the logframe. Logframe linearity assumes a ‘route-one’ style of play, or at least something similar to it, where the ball is kicked forward and forward again, and then inevitably into the net (the goal). While this style of play has been favoured by some teams (most notably, and to its detriment, the English national side), it is generally not how teams score.
In reality a football will go in many different directions before it ends up in the goal – if indeed it does. The ball will be passed sideways, backwards and forwards. Players will be tackled, possibly fouled, driven off their original direction and lose the ball. The ball will be kicked out of play and the flow of the game will be constantly disrupted by one intervention or another
This is much closer to how a governance project will work in practice. Any project is likely to have numerous stakeholders with a direct interest in supporting or preventing progress. As opponents start to disrupt progress, so the supporters need to change tactics and style of play, perhaps making the occasional substitution to counter the effects of the opposition. The interplay of all those actors, and the different resources and skills they have at their disposal means that progress is much more likely to resemble the passage of play in a football match rather than anything that appears in a logframe.
In football, as in politics, there will also be a huge amount of activity during a match
that does not directly affect the progress towards a specific goal. Working out what activity is relevant will emerge only as the game progresses. At the start, it is impossible to identify how each of the 22 players will behave during ninety minutes. And yet, the current application of logframes means that we are essentially being asked to predict the entire passage of the match – and the actions of both supporters and opponents .
Worse than this, that guesswork is then used to create the indicators of success. Projects are measured against an ability to predict, reasonably precisely, how a goal will be scored before the match has started. Without taking into account the opposing side, the conditions or the fitness of your players.The bigger danger is then one of simply following a preset plan, regardless. If you know you’re going to be measured against the activities you said you were going to do then you will do your damnedest to make sure you stick to them, ignoring whether they are actually working or not. In short it makes process more important than outcomes: “Well, we didn’t score but, rest assured, we did exactly what we said we were going to do.”
Logframes as gameplans
It is far better to think of a logframe as a game plan. It is based on an analysis of both your team’s strengths, and that of the opposition. It seeks to understand the tactics that they might use, and counter them, as far as is possible, by playing to your strengths. At the simplest level this would mean deciding what formation to play (1 – 2 – 3 – 4; 2 – 3 – 5; 3 – 3 – 4 or something else entirely), which player is responsible for what, and accepting that you might change that formation at some point during the game.
The logframe should, in short, set out the project logic and the theory of change. These are strategic considerations. The tactics, namely, when to move from defence to attack and which players you pick (like the choice of activities) are tactical considerations that will need to change as circumstances dictate.’
The paper then departs from football and becomes much less convincing (or interesting) on how to deliver more effective projects.
[nb this post also appears on the Guardian Development Professionals Network blog]