What use are models of change? An experiment in Tanzania
I spent last week in Tanzania, but had to wait til I returned to internet-land before blogging on it. So this is Tanzania week on the blog.
First up, models of change (MoC). As you may have noticed, I’ve been thinking a lot about these recently. That usually involves exhausting intellectual gymnastics in seminars or dozing off over impenetrable academic papers, but now I got to apply them to Oxfam’s work in Tanzania. Fascinating (at least for me). The task was to use MoC to develop a programme called Chukua Hatua (‘take action’ in Swahili), part of an innovative and ambitious DFID programme managed by KPMG called AcT (Accountability in Tanzania).
‘Chukua Hatua (Take Action) does what it says on the tin. The programme is testing different approaches through a series of pilots to learn which can best act as a catalyst for Tanzanians to claim their rights. These include training a network of ‘farmer animators’ at village level, student councils, and an ‘active musicians’ scheme. Each pilot uses several of the following approaches in the design: 1) using visual and digital communication on issues such as monitoring election promises and land rights; 2) building the capacity of citizens to understand the concepts of rights, entitlements, transparency and accountability, and to seek information, organise and take action; 3) supporting citizen networking and the establishment/ strengthening of spaces for engagement and collective action; 4) researching issues that are a priority for the communities and providing simplified information along with disseminating relevant budgets, policies and laws and providing appropriate monitoring tools; 5) promoting women’s voices and rights, including in decision-making; 6) supporting communities’ initiatives to plan, organise and take action. Following a year of piloting along with close monitoring of changes in communities and their leaders, the programme will be scaling up the most successful approaches through a combination of promoting natural replication across communities and groups, increasing programme coverage, and advocating for adoption and/ or replication. The programme is delivered across the Shinyanga region and in Ngorongoro district, and is integrated with Oxfam’s agriculture, pastoralist and education programmes.’
The first step was two days ‘in the field’ (literally and figuratively). More on some of the encounters there in subsequent posts. In what was essentially a two day rolling seminar, we identified three MoC already exemplified by the programme, and a further three that could add new elements to the work. Ready?
First the MoCs that best describe the current programme:
Evolution: Take Action is a nice example of evolutionary acceleration, built on evolution’s core process of variation-selection-amplification. In the first phase, the programme sets lots of different hares running, from ‘farm animators’ to ‘active musicians’ to primary school student councils. It then selects (or allows natural selection, as projects multiply or die of their own accord). The final phase will be amplification: creating an enabling environment for them, promoting synergies between different initiatives, but otherwise staying out of the way so that new ideas and approaches bubble up from the grassroots.
The Four Powers: One model of change holds that disempowered, marginalised people must first feel a sense of ‘power within’ – the lightbulb moment when people realize they have rights, and that those they elect should serve them, rather than vice versa. Then they move to ‘power with’ – coming together around common issues – before achieving ‘power to’ – asserting their rights, campaigning, mobilizing. Finally comes ‘power over’ officials or companies. Chukua Hatua concentrates on the upstream part – power within and power with, especially among women. What happens next is up to them.
Transitions to Accountability: This is based on the work of Jonathan Fox in Mexico (an elected one party state for most of the 20th Century, so some similarities with Tanzania, which has been under one party rule since independence). Fox found that local breakthroughs in accountability arise through the interaction of ‘the thickening of civil society’ and successful reformism by parts of the state e.g. particular ministries, or local officials. These often involve cycles of conflict and resolution.
OK, so far that’s just a fancy theory(ies) to describe what is already happening (or at least planned), but three other MoCs we identified actually suggest changes in the programme design.
Drivers of Change and importance of alliances: one of the findings of DFID’s ‘drivers of change’ work was that successful change often comes about through alliances of dissimilar actors, e.g. social movements, churches, sympathetic officials and private sector champions. What works best is if they come together around a simple, winnable aim – nothing like an early victory to galvanize people and overcome fear (a real issue in Tanzania). That suggests the relative purism of the programme in seeking to build ‘active citizenship’ needs to move much quicker to exploring alliances – e.g. when we asked them, five out of 40 farm animators turned out to be church leaders (protestant and Moslem), yet the programme had never explored alliances with faith based organizations. The lesson? Start building alliances from the outset – don’t wait til you’ve got a nice big citizens’ movement (and emerging leaders do it anyway – they don’t wait for your permission!)
Granularity/local political economy analysis: This is linked to the previous point. Social movements are seldom homogenous masses. On closer inspection they are made up of building blocks of more permanent, stable organizations – churches and mosques, savings groups, village militia, faith healers, cultural groups etc. You need to explore and understand this local granularity both to identify potential allies, and to understand the political economy of change (and resistance to change) at local level.
Positive Deviance: the evolutionary process doesn’t fit into distinct periods of variation, selection and amplification. It is constant. So even as you support successful experiments, you need to be constantly watching for new innovations. One way to do that is via positive deviance – studying outliers in terms of project performance or otherwise looking for what was ‘not in the plan’.
Conclusion: In order to use MoCs to understand reality (rather than the other way around), you need as big a range of them as possible. Looking for a single grand theory may close down avenues and stop you spotting opportunities (I even found myself urging our staff not to get too hung up on active citizenship….). Instead, you need a toolkit of ideas, which each contribute to understanding what is happening and how to improve things. But overall, I am reassured that I haven’t been wasting my time in the ivory tower – this looks like an approach worth developing. Feel free to agree or disagree below……