Wrapping up the great Nairobi guesthouse pool debate

January 27, 2012 3 By admin

Wow. Hit a nerve there. I’m both gratified and slightly appalled by the level of interest generated by Wednesday’s post on theHockney-Swimming Pool-A Bigger Splash-1967 development-critical issue of whether Oxfam should keep the pool at its Nairobi guesthouse shut. For those people without the time or inclination to trawl through over 60 comments, here’s a summary.

First the voting – deeply unscientific, self selecting, but at least the software doesn’t let you vote more than once from the same machine. Of the 654 votes cast to date:

Open the pool, provided it operates at zero cost to Oxfam’ gets 59%

Open the pool right away’ gets 26%

What are you wasting space on the blog on such a trivial issue?’ gets 8%

Keep it shut’ gets 7%

Now for the comments: I read through everything up to number 60, and got the following approximate breakdown:

Open the pool: 20

Open the pool + lateral thinking (open it to the public, charge other NGOs, privatize it etc): 11

Humorous (at least in intent): 9

Completely random and hard to categorize: 9

Keep it shut: 6

Other stuff Oxfam does is much worse: 3

Why not just go to a pool somewhere else? 2

The lateral suggestions are interesting and creative, but they are only worth considering if they fulfil one overriding criterion – Oxfam is in the middle of a major emergency, helping some 3 million people get through the drought in the Horn of Africa and Nairobi is the headquarters of that effort. So if anything distracts one iota of management attention from that effort, forget it, at least until the drought is over.

As for going elsewhere – in Nairobi  anywhere further than walking distance seems to require an hour in a taxi stuck in traffic.

And here are three of my favourite comments:

Calvin: ‘Use the pool but don’t enjoy it’

Ros: ‘How we all agonize that we are not Gandhi’

But by popular acclaim, the prize for best comment goes to Matt for this gem:

A) Form a swimming pool collective with a rotating chair, with use of the pool to be voted on every week. Pool to be funded by bake sale at the local international school.

B) Divide the pool surface area into 100 square use rights – sell rights to the staff and/or guests, who are only allowed to swim within their allotted area, unless allowed to by other freeholders. Let residents buy and sell these rights to each other and let the market reach an efficient outcome

C) Let NGO workers use the pool, but constantly make them feel guilty about it: surround the pool with posters of photos from recent/ongoing drought. Actually, this could be a win win situation – if you run into anyone who seriously objects to the idea of Oxfam using a pool, let *them* stand on the side and heckle the swimmers.

D) Randomly allocate 50% of your guests with passes to the pool. Use pre and post survey data on stress levels, health, etc to evaluate the actual impact of pool usage. If you’re concerned about financial viability, charge a high price and then randomly distribute vouchers of varying levels to the treated group to tease out the demand curve for pool usage.

So what happens next? Errrmm nothing, necessarily. I’m just a humble head of research and for some reason the big cheeses tend not to manage Oxfam via online referenda, but I think this exercise will eventually have an influence. Right now, those in charge undoubtedly have better things to do, but I know they read the blog (far more often than they ever read my emails….) and this exchange has definitely made a few waves. I’ll keep you posted.

portable-swimming-poolsAnd by the way, yes, this was an interesting exchange on a genuine dilemma facing an INGO, but if you want to read about a rather more pressing dilemma, try why everyone (including us) was late in responding to the drought and what we can do about it.

Right, now I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks (and yes, there will be pools involved). I’ve set up a bunch of roboposts to keep wasting your time while I’m away and Richard King will manage the blog. Anything goes wrong, it’s his fault.