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Learning from Experience by Rob Neal
March 4, 2009, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Articles, Development theory

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects is a Cambridge, MA based nonprofit  focused on learning from the efforts of international NGOs like Mercy Corps by speaking to aid recipients, and agency staff. Their goal is to research the experience of organizations and agencies working in the field, to “derive lessons for improving effectiveness.”  You can read more about the group and their approach here.

One of CDA’s active efforts is the Listening Project. The goal is to learn “based on first-hand experience, about what works, or not, and why and for whom in the current international assistance system.” To date, this project has gathered information from fourteen countries.

In addition to the country listening papers, CDA has produced four Issue Papers (the links below provide direct access to a PDF version of the papers):

These papers provide a nice summary of CDA’s work in the Listening Project and give you a taste of the individual country reports.  Just like the country reports, the papers are full of interesting observations like the following from International Assistance as a Delivery System:

A number of people in the international assistance system seem to equate efficiency with speed. This is especially true for agencies involved in humanitarian emergencies, but this attitude also affects donors and agencies involved in longer-term development work. Donors set short deadlines for submission of proposals and most NGOs claim to be able to accomplish ambitious project goals in short (often one- or two-year) funding cycles. However, there is strong evidence that speed does not represent efficiency in the delivery of goods and services when efficiency is (correctly) understood to mean the achievement of intended outcomes with minimum or reasonable inputs.

All of these publications are a fascinating read for those inside and outside the NGO world.

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