Building accountability in Tanzania: applying an evolutionary/venture capitalist theory of change

A version of this post appeared yesterday on ‘People, Spaces, Deliberation’, the World Bank’s clunkily-named but interesting governance and accountability blog. I’ve been catching up on our accountability work in Tanzania recently, and it continues to be really ground-breaking. Rather than Farm-animators-dancing-at-the-workshop-Tanzania-May-2011-300x295churning out the standard logical framework of activities, outputs and predicted outcomes before the project even starts, the programme, known as Chukua Hatua (Swahili for ‘take action’) uses an evolutionary model of change (try out numerous approaches, drop the less successful ones, scale up and develop the winners). It’s more like a venture capitalist backing ten start-up firms knowing that most will fail, but some will win big. This has been possible partly because DFID has been willing to fund such an experimental approach as part of its Accountability in Tanzania (AcT) programme  (props to them). 18 months into the programme, it’s good to see that Chukua Hatua is, errmm, evolving, according to programme coordinator Jane Lonsdale, who I caught up with recently. The first phase piloted six approaches: 1) Election promises tracking – training of ‘trackers’ in 36 communities prior to the 2010 elections. They recorded rally promises on voice recorders, took them back to the communities to agree priorities and are now following up progress against the leaders’ promises. 2) Farmer animators – training more than 200 farmers nominated by their communities, to understand principles of accountability, how to hold those in power to account, and how to share their knowledge and facilitate their groups to take action. (pic right shows some animators getting into the groove at a workshop) 3) Active musicians – training 42 musicians on principles of accountability to act as seeds of change through their music, which is widely listened to by communities. 4) Student Councils (see pic, below) – building the skills of leaders at primary school level; linking students with community ‘champions’ to help them raise issues with teachers and school management committees. 5) Community radio – creating a new space in Ngorongoro district to enable pastoralists to share information and debate. 6) In addition to the pilots, Oxfam also supported local campaigns where communities were already active, most notably in Ngorongoro. Last September came the difficult bit – killing off the less successful experiments. We got all the partners in a room, plus a couple of other NGOs, the consultants, some Oxfam staff from outside Tanzania and KPMG (which manages the programme for DFID). The group came up with four basic criteria on which to judge the pilots: – How much were they spreading awareness? – How successful were they in mobilising people to take action? student council– How effective were they at expanding ‘spaces’ in which people can claim their rights – this includes both taking advantage of existing ‘invited spaces’ and creating new ones – How responsive was the government (either local or national)? Overall, the farm animators came out best. The musicians were better at awareness raising and mobilisation, but failed to get a good government response. We dropped some pilots and merged others. The student council approach was dropped and spun off to another funder (one unintended consequence of the venture capital approach  – generating other fundable spin-offs). What didn’t work and why? Geography: The active musicians were not able to work well in Ngorongoro, because the communities were too widely dispersed to reach. Government obstruction: The community radio never got off the ground because the government did not issue a licence. Informal v formal power: The farmer animators’ work was unsuccessful in spreading awareness beyond the groups that the animators belonged to. This might have been due to their lack of a ‘formal’ position in community leadership. Attitudes to youth: Students were able to make demands within their schools, but were unable to take this approach into the community– there was simply not enough respect for young people’s viewpoints.  What have we learned for the next phase of the project? Apart from the shake-out of pilots, a number of other issues have emerged: • The programme needs to do more to prepare for negative responses, especially from local officials (interestingly, reactions from the state have been most hostile where local opposition parties are strongest, whereas in communities dominated by the ruling CCM, officials are more open to dialogue). These have included threats by village executive officers to community members for being ‘trouble-makers’, arrests for demonstrating for electricity and closing a school for 2 days after students demanded more say in their education. Dealing with these responses will require training in negotiation skills and conflict resolution and linking citizens and partners to national organisations such as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition. The cycle of conflict and cooperation recurs in many change processes, and is always a real headache for both participants and NGOs like Oxfam. • In Tanzania, building ‘created spaces’ is much harder than helping citizens make better use of existing ‘invited spaces’ for 1566-816665consultation and accountability. In such fora, the main obstacle is often lack of capacity, so the next phase will continue to work with local elected leaders. The benefits of changing the behaviour and increasing the capacity of village leaders and ward councillors are two-fold – they are more likely to support citizens demands’, and they can be a key ally in taking citizens’ issues upwards to central government.  • Although there have been some notable successes, gender bias in Tanzania is very entrenched and work with women needs to be strengthened, especially looking at women’s leadership, men’s attitudes to women and women’s participation in public spaces.  Perhaps most interesting for me is the wider impact on how Oxfam is working in Tanzania. The team is getting much more expert in understanding who has power at local level, and in the next phase will involve key local players such as faith leaders, traditional birth attendants and healers. Over to Jane for the last word: ‘I can’t differentiate programming from power analysis – they go hand in hand. We’re doing something different now, not just rolling out a load of community scorecards, or public expenditure tracking – the usual kind of governance work. We’re pushing ourselves to really think through how change happens in Tanzania and try out different things. The whole team and partners are now talking in terms of power analysis. We’ve got the same language to describe what change looks like. Everyone is picking up trends and patterns – it’s a lot better than conventional indicators.’ And here’s a nice 14m video covering the first phase of the project. In the words of the commentary, ‘they all deserve a big-up’. ]]>

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7 Responses to “Building accountability in Tanzania: applying an evolutionary/venture capitalist theory of change”
  1. Duncan

    Some thoughts from the latest programme report, covering October 2011-March 2012:
    ‘Pressure from communities and from some of the councillors is increasingly leading to reactions and responses from leaders at the village, ward and district level. In some instances this has been positive – e.g. a cross-section of councillors in Ngorongoro supporting community demands, and the DC in Kahama visiting Mwime Village near Barrick mine to discuss solutions with the community there. In instances where the reactions have been more negative, this has increasingly taken the form of harassment of Oxfam staff and partners on the ground, the closing of space for discussion and consultation with leaders, and pressure on reformist leaders to return to the ‘usual’ way of working. This is a visible change from the previous 6 months where we did see more backlash from leaders to communities, particularly in the Active Musicians pilot,- now we are increasingly seeing elected leaders working with communities yet coming up against obstacles from civil servants and appointed District Commissioners and District Executive Directors.
    Although early days, Chukua Hatua appears to be creating the beginnings of a movement- it is being used by communities as a brand/ shield from which to be able to question leaders and officials with ‘I belong to Chukua Hatua’ being used as a response in some cases when asked why a person is asking question, which unfortunately is still taken as ‘causing trouble’ by many. During a recent learning event, when asked what is Chukua Hatua, no one mentioned Oxfam- from our perspective a great indicator and exactly what we want to see from a governance programme. At the end of the 2 days, the positioning of Chukua Hatua in the minds of all the participants had moved from ‘programme’ to ‘movement without borders’.’

  2. Calvin

    People in glass houses…
    When it comes to clunkiness nobody does it better than Oxfam and “Building accountability in Tanzania: applying an evolutionary/venture capitalist theory of change” take some clunkety clunk cluckiness beating.

  3. Jake

    I’ve suddently been sent this from several different people in the space of a week, so congrats on that i suppose. I have two questions/thoughts:
    1. Cost. In our VFM-ridden times, how did you/could you sell this way of working i.e. hey can i get funding which will potentially 90% come to nothing? Or is it as you say, higher risk, higher reward (potentially)?
    2. How does/can this work for interventions which tend to need a bit longer to show progress, benefit etc i.e. by the time you get to the point where you can make a judgement on relative quality, you could actually have just funded 10 projects for 3-5 years; the ‘normal’ project length?
    But i’ve already been arguing against myself. I like the idea of a basket of inception phases, and i there’s clearly appetite out there for this, or something like it…

    • Duncan

      The time issue is genuine, Jake – i.e. what if the dud project you kill off after a year would actually turn out to be a star if given a bit more time (a bit like Toyota’s dire early models). But it’s also a classic excuse for backing losers in spite of the evidence – iIn the end, it’s a judgement call which of these is true, sorry!

  4. Lisa Faye

    I think this is amazing. I am also working on a project something like this at the moment in Bangladesh. We have found that even the “dud projects” aren’t really duds since we – the project team, community, surrounding villages, etc. – learn as much from what doesn’t work as from what does. Right now the project is 15 months in, with only 9 months of funding left. The key to these kinds of projects, I think, is a long term commitment.
    Oxfam, so much respect! Great work!

  5. Tony Boniface

    A process to encourage sustainability and accountability within Tanzania has to be a good venture. The project has huge potential to involve communities in tracking political promises but the main benefit has to be the development of local political awareness and the possibilities of working together for equitable and improved conditions for remote communities. The involvement of faith leaders, traditional birth attendants and healers has to increase the validity of the campaign using known local community leaders and support networks. Tanzania is evolving fast in the urban areas but little progress has been made in the rural remote districts due to poor infrastructure, communication, health provision and education. The Chakua Hatua project has the possibility to bring internal accountability to Tanzania, an evolutionary challenge as Tanzania’s economy grows. The urban/rural divide is inequitable in Tanzania and Chakua Hatua may build capacity to help address this problem.