Should field staff in implementing organisations be made redundant? Do communities not need technical guidance and hand-holding? They also perhaps do not need support from external resource persons in solving collective action problems.
As a corollary to the push for ‘cash transfers’, the role of development workers has come under scrutiny. Last year, evidence from a couple of projects made this point quite strongly.
First, Chris Blattman, who based his argument on a review of the ultra-poor evaluations as well as his own research on ‘cash plus training’ intervention in Uganda:
The biggest expense across all the programs was staff time. Especially for supervision. Delivering training and cows takes skilled labor, and it’s hard to cut this back. But supervision? … should it cost 50 or 60 percent of the program? Is it more valuable than the cow or the grant itself? It’s hard to believe.
We tried to test this with cash-plus program in Uganda. Supervising the women cost about $377, about half the cost of the program and 2.5 times as much as the grant itself…
…and found that the supervision helped the women maintain the new businesses they started, but there was virtually no effect on consumption. We have no idea whether the supervision helps another year down the road. Maybe, eventually, it pays for itself. But the simple fact is this: taking away the most expensive part of the program had little effect on benefits after a whole year.
And Howard White made a similar point, reflecting on the evidence from Community Driven Development (CDD) projects:
In many CDD projects, the decision-making and application process is facilitated by outsiders. A chunk of project resources are used not for funding things communities want, but paying NGOs to train communities in how to hold meetings and help communities decide on what they want.
Now, facilitation may be useful. It can help ensure that the voices of the marginalised are heard, that poorer communities without the skills and connections get to apply and develop skills in project management. But I do wonder if communities that already have community-level decision-making bodies need outsiders to help them hold meetings and to decide their priority needs.
On one hand, Chris is saying supervision and monitoring isn’t worth the money, and on the other, Howard is saying the same might not even be good development strategy.