Sunday, November 16, 2014

Learning in CHOBA – an Output Based sanitation programme in Vietnam

Output Based Aid (OBA) – or Payment by Results (PBR) is a controversial approach to the funding of Development programmes. It’s radically different to what we might call the trust-based approaches that have been dominant in Development and it is shaping increasing amounts of funding from important donors. There is a strong current of criticism and concern about OBA/PBR within Development since the approach challenges many fundamental principles and assumptions, including about what motivates people, about how learning happens and about how to achieve at least a semblance of an equal relationship across the financial nexus. A useful, balanced review from the UK network of Development NGOs, Bond is summarised in a guest post on Duncan Green’s blog.

Minh Chau Nguyen is the Vice President, Sanitation programs for Thrive Networks, the organisation formerly known as East Meets West (EMW). While the Vietnam country Director, Minh Chau introduced the OBA approach to the EMW ‘s work in water and sanitation, the latter growing into a large scale, national programme. In this interview, MinhChau tells the story of the CHOBA programme. This first part covers the background and development of the project, including how EMW managed the enormous risks faced by small or medium sized organisations that accept the challenge of OBA, given that they have to finance the activities up front with no guarantee of receiving the funds if the targets aren’t met. And as MinhChau explains, half way through the project they indeed faced a crisis.

To be honest, my own natural home in Development is with the body of ideas and people that is sceptical about, or opposed to, OBA. But I knew that the CHOBA program was making a lot of progress so I was keen to meet and learn from the project team and some of the project partners. And from a KM point of view, I was particularly interested in understanding more about the learning processes within such a project, concerned that the logic of OBA would be inimical to the kind of reflective stance we’ve argued is essential for effective learning and change. In this second part of the interview Minh Chau describes how EMW responded to the crisis in the project, caused by the slow progress towards the project’s ambitious target, and how in fact the pressure triggered rapid learning and change.

A follow-up blog about CHOBA will include Minh Chau’s responses to some of the common criticisms of OBA/PBR and reflections on what we learnt from visiting the project, talking to EMW partners and team members.