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Chapter 5

Internalizing SLA: Agency reflections
and the managers' meeting

On Friday afternoon there was a shift in focus to one of the major questions the Forum had set out to address: that of internalizing SLA in the participants' organizations. To help participants think through the issues involved and identify problems that may have needed to be resolved if SL-type approaches were to become the way agencies went about the practice of development, Mary Hobley, an independent consultant, made a presentation, drawing on her paper-in-progress, "Transformation of organizations for poverty eradication: the implications of sustainable livelihood approaches".

Rather than prescribe a set of steps for internalizing SLAs, Hobley chose to pose questions, asking the participants to reflect on the way organizations changed and what factors promoted or obstructed that change. The full application of the guiding principles of SLA cannot be achieved merely by tinkering with existing structures. Such an application has internal structural and systemic implications, implying major changes in the way development agencies do their business. If agencies are to embrace adoption of SL principles, and expect their field partners to do likewise, they need to adjust their management styles and cultures, as well as their structures, systems and skills mix, in favour of a more flexible, adaptable, open-ended, process-oriented, client-driven mode of doing business. This will entail more emphasis on process monitoring and iterative learning-by-doing, with ample beneficiary participation in goal-setting, implementation and impact evaluation. Agencies will also need to adjust their structures and staffing in favour of interdisciplinarity, long-term but dynamic relationships, new partnerships and new skills.

Why would an agency want to adopt SLA? What external or internal forces are likely to bring about this type of change? The impetus for change could be a change of policy (in DFID's case, the White Paper issued by the Labour Government), a paradigm shift or perhaps a reassessment of the effectiveness of existing approaches in achieving agency objectives. At what level do the forces of change come into play and who drives them? How does one go about building acceptance and understanding of SL-type approaches in agencies?

Hobley concluded by highlighting some elements that contributed to change: a sense of urgency; forming a powerful change team; creating and communicating a vision; developing systems that empowered the staff; planning for and creating wins and successes in the short term, and consolidating learning about institutionalizing change.


The participants, this time grouped by agency, spent most of the afternoon discussing how they would go about promoting the internalization of SLA in their organizations. If a consensus emerged, it was that existing requirements for project or programme approval across the agencies were at present too rigid and would need to be changed in order to take on board flexible, demand-driven approaches. Each agency came up with ideas, strategies and even action plans for moving forward (see Annex 9). Internalization is discussed in further detail in the concluding section of Annex 11.

Summaries of the agency presentations made on Saturday morning

DFID. DFID was extremely frank about the challenges it faces, which include a shortage of practitioners with appropriate SLA skills and, more serious, the fact that different groups within the agency still have competing concepts and approaches, which inhibits the use of SLA. The participants from this agency also raised the issue of administrators who reacted differently (than their technical colleagues) to SLA and its "complexity". DFID recognized that systems and procedures did not change rapidly, but it was committed to engaging all levels of its organization in the debate. It sought the help of other partner agencies, convinced that United Nations agencies were crucial allies in bringing about institutional change for more effective achievement of the international development goals.

FAO. FAO has reasons to internalize SLA since its Strategic Framework 2000-2015, approved at the 1999 FAO Conference, includes supporting sustainable livelihoods as one of its primary strategies for reducing poverty and food insecurity. The FAO group, realizing that there were several stakeholders within FAO with differing needs, proposed a multilevel strategy, such as including SLA initiatives (particularly interdepartmental ones) in the Medium-term Plan; engaging senior management in dialogue; strengthening linkages among headquarters, regional and country-level personnel; further developing existing initiatives to carry out SLA (e.g. the West Africa fisheries project with DFID); improving awareness of SLA through creating information, communication and learning opportunities; and actively developing partnerships within and outside FAO to implement pilot SLA efforts at the country level.

IFAD. For IFAD, the SLA Forum provided learning and reinforcement on some things it already knew and had begun to practise. These included the need for systematic understanding of vulnerability and assets as a basis for project design, flexible people-centred entry points, institutional and policy diagnosis, responsive and functional monitoring and flexibility throughout the project cycle. Several windows of opportunity exist for internalizing SLA within IFAD. Both IFAD's current re-engineering and its three-year Consultation Action Plan recognize the need for change and call for a number of actions in keeping with SL approaches. The IFAD group recognized the importance of partnerships for tapping the experience of agencies such as DFID, working with FAO and WFP on participatory diagnostic methods and vulnerability assessment, and accessing the field and training capacities of CARE.

UNDP. For UNDP, the reflection on internalization provided an opportunity to consider the ways in which the process could be refined and accelerated and how the different units within UNDP could be brought into the process. Some of the ideas that emerged were for UNDP to undertake a critical assessment of its sustainable livelihoods programme based on external evaluation; build awareness by producing a document synthesizing the achievements and potential of SLA; sensitize its Administrator by encouraging high-level contact with agencies already committed to SLA, such as DFID; produce a series of papers on the policy and institutional dimensions of SLA in collaboration with other partners; and establish an informal network to brainstorm on SLA and policy.

WFP. The WFP group, realizing that their agency had already introduced many of the key elements of SLA in its ongoing process of organizational change (while consciously avoiding the introduction of new labels), focused on areas that needed further work. These included promoting the use of assets as the common unit of accountability and feedback in M&E; incorporating better feedback into project management systems; and selecting project activities by target groups driven by livelihood systems diagnosis rather than by the pressures of existing institutional relations. WFP's priority concern is to incorporate lessons learned into future activity design and management, developing the concept of "minimum information sets" based on livelihood elements, advocating policy change through UNDAF, adapting SL approaches to recovery and rehabilitation work, and applying SLA to food aid and development policy implementation activities.

With the brief presentations of each agency's reflections, it became amply clear that there was considerable commitment to the SL guiding principles across agencies, and that the groups had thought through in general terms what needed to be done to mainstream SLA into the respective agencies. To take the process forward, a follow-up meeting was held immediately after the Forum, bringing together the managers and senior staff of the five agencies to think through actions, cooperation and responsibilities and to map where they would go from there.


At the follow-up meeting, there was a strong consensus that the Forum had succeeded in generating a better understanding of the guiding principles of SLA and that the reflections on the SL framework in particular had helped identify a number of gaps and grey areas. It was felt that these gaps could be addressed best through collaborative partnerships among the cooperating agencies. There was a sense of urgency in the groups' wanting to move forward and not lose the energy, enthusiasm and momentum that had been built while preparing for the Forum and during the Forum itself.

The detailed minutes of the follow-up meeting are included as Annex 12. The meeting resulted in three kinds of outcomes. First, agencies reiterated commitments already made and planned to discuss them further in meetings of the IWG-PA and of the Rome-based agencies.

Second, some new commitments were made, with the participants fully recognizing that these would have to be ratified by their respective agencies after internal consultation and reflection. These commitments included plans for building awareness of SLA among senior managers; efforts to develop more flexible programming frameworks and processes that supported SL-type projects; the development of inter-agency pilot projects to introduce and demonstrate SL-type approaches at the country level; the establishment of an inter-agency task force for developing culturally appropriate ways of applying SLA concepts and principles in different languages; and actively seeking the involvement of all participating agencies in continuing the work of the IWG-PA.

Third, some agreements were reached to facilitate the follow-up process, which included developing a joint training programme for professionals involved in SL-type work; establishing a common roster of consultants with expertise and experience in SLA; and assigning contact focal points in each of the cooperating agencies for the coordination of the follow-up.

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