Want to be hated? Just Say….You need to fill this format

Call a meeting of field workers or other personnel who are placed lower than you in the official hierarchy. A training will also do. And then say – You have to fill this format. Yep. That is all it takes.

I would know. I have been on the ‘giving’ side and have received strong reactions (verbal and non verbal)! They think it is the old ‘HQ syndrome’ at work again. People sitting in the main office, having little or no knowledge about field realities saddling them with more meaningless paperwork. Or the ‘external consultant who doesn’t really have a clue’ syndrome. Very often, they are not far from the truth.

Besides, I do believe fieldworkers are often underpaid and overburdened. It is even worse for those who are drafted in as ‘volunteers’ and exhorted to do their duty for their communities. (I seriously doubt whether we would ever consider doing so much for our communities!)

But, at the same time, I understand the compulsions of the project management teams. They committed to all these indicators and now must have the data for it. The underlying dynamics (and tensions) between head office and field teams invariably colour perceptions and attitudes on both sides. In such situations, any system (with the related tools/formats) will be followed half heartedly with little or no concrete results.

I don’t know if there are any easy solutions. But it helps to be ruthless. It helps when we anchor ourselves to what is most important and relevant for our intervention and cut out the rest. What information can we source from others and what do we need to collect ourselves? What is the most efficient and effective way of doing it? Do we really need all the details all the time?

I always agonise over this last question. As a process documentation person, my instinctive urge is to say yes…capture everything that you can. But with experience (and strong reactions!) has come wisdom. I now choose to work with the teams involved and see what can be done practically keeping in mind the sanctioned proposal and logframe and expectations from M&E and process documentation. I have to play facilitator/mediator/ devil’s advocate. It can be exhausting and I don’t know if I always get it right. I am on a learning curve myself here and fortunately there are others who are also in it for the same reasons. But most importantly, we begin with a system that has a fighting chance for survival. And if we get it right, it may even last beyond the current M&E officer and the next one!

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