Change Management in Development Cooperation; ... and the Science of Cooperation!

  • AquaVerde
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Change Management in Development Cooperation; ... and the Science of Cooperation!

Dear Colleagues,

I have the pleasure to read via a mailing-list every now and than very inspiring reflections by Mr. Vogel Ph.D., Head of Programme (PGL), Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions (CATS).

I would like to share with you two of his reflections, which I see as very important for ongoing and repeating discussions within this Susana-forum, e.g. recent “ Ecosan - what is it really?... Too much ecosan in SuSanA ?“

In my educated guessing it may inspire some of you too:

Change Management in Development Cooperation
Dear Colleagues & Friends,

Social systems, be they government agencies, non-governmental organisations, private businesses, or family associations, as well as individuals, they all pursue strategies, consciously or unconsciously.

The same applies to development cooperation, which abounds with expert models and concepts. The key question though is, do they deliver new results or are they simply putting new wine into old wineskins?

In social systems, expert knowledge, by default, is a simplified representation of past reality. In other words, expert knowledge, as it applies to social systems, is at best a workable approximation that always requires room for improvement and adaptation.

Development cooperation in general and project management in particular, need to be transformational. They need to constantly and rapidly adapt to changing environments. They also must not fixate on any one result. If they try something and it does not work, they must try something else.

Whatever is carried out, it either reflects reality and works, or else, it does not. Albert Einstein famously said the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. He also said that the significant challenges we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

These all too often forgotten truisms are being addressed in a recently released strategy & design film animation titled “ We really need to talk about the way we manage projects ”.

... and the science of cooperation!

…Our successful cooperation in Grenada is an encouragement and a reminder how valuable mutually beneficial cooperation is. Why? Because mutually beneficial cooperation must not be taken for granted!

The political scientist Robert Axelrod wrote an intriguing book on “ The Evolution of Cooperation ”. In short, the cooperation strategy that according to him proved most effective is the so-called tit-for-tat strategy.

Interestingly, this strategy applies to partners who pursue their own self-interests without an authority forcing them to cooperate with each other in the first place. Rather, the key to success lies in starting out with cooperation, and thereafter simply doing what your partner did on the previous move.

Tit for tat is crucial so as not to be taken advantage of. You penalize dillydally and defection, and you reward responsiveness and cooperative action! Hence, tit for tat involves a mix of initial readiness to cooperate, retaliation in response to unfair unilateral gain and free riding, and willingness to forgive.

Tit for tat has the great advantage that it makes your approach crystal clear to your partner(s). The more consistent the tit-for-tat strategy is being employed, the greater are your chances that cooperation becomes mutually beneficial and predictable. Ultimately, only reciprocity and predictability are going to yield trust.

Inevitably, trust will have a positive effect on the quantity and quality of joint efforts. Trust provides the highly fertile ground for synergies. Synergy is when the outcome of cooperation is of greater value than the sum of what individual efforts could have achieved.

But in order to succeed, tit-for-tat strategists must find partners who really do reciprocate … through tangible deeds rather than empty words.

I wish you good luck in finding truly reciprocal partners!

Horst M. Vogel

Horst Michael Vogel Ph.D.
Head of Programme (PGL)
Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions (CATS)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für
Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) - CARICOM
Environmental Health & Sustainable Development Dept.

P.O. Box 1111
Morne Fortune
Saint Lucia
Sanitation-Solutions without external energy
Low-Tech Solutions with High-Tech Effects
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Change Management in Development Cooperation; ... and the Science of Cooperation!

While I agree with the first part, I highly doubt that those game-theory concepts bare much practical use in complex real-world circumstances.
Predictability is a poor foundation to build trust on, and looking back at the long history of development cooperation (which some say is a re-branded version of colonial politics) it is probably most predicable in doing the wrong thing.

Trust is build on common goals and honesty, something which I sadly see not all that much in international cooperation (edit: from both sides).

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  • bracken
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  • Working throughout Africa since 1996 in development cooperation. Involved with sustainable sanitation systems since 2002. Currently working for the AHT GROUP AG (a private consultancy office in Germany).
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Re: Change Management in Development Cooperation; ... and the Science of Cooperation!

I'm not sure of the relevance of game theory in this particular context, particular the prisoner's dilemma (which normally provides the context in which the tit-for-tat strategy is usually presented). The prisoner's dilemma is generally used in game theory to study the cooperative behaviour among selfish agents with individuals benefitting most in the short term by defecting on partners and in the long term then from arriving at some form of cooperation mechanism (such as tit-for-tat, meaning good behavior is rewarded, but bad behavior punished).

The problem I have is that while the prisoner's dilemma and the possible best outcome of this game are interesting, it doesn't reflect my understanding of development cooperation at all. If one perceives development cooperation to be a game between two selfishly motivated partners then something has gone awry in the understanding of development cooperation. This however is maybe not so uncommon, as agencies have their own agendas, interests, goals, objectives and reporting needs as well as their own time frames within which these should be achieved. These often then supersede the real identified needs and objectives of the partners and the tail ends up wagging the dog!

"Partners" are then obliged to dance to the tune of those who originally came to facilitate and support change just to help those from the outside achieve their goals. And whilst external support is often only promised in 3 year chunks (with the prospect of a prolongation or extension), the partners themselves are involved in process that may only begin showing promising results after 5 or 10 years. Is this the best approach to facilitate change management? I'm not convinced.

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