Start in Nigeria: six months on for the standing decision making group
The Start Fund is establishing standing decision making groups globally – where trained in-country staff from Start Network member can ensure fast and consistent project selection decisions in places as close as possible to where the disaster happens. Six months after its inception, Start's Kat Reichel tells us how the standing decision making group in Nigeria is going.
In August and September last year, the Start Team piloted the first decision making group in Nigeria and last Friday, we held a six month review meeting for the group in Abuja. It was a great meeting – with several insights into the successes and challenges for the group since its launch in August last year.
There have been several really positive points of engagement that have led to improvement in the Start Fund’s processes. Group members stated that the thing they receive most from their participation was information sharing and increased collaboration between members. One participant even mentioned that they were able to form friendships. This is one of the cornerstones of the Network – the fostering of trust between Members to make decisions for the collective – not based on their individual interests.
For example, during the induction workshop, participants recommended that only independent agencies (those that had not submitted a proposal) should be able to join project selection meetings. But after the first meeting, the group suggested that all Members should attend, even if they do submit proposals. They felt that there was greater benefit to projects if they could hear the feedback and were able to improve their projects. They trusted each other to provide honest feedback and reflections on the project – and that they would be able to avoid bias by a strong independent Chair.
Even after the meeting had ended, participants stayed after project selection to discuss the feedback and how International Rescue Committee (IRC) could improve their project. IRC included these changes (which was a reconfiguration of their NFI kit), and as a result increased their beneficiary reach by nearly 20,000 people. The participants felt agency to improve this process, which helped to improve their programmes and their relationships – which will make useful incubators for testing ideas and fostering experimentation.
For the Start Team, having a standing group in country has been very useful – and we have seen a decrease in the time to set up project select meeting. For one meeting - it took Start Fund Officers a matter of 30 minutes to organise. This is significantly less than ad hoc project selection, which take a lot of emails, skype chats, and briefings which sometimes take the equivalences of one working day to set up properly. The group has even made itself available to supplement other project selection meetings in neighbouring countries – like Central African Republic and Benin. This has been helpful to have a strong Chair or participants which can support an untrained project selection group.
Overall, the group has made great progress, and most notably they have:
- - Alerted the Fund more (three times) with alert notes that could articulate to the Membership the strategic value of alerting the Fund. The alerts also came faster and timelier than before.
- - Processes were tweaked to encourage better proposals (as demonstrated in the example above).
- - Transaction time convening meetings was drastically reduced for the Start Team
- - Meeting time considerably reduced (from 5 hours to 4 hours to 3 hours to 1.5 hours!)
- - Strong chairing and in-depth technical review of proposals observed in comparison to ad hoc meetings
- - Early stages of collaboration between Members (joint alert notes and discussions of future consortia projects)
- - Commitment to learning (shown through participation in peer review meetings after the response – in which participants are not project leads)
That said – participants also described some challenges. They felt bad when they were unable to make meetings – and their hectic schedules made it difficult to connect online or even by phone when in the field. The short time frame of the alert process makes this difficult. The Start Team reassured them that as long as quorate was met and participation was evenly spread – participants should not feel bad.
Other challenges faced by the group:
- - Not all representatives were active in project selection meetings (participation of the group is at around 70%)
- - Not all members were actively alerting the fund or discussing crises (only three agencies have done so)
- - Little collaboration has come fruition (there have not been any consortia proposals)
- - Learning has not been shared openly with the group after the responses (from the Start Team or by the group)
We discussed how these might be overcome and determined some clear next steps:
- - The group will nominate a Group Lead to champion the Start Network in-country – and act as a focal point to the Start Team, and encourage participation and collaboration.
- - The group will encourage other Start Members in Nigeria to join the group - that way there are more people to attend meetings and spread the workload across more people. The group is also free to nominate deputy staff (as long as they are still in a senior position)
- - The Start Team will share learning after responses using a private channel in Slack for the group to see and share.
- - The Start Team will provide a cumulative response infographic which will include the achievements of the group.
- - The group would help write a case study on the group for the Start Fund annual report to share the successes and challenges
- - The group lead will attend the Start for Change conference in May – so we look forward to continuing the conversation with the broader Membership.
Overall - the group has been a great example for the next ten groups which will be rolled out internationally. Along with the Start Team, I believe that they are very excited for the next six months to follow!