Plan International: PALS and KM
Plan International is one of the largest INGOs working on development, and since 2003 has adopted an approach called Child Centred Community Development, to which participation (of children and their communities) is central. In order to support and deepen the approach, a new system of planning, accountability and learning has been designed, known as PALS, which is currently being rolled out. While locally, participatory techniques and approaches have long been used in planning activities, PALS supports their use in setting broader and longer-term programme objectives, as well as implementation and monitoring. Annual participatory programme reviews ensure the inclusion of perspectives of different stakeholders in the continual reassessment of objectives and plans.
= The organisational implications of a rights-based approach: = “Rights based situation analysis was carried out at a time when staff were still digesting the new thinking. It was a challenge.” The Child Centred Community Development approach evolved out of the practice of various Asian Plan offices. Over the past few years it has been mainstreamed throughout the organisation, which involved some country offices, and central functions, to shift the way they do things. In particular, it is more of a focus on rights and accountability than traditional service delivery activities. With a transition to a rights-based approach, staff need to be able to identify and analyse different sources of insights and perspectives on how rights are lived and felt on the ground. People are behind the transition, but are sometimes unclear about what needs to be done differently and how. This requires a lot of institutional support and resources, as often the people who are required to do it have not been hired with that activity in mind, and issues such as the value given to personal knowledge, and the tyranny of deadlines, can affect how well information from communities is managed and used.
Case study: Plan Philippines situation analysis
The PALS system is new and being introduced country by country as they reach the planning stage of their programme cycle. The Philippines is one of the first country programmes to adopt it, and is currently developing a new strategy and long-term plan. PALS requires that this be based on an analysis of the local context and situation in communities from a child-rights perspective. In the Philippines, data on the current situation as regards child rights, and in particular education, has been collected through engagement with many different stakeholder groups including government, service providers, schools and community groups.
Management had already identified education as a focus for the new strategy, so voices from the participatory exercises were limited to influence within that focus. Meetings with relevant government departments aimed to establish areas for partnership in delivering child rights. Stakeholder workshops and focus group discussions enabled analysis of local capacity gaps and validation of rights. Meetings were held with children, both in and out of school, parents, carers, teachers, community leaders, local decision makers.
The discussions were based on focused questions and gave a lot of relevant information. The data fed into a national workshop to set country objectives and strategies, which fed back into local level planning. However, beyond that process, the information collected has not been used – but so far has been sitting in the programme unit area of the national head office. However, due to pressure to develop the situation analysis and strategy, insufficient time was available to properly consolidate the information and there is still not a full overview of what is there. Country level staff are starting to view this wealth of information as a resource, that could be drawn on to inform other types of decisions and processes, but it is so broad that it is difficult to know how to manage and use it well. The quality of representation depends on the quality of facilitation, and the potential for use depends on the flexibility and appropriateness of the storage system. The current plan is to review the information more comprehensively and explore how it could be used for learning, to share with stakeholders, improve analysis and evidence based practice, and for use in decision making.
Capacity for data analysis and consolidation:
A lot of data is collected through exercises such as this, and in the course of Plan’s local level work. To make sense of it requires capacity (and time) for good data analysis, and how data is consolidated and presented is a matter which needs careful negotiation and decisions. It requires skill, and certain values, to ensure that diverse opinions are analysed and included, rather than identifying and including those which fit preordained priorities or ideas. This is a skilled job, but easier when data is destined to inform a particular process, such as the objectives, strategy or plans, but in order to be stored and made available to other processes or areas this capacity needs to be intentionally built and valued. Awareness of the need for this type of analytical capacity is strong at local and country level and this has been part of the discussions surrounding the implementation of PALS. It is an issue of training and performance management as well as recruitment, and it is important that this is also recognised to be a worthwhile investment by the wider organisation.
Where can the issue go:
“A big criticism of the previous CSP cycle was that existing data was not used or integrated into the analysis and decision making.” Plan Philippines.
Plan is starting to identify a need on the ground to use information better, and link this to global level processes around embedding the CCCD approach. They have conducted a knowledge audit, looking at where information comes from, how groups share, what information and knowledge resources exist and how they can be managed and used well. However, the issue relating to use of information generated through participatory processes is considered most relevant at local to national level, with the linkages to international decision and policy making not so clear.
Reflections on how to better use the information generated through such participatory processes would be really useful for country programmes, how to structure that information as a proper knowledge asset. Use locally is usually easier, as the same people have knowledge of the information, but there is more scope for use to inform local planning, both of Plan itself, but also to influence local government planning. The Philippines office will be documenting and reflecting on their own process, and considering how they make use of the information generated, in May this year.
Questions for Reflection
- What kinds of voices and perspectives can be considered to be reliable and useful evidence for organisational decision making?
- Is the information generated through participatory processes useful in its raw form, or only the products created (documents, analysis etc)?
- I.e. are we looking at developing and creating different types of products to make the information useful more widely, or just making the raw data more widely accessible?
- Or should we be encouraging processes whereby people learn and take on new insights and perspectives to develop tacit knowledge?
- How can we create a rigorous process to feed more of this type of information systematically into qualitative monitoring?