Ghana

A Project Stuck in Neutral

During an eventful Friday, I went to the field to visit a GEM (Ghana Environmental Management) Project, or GEMP. This followed the Environmental Management subcommittee meeting the night before, where nearly all the government departments were present (Agric, Education, Health, NADMO, Fire Service, Environmental Health, and a man from the NGO PAPADEV).

The project concerns a nursery with various tree saplings that are to be grown inMankuma, and then sold to five pilot communities, creating revenue for one town and food production for the others. Thanks to the donors, these saplings will be subsidized. So, on the economic side, rather than the usual 2 cedi that might be paid by the community, it will be 1 or 1.5 cedi. The other rationale for this project is to encourage reforestation, as cutting down trees for charcoal is a major issue in several districts. The meeting saw an odd point, where they talked about taxing the illegal practise. Seems like some twisted logic.

Unfortunately, this proposed plan hasn’t happened yet. The meeting saw a lot of back and forth, but the main result is that meeting attendants would break up into groups and go to the different communities to get people on board.

Some of the trees have been planted, but due to quarrelling between the two men in charge of running the program, who are from different villages that make up Mankuma (found on either side of the main road), work has been put on hold. After visiting the site, which has plenty of brush lying around (a potential fire problem) and some trees planting within 3 or 4 feet of each other, we went into town to visit the two traditional authorities. It was the DPO, a chief from Bole area (Saala Wura), a representative from the Fire Service, and myself who went to the respective chief compounds to explain our concerns.

Turns out that the two men went for training in Tamale, but now aren’t talking to each other. Thus, the standstill. Thanks to some discussions with the 2 chiefs and their declarations that things will get done, the two men are suppose to get back to work and clean the site. The reason for this ultimatum to get things done by Monday, was that the donors – CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and EPA – were going to visit on the following Wednesday. They had plenty more saplings to donate, but need to see something optimistic before continuing with the project. It was very odd for me to see the DPO specifically introduce me as a Canadian in relation to the fact that it was a Canadian donor’s project. As if, I had any influence in the decision making.

After these meetings, we all returned back to the District Assembly and made our leave, but not before one more task. The DPO handed everyone their respective allowances for the two days: 10GHC for field visits and 15GHC sitting allowance for meetings.

I’ll need to check with DPO to see what the result from this week was. How well the site was cleaned up and if the donors will continue with the project.

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Ghana

On the Job Redux

After a lengthy discussion with my EWB coach one Friday, I was able to focus my energy into 2 impact projects: Data Analysis and Project Management. Both of these relate to things I’m more experienced in and, most importantly, have an interest in pursuing.

IMPACT #1: DATA ANALYSIS

For data analysis, I will be shifting my focus from just the 4 main departments – health, education, agriculture, and water & sanitation – to those departments most excited to delve into their data looking for answers. The steps I hope to work on in my time here are as follows.

  1. Determine Starting Point: perform a survey of all departments and catalogue resources and skill level.
  2. Get People on Board: present a group presentation to gauge excitement and willingness to learn.
  3. Work Together: perform 1-on-1 workshops to increase people’s capacity.
  4. Understand the Data: facilitate discussions to lead to deeper understanding of the information collected from the field.
  5. Share with Others: have partner department present findings in front of all departments in a meeting.

After my initial survey, I found that almost all officers had a computer, which is the starting point. Most had a very basic or no understanding of Microsoft Excel and how to use it. They had maybe opened it a year ago, but forgot what they learnt due to lack of use. From my results, the need was great, with 10 organizations available for workshops. These partner departments are:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Education
  3. Social Welfare
  4. Community Development
  5. Finance
  6. Human Rights
  7. Youth Employment
  8. Audit Services
  9. Rural Enterprises
  10. Environmental Health

After the survey of departments, I moved to performing a group presentation (step 2) to get everyone introduced to MS Excel. I went over how it looks, what can go in a worksheet, and then some basic math functions. 

I tried my best to have them involved throughout, so that it wasn’t just another presentation that would be forgotten. The highlight was the second half, when I gave them problems to solve. Luckily, one of the participants brought a laptop so along with mine, we had two to use.

I am now in the process of step 3 – creating and initiating workshops on a more personal basis. There is a lot of excitement in the department for this training, so I hope everything goes well. I am most excited to test out my teaching skills and see what results we create together.

IMPACT #2: PROJECT MANAGEMENT

It should be no surprise to anyone, who knows that I’ve been working in Project Management, what my second impact focus should be. There are many development projects occurring in the district: schools, dams, roads, health facilities, economic programs, and more.

After interviewing many government officers involved in the implementation of these projects, I received many ideas on improvement. The ideas span from before construction, during construction, and after construction. One example is to change the project handover from a dry, bureaucratic procedure to a more involved community gathering. This should help to get the community on board for the lifetime of the project.

Some ideas seem easy, while others are very lofty. Some with have a big impact, while others might not change anything. I will hope to implement some, or more realistically, one of these ideas.

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Ghana

On the Job

After a few weeks of work at the Bole District Assembly, I’m slowly finding my bearings. Here’s my office for the next few months. Specifically, Office 6 on the 3rd floor.

I am working in one of the Central Administrative departments – the District Planning and Coordinating Unit (DPCU). My main colleagues are the District Coordinating Director (DCD, or “Director”), District Planning Officer (DPO, or “Planner”), and the District Budget Officer (DBO, or “Budget”). One thing that’s different than at home is the use of job titles rather than names. You may be walking by and someone says “Good Morning, Environment,” rather than the District Environmental Officer’s real name: Peter.

The DPCU and I will soon be looking at the planning season and sorting through requests from the various departments: Health, Education, Food & Agriculture, Community Development, and others. My main focus lies in researching and assisting 3 areas: Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM), Department Collaboration, and Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E).

Before 2009, the various districts (there are about 212 within the country) were operating with different databases spread across different departments. The unit charged with planning did not have access to this information, or it was difficult to understand. Now after many years of work, there are a few districts (6) that EWB has helped to centralize. Information on everything from classroom sizes to the number of chickens in a particular town or area are gathered into one document. This can then be analyzed to determine if a department’s request is valid or could be adjusted.

From the graph I created below, you can clearly see that one area is not like the others. Using data collected in 2011, it shows the contrast between population and outpatient sizes at the various health facilities. There are a total of 6 areas within the Bole district. Three are considered urban: Bole, Bamboi, and Tinga. And the remaining three are considered rural: Mandari, Mankuma, and Jama. I’d be interested in getting your thoughts on why the Bole health facility is seeing many more outpatients that the population it serves. What do you think is causing this anomaly?

One of the areas that I’m still figuring out where I can help add value is in department collaboration. Ghana is still in the process of decentralization, whereby the local government will be given near complete control of the departments in their area. Previously, this work was coordinated from the national level, but has step-by-step given down to the districts. I hope that by the end of my placement, Bole’s Mission Statement will be just a little bit closer to perfection.

From my earlier post, you may be getting a hint of my last area of exploration: Monitoring and Evaluation, or M&E in most international development circles. My past experience in the project management sector has been a great help in understanding this area of work, as it mainly relates to the execution and follow-up of a project. The project may be a school, health facility, borehole, agro-processing center, or a road (as in the photos below).

Two weeks ago, I joined the DPCU and RPCU (their regional counterparts) for a field visit to a feeder road outside Dbogdda. There were men chopping down trees, with women and children clearing the bush, in preparation for the widening of the road. From the work that was already completed, there was a remarkable difference in the performance of the road and the smoothness of travel. The photos below are on the same road, before and after road construction.

I will be adding more stories from work and from home life in the upcoming days and nights. If you have any requests for stories, feel free to put them in the comments section and I will try my best to fulfill them.

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