Paper Cuts

“One of the little understood, but most powerful and disruptive tensions in established aid agencies lies in the clash between the compliance side of aid programs—the counter-bureaucracy—and the technical, programmatic side. The essential balance between these two in development programs has now been skewed to such a degree in the U.S. aid system (and in the World Bank as well) that the imbalance threatens program integrity. The counter-bureaucracy ignores a central principle of development theory—that those development programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable. Relieving the tension between the counter-bureaucracy and development practice would require implementing new measurement systems, conducting more research on overregulation and its effects, reducing the layers of oversight and regulation, and aligning programmatic goals with organizational incentives.”

The above is taken from the abstract of an essay written back in 2010 by the Center for Global Development. You can read the full essay here.

Yes, I am a little out of date, but this quote is relevant to quite a few people I know who are at the moment buried up to their eyeballs in preparing the Agency Profile for their Australian government accreditation. You know who you are, and I feel your pain. We do need compliance – but it needs to be balanced with the creative passion and burning need to remove some pain in this world that drives many people to work in the non-profit community sector in the first place. Most of us didn’t join an NGO because we wanted to spend hours and hours on compliance-driven paperwork, and our organisations can’t afford to hire additional staff who do enjoy making mountains of important papers.

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