27 Apr 2010

Only successful applicants will be notified!

This is a very familiar phrase among job and scholarship applicants. Usually, employers include such a statement or something alike when they advertise for vacancies. Principally, job applicants are expected to consider themselves unsuccessful in case they don't receive notification within a set time. The rationale being a large number of applicants going far beyond the capacity (in terms of time and other resources) of the recruiting organisations to notify all applicants. For the example, Daraja received 600 applications for only eight vacancies during its recruitment process last year.

Like in the recruitment world, the same has been observed in the planning process within local government authorities in Tanzania especially at the village and ward levels. A discussion with the villagers has shown that the villagers are not informed over the decisions of their plans especially when their plans fail to get into the district plan. This implies that the plans will not get funding for its implementation. REPOA also observes (pdf)a lack of interactions between council bureaucrats and rural communities and the justification being lack of time and high costs.

Following the inception of decentralization by devolution more than a decade ago, the government also introduced a bottom-up participatory planning methodology for local development called Opportunities and Obstacles to Development (O&OD) in 2002. The introduction of O&OD was meant to increase local autonomy in prioritising, planning and budgeting of development activities. A village in rural communities or mtaa (street) for urban communities develop a three year community development plan which includes its implementation plan. The plan is subjected to review, monitoring, evaluation and updating on annual basis.

On the other hand, annual development plans are developed at the village level and forwarded to the ward and later to the district for producing a consolidated district plan. It can be seen that there is a possibility for a village plan to be dropped at ward level or district level depending on the priorities and funds available. Our interest is what happens when the village or mtaa plans fail to be included in the district plan. It was observed that the villagers are not informed do not get the results of the project. For example, Lusisi villagers were not able to articulate the outcome of their past plans.

As with the job applications, there are two major issues connected to feedback, one being the simple answer of yes or no, and the other related to knowing the reasons for not being able to impress the employer. The later is impractical however very important to all unsuccessful applicants. Inquisitively, it is possible that the winners may also wish to know what made them successful.

For the job applicant, the prime need for the feedback is inclined on knowing the aftermath of the application. For the villagers, the aftermath may be easily understood as their problems will continue to exist though it may take time for them to notice. However, there is a secondary need for unsuccessful applicants on understanding the reasons for not being able to impress the employer or ward/district scrutinizers for the case of villagers. Most importantly, feed-backing particularly on unsuccessful plans may also enhance the understanding that planning is a continuous process.

In theory, further consultations and feedback with communities are expected to take place when reviewing and revising the plans. In practice, however, the council planning team rarely consults citizens after receiving the proposals from communities. The situation is worse for all unsuccessful proposals. Lack of feedback is also true for village and mtaa representatives that are involved in the ward planning committee meetings.

As it can be experienced in job applications, lack of feedback can cause depression and demoralization. The same applies within citizens who fail to get feedback of their proposals. Given that planning is a continuous process, it is likely that citizens who have experiencing failure will be demoralized to participate in the succeeding planning activities. This has severe effects on the efforts to promote participatory planning on one hand and developing plans that reflect the needs of the citizens on the other.

A number of questions need to be answered following the above discussions. The first question being if there is a need for feedback on unsuccessful plans at all levels particularly village and ward levels. The focus is not only the simple answer of yes or no but on the description of the reasons for not being successful. Other questions will only follow if the answer to the earlier question is affirmative. Then the list would go like "how to create a means to provide the feedback effectively and on time? How do we solve the issue given limited resources against a big number of applicants (villages/wards). We may also go further by asking how can we ensure that the comments and lessons learnt by the villagers are put into practice. This would be very useful in improving succeeding plans and guarantee successful funding.

Looking forward to receiving your responses,


NB: It is worth noting that I was inspired to write this by a visit to Lusisi village (Njombe) few weeks ago in which Daraja team accompanied by Jenerali Ulimwengu and Njombe District Water Engineer Mr. Mkalimoto went to see the development of the village.